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Bus fare increase bringing in additional city revenues

(July 4,  2014) The city appears to be getting significantly more additional revenue than expected as a result of the bus fare change made at the beginning of the summer.

Beginning May 23, the city eliminated the $1-per-boarding option and forced all riders to purchase a $3 all-day pass.

Budget estimates called for the move to draw an additional $78,000 in the current 2013-2014 fiscal year, which ends June 30. According to data from the city’s Transportation Department, however, the period from May 23 to June 18 of this year saw $635,267 in bus revenue, a $117,591 jump from the $517,676 collected over the same period last year.

This puts the city on track to actually see double the increase that was anticipated, something which could have a major impact on the town’s current fiscal situation.

For the entirety of the coming 2014-2015 fiscal year, beginning July 1, the city estimated that bus revenue would increase $492,000. But if the current trend continues, the city could be looking at nearly a half-million dollars in fiscal wiggle room by this time next year.

Although the capital costs of the bus system – including the purchase of buses themselves – are almost entirely paid for by the MTA and the Federal Transit Administration, the city’s Transportation Division still operates at a loss that must be subsidized by the town’s General Fund, which relies on tax dollars.

The operating deficit for transportation in 2012-2013 was $1.9 million, which was reduced to $1.7 million in the current year. The fare modification would allow the city to reduce this to $1.3 million in the coming year, and even further if the trend keeps up.

The move had caused some consternation in City Hall that total ridership would be reduced, as some people would choose not to ride if they could not pay the $1 fare – counter-intuitive to the city’s mission of getting more bodies on the bus and less cars on the street.

However, bus boardings from May 23 to June 18 this year totaled 595,858, a negligible drop from the 597,867 last year.

But Transportation Superintendent George Thornes cautioned that fare cost was one small factor in ridership, and could not be extrapolated over time.

“The overall conditions in town this year may not be the same as last year,” Thornes noted. “Weather and special events in the town are the two major contributors to ridership.”

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