Centre Area Transportation Authority weighs fare increase

The Centre Area Transportation Authority will discuss a possible fare increase Monday during a public hearing in State College.
The Centre Area Transportation Authority will discuss a possible fare increase Monday during a public hearing in State College. Centre Daily Times, file

Another fare increase could be just down the road for CATA.

The Centre Area Transportation Authority will discuss at a Monday public hearing whether a quarter raise in cash, token and OnePass fares is needed.

In August, CATARide, the door-to-door service for seniors and the disabled, increased fares for seniors from $2.50 to $3, which also is the rate for disabled riders. The fare is for a one-way trip.

The new proposal would raise one-way standard fares from $1.50 to $1.75, according to CATA. That would translate to an increase in cost for a one-month OnePass from $59 to $69. Tokens would increase to $1.75 each, or $34 for a roll of 20.

CATARide fares would remain unchanged.

Despite the planned rate raise, Eric Bernier, CATA’s service development manager, said holding the line on incremental increases, addressing an array of new service areas and compensating for a significant loss of federal dollars drives the proposal.

“The impetus is cost,” Bernier said. “But rather than having to keep bumping up prices by a nickel a year, we wait three or four years.”

Bernier said the last increase to cash, token and OnePass fares was about four years ago.

“They really only make up a small total — maybe 12 to 15 percent — of our riders,” he said of the fares eyed for increase.

Service expansion was the name of the game last year — with several new apartment complexes coming online — and Bernier said there are increases every year with those contract riders, such as students at apartment buildings.

And not all apartment buildings are created equal, he said.

“When a complex comes online, and all we’re doing is adding a second or third bus in that loop, we can almost recoup that amount,” Bernier said. “But it’s more costly when the complexes are farther out in expanded areas.”

That’s because it costs more to start a new route than simply duplicate one, he said.

But there is an upside.

“It’s a benefit to not just the new community, but the entire community,” Bernier said. “Everyone along the new route gets the benefit. Like on West College Avenue. Until the development (The Heights) on Blue Course Drive, there was no weekend or night service. Now there is.

“Same with Toftrees, they never had Sunday or late night service. They probably never would,” Bernier added. “But now with more apartments (such as The Grove), at least half of Toftrees gets Sunday and late-night services.”

Bernier said there weren’t any significant housing developments in the pipe for 2014, so the bus service hopes to spend the year “fine-tuning” its operation.

A third prong that factors into the rate increase is a roughly $300,000 per year loss in federal funding, Bernier said.

“There was, at the federal level, the natural gas fuel incentive rebate, where we were rebated 45 to 50 cents a gallon,” he said. “That expired in calendar year 2013, which was a loss of about $300,000 a year. The anticipated revenue increase will actually barely replace that.”

While budgeting is a “fluid situation,” CATA is integrated within the local governments and, especially, land development plans.

“We get a heads up, sometimes years ahead” for new development,” Bernier said. “We have a one, five, 10-year outlook. ... We take a progressive approach, and we think the community has benefited dramatically.”

Federal law mandates that the authority must hold public hearings whenever a rate increase is proposed; however, Bernier said customers communicate with CATA on a daily basis.

“Because (the hearing) is not the primary mechanism to convey comments, the comments run the gamut. It can be folks who are looking specifically at the community or a time of day on a route, it can be complaints, suggestions. ... But the participation (at the public hearing) has leveled off and declined, even, because there are far easier ways to comment to us and the board. And we receive it and respond to it.”