To save routes, bus fares to go up
By KATHRYN WEXLER, Times Staff Writer
TAMPA -- Bowing to public outcry, the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit authority voted unanimously Monday to make far fewer cuts to express bus routes than originally planned.
All express routes will be reduced to a few rides a day, while only one express bus will be terminated, the 54X, which serves south Hillsborough County.
But to compensate for fewer cuts at a time when HARTline is facing an $800,000 budget shortfall, the board must jack up fares.
"I think it's a very good way to solve this dilemma," said HARTline chairwoman Jan Smith. "In order to keep the service out there, we're raising fares."
The board also decided to eliminate all holiday service except on Martin Luther King Jr. Day. They chose merely to reduce bus service on the holiday marking King's birthday.
Sharon Dent, HARTline's executive director, said officials took to heart concerns articulated by riders during the past few months.
"I'm really pleased we have moderated some of the changes," Dent said, including keeping direct service to MacDill Air Force base and Saturday service to Tampa General Hospital.
"We should be in pretty good shape for next year as well because of modifications the board has taken," Dent said.
HARTline has a $33-million budget that won't last through this fiscal year unless more money is gleaned from fares. The board is likely to raise fares across the board, including boosting the one-trip fare from $1.15 to $1.25 and the 20-ride Express Pass from $28 to $40.
The HARTline board will hold a public hearing Monday morning at the County Center on the rate increases and will likely vote the same day, Smith said.
"Each month that we don't make the decisions, the increases have to be more," to balance the budget, Smith said.
According to HARTline's statistics, 67 percent of riders earn less than $20,000 a year. Smith acknowledges that the increases will cut into some bank accounts.
"It hurts," Smith said. "But it's hard to play this balancing act. We're trying to find a way to keep the service in place and . . . make it more cost efficient."
The fares, Smith noted, have not gone up in 10 years.
-- Kathryn Wexler can be reached at 226-3383.
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