Friday, July 25, 2003

Proposed bus fare hike debated

By William Croyle
Enquirer contributor

The Transit Authority of Northern Kentucky conducted two public hearings Thursday on its proposed rate increases, bringing out many senior and disabled citizens on fixed incomes who rely on the buses each day.

"I have $3 left to live on until the first of August," said Sandy Miller of Florence, who uses a wheelchair and lives on a disability check she receives each month. "Right now I can ride the bus almost three times for a dollar. With the increase, it will be two times. I don't want to see that happen."

Under the proposal, 12 rates would increase, including the senior/disabled rate from 35 to 50 cents, the senior/disabled monthly pass from $15 to $20 and the adult fare from $1 to $1.25. Student tickets, shuttle rides, and other monthly passes also would go up.

TANK's next board meeting is Aug. 6, at which time there may be a vote on the proposed increases.

TANK General Manager Mark Donaghy said the company is facing an $816,500 deficit this year. He expects the rate increases will generate $350,000 in new revenue a year, but the company will still have to find other areas to cut costs - which could include service on its routes.

"Even after you factor in the increased rates and wage freeze (implemented July 1 on all employees for the next year), we're still looking at a $250,000 deficit," Donaghy said.

About $12.1 million of TANK's $14.4 million operating budget comes from Boone, Campbell and Kenton counties, either through a payroll tax or from general funds. The funding from each county this year, based on the 2000 U.S. Census, includes $2.7 million from Boone (up 24 percent), $3.5 million from Campbell (down 7.9 percent) and $5.9 million from Kenton (down 3.3 percent).

A request by TANK this past spring for a 6 percent increase in funding this year from the counties was denied.

"By our perspective, we already increased our share by $520,000 this year over last year," said Boone County Judge-executive Gary Moore. "I believe in mass transit and we have to subsidize it, but I think the amount we're already allocating is more than fair."

Donaghy said public reaction to the proposed increase was what he expected, but that comments made regarding disabled riders who work for less than minimum wage hit him hard.

Bob Ryan, coordinator of adult services for New Perceptions in Edgewood, spoke on behalf of many of the disabled people his firm serves.

New Perceptions employs adults with mental retardation or developmental disabilities. Ryan said about 60 out of 100 of those employees use TANK each day and make below minimum wage.

"We depend heavily on ramp services and fixed-route services, and this is going to make it a little harder on some people," Ryan said. "We're not against an increase, but we hope it will be limited."

Dorothy Holloway of Newport rides the bus daily; she spoke against the size of the increases.

"I think $5 for the pass is too much. $2-3 would be OK," she said. "But it's the disabled I'm worried about. I never realized how little money those people make."

TANK employs 250 people and transports 3.8 million passengers a year on 135 buses. It serves 28 routes through Northern Kentucky and downtown Cincinnati.

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