Valley Transit bus fares to triple this week

Starting Tuesday, cash fare for all Valley Transit riders will be 75 cents.

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Walla Walla Valley Transit customers pay their fares as they board a bus at the transit station Friday afternoon. Soon riders will be paying more to make the wheels go round as the fares increase starting September 1, 2009.

WALLA WALLA -- Bus fares will triple this week as Valley Transit searches for ways to scale back a projected $800,000 deficit for 2009.

"We have already made cost-saving procedures ... Every budget line item has been gone through, and we whittled away everything that was not a necessity," said Valley Transit General Manager Dick Fondahn.

Starting Tuesday, the cash fare for all riders will jump from 25 to 75 cents, including fares for people who currently qualify for Special Transportation Needs discounts, such as youths and low-income riders.

Discounts will still be available for Special Transportation Needs riders, but only through a monthly pass, which will also increase, Fondahn said.

"We are trying to get people to transition to passes as much as possible, even though it is harder to come up with $10 at once," Fondahn said.

The special needs monthly pass will double from $5 to $10. The regular adult pass will increase from $10 to $20. And for the first time there will now be a $12 monthly fee for people who use the Job Access program, a bus service that helps people get to and from work in the early morning, late evening and weekends, during Valley Transit's non-operation hours.

"Honestly. I expected it to go up," said Shauna Delay, a Special Transportation Needs rider, who on Friday afternoon was riding the Number One West Line down Rose Street.

"It's better than not having a bus system. It's also better than seeing our bus drivers not having a job," she added.

Sitting two seats down from Delay was Blanca Clay, who was concerned about the increase and wonder how she would come up with the extra $10 for her and her son.

"It all depends on how much you make at work," said Clay, who is a Lorenzo's restaurant employee.

Then in a frustrated tone she added, "And when you have a teenager who wants everything."

Clay, who was taking the bus home, said she would later get back on to head to work.

A couple stops down Rose Street she was dropped off by bus driver Les Abbot, who pointed out there was a time he had trouble believing somebody couldn't come up with an extra $5 a month. After eight years on the job, he sees things different.

"I was shocked when I heard somebody going on about how hard it would be for them if something went up $5. But there are a lot of people who just don't have a lot of money," Abbot said, as he navigated through the streets of College Place.

Fondahn agreed, noting that those on fixed incomes are often the hardest hit.

"You see many elderly women trying to get by on Social Security or SSI. They might be in the $500 category. And they have to pay rent and other bills that aren't covered," Fondahn said, adding that it is too easy to overlook the poor.

"Most people in the Walla Walla Valley are fortunate enough that they don't see how poverty effects us ... it (poverty) is hidden pretty well in our town," he noted.

Another large group of Valley Transit riders who will be effected by the new rates are high school students.

"We know that there are more students that ride a bus after school than going to school because they catch a ride with mom or dad in the morning," Fondahn said.

Close to 70 percent of high school riders pay by cash; starting Tuesday they will pay 75 cents or buy a monthly pass for $10, Fondahn said.

Officials with Walla Walla Public Schools said in special cases the district will buy a bus pass for a student, but only if the student lives more than a mile from school and in an area that is not serviced by the school district's bus system.

Fondahn added that on the surface it would appear the deficit and fare increases are due to a slow economy, drop in sales-tax revenues and loss of grant opportunities. But he believes the real reason riders will pay more come Tuesday is due to the loss of the motor vehicle excise tax 10 years ago.

"We are concerned about their (the riders') economic welfare. But we have budget problems that go back to Initiative 694 that we would rather not pass on to the customer. But we really don't have a choice," Fondahn said.

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