By Bay City News Service
AC Transit's board, which had considered raising fares this summer, is now considering lowering them as one of several possibilities for attracting more riders to the bus system that serves parts of Alameda and Contra Costa counties.
At a public forum last week, AC Transit staff members briefed the agency's directors of reducing the basic fare from $2.10 to $2 to retain the loyalty of existing riders and increase ridership.
In August 2011 the board raised fares from $2 to $2.10 and also endorsed a long term plan to increase fares by a total of 25 cents every five years, which would have included a 15-cent bump to $2.25 this summer.
Additional options the board is considering eliminating paper transfers, which staff members say are abused and the source of conflicts between operators and riders, introducing a day pass and a 7-day pass that would be reasonably priced and available primarily on Clipper Cards, and expanding the number of Clipper Card sales locations to make the card more accessible, particularly in low-income areas.
The proposed strategies are part of a package of proposals, including a comprehensive operations analysis that recommends that AC Transit focus its routes on key "trunk" corridors with the greatest potential for increasing ridership and reducing congestion.
Another service alternative that was discussed is augmenting transbay service to San Francisco with an additional route along Fruitvale Avenue in Oakland.
AC Transit officials said they are considering the possibility of increasing transbay service in response to the capacity problems being experienced on BART's transbay trains, which have been operating at standing-room-only capacity.
They said the new fare strategies would have the additional benefit of reducing bus dwell times at bus stops by minimizing the use of cash and paper transfers to board buses.
Bus agency officials said that could make service more reliable, potentially luring more riders and subsequently increasing farebox revenue.
AC Transit Board President Greg Harper said in a statement, "I am glad we are now taking a long-term view of this because sometimes a 15-percent increase in fares does not mean a 15-percent increase in revenue."
Although Harper and other board members said they are intrigued by the possibility of lowering fares, they said they need more information about possible funding and fiscal impacts before taking action on any of the staff recommendations.
In April, bus agency staff members will present the board a more definitive plan for possible revisions to the fare policy. A public comment period then will be established for riders and others to comment on any potential changes.
AC Transit supplies bus service to 13 cities and surrounding areas in Alameda County and western Contra Costa County.
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