As they said they would, Athens-Clarke County commissioners rejected a 25-cent bus transfer fee at their voting meeting tonight.
A proposal by Commissioner Kelly Girtz—approved 7-3 with commissioners George Maxwell, Jared Bailey and Doug Lowry opposing it—doesn't include the transfer fee and still allows children under age 6 to ride for free.
It does, however, raise fares 15 cents for youths, adults, seniors and the disabled. Effective July 1, the new fares will be:
• $1.75 for adults.
• $1.50 for youths under age 17.
• $1 for seniors and disabled riders.
A 22-ride pass will cost $35, up $3 but still a 10 percent discount compared to paying per ride.
The University of Georgia will pay ACC $1.60 every time a UGA student or employee boards a city bus, up from $1.36 currently.
Even without the transit fee, the hikes will raise about $270,000 toward closing an expected $320,000 shortfall.
Girtz also included in his motion a commitment to hire a consultant to examine routes and fares so the commission is not forced into more rate hikes or service cuts, as it has been in recent years.
"Given the sense that we've had this recurrent cycle, I want us to stop now," he said.
A consultant would have been hired next summer anyway as part of a regular five-year Athens Transit review at a cost of about $50,000, but a more comprehensive study could cost twice that much, Assistant Manager Blaine Williams said. Officials will discuss the scope of the study later and include funding in next year's budget, he said.
Several citizens, including mayoral candidate Tim Denson and District 3 commission candidate Melissa Link, spoke out against the fare hike. They said raising fares would hurt low-income workers, job-seekers and students, leading to fewer riders and less revenue. Instead, they lobbied for better marketing, more efficient routes and more frequent service on popular routes as ways to improve ridership.
"This is not OK," Denson said. "You guys are moving in the wrong direction. You're kicking the can down the road."
The consultant will "pull back, have some fresh eyes and ask these questions" about marketing, fares, routes, development patterns and how to get more people who have other transportation options to ride the bus, Girtz said.
Maxwell and Bailey said they didn't want to spend money on a consultant; that money should be put back into transit, they said. Lowry said at the Nov. 21 agenda-setting meeting that the commission should cut little-used night service rather than raise fares.
Other commissioners said they would reluctantly vote in favor of Girtz's plan, even though they'd like to avoid any fare hikes.
"We desperately need these funds if we're going to continue the level of service our citizens need," Kathy Hoard said.