The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

April 2, 2014

Apparently few bothered by proposed fare hike

By Joe Pinchot
Herald Staff Writer

SHENANGO VALLEY — If people are outraged about Shenango Valley Shuttle Service’s proposal to raise bus fares, they aren’t showing it.

Officials held two public hearing on the fare hike Tuesday and only three people showed up, all of whom are representatives of other public agencies.

The number of written comments thus far: one.

“We hope silence is a good thing,” said Laurie Andrews, senior project adviser for Delta Development Group Inc., Wexford, the consultant for the fare hike.

“People seem to understand,” added Delta associate Lynda Conway.

The proposal aims to hike the basic fare from $1 for a one-way ride to $1.25 in July, and then to $1.50 in July 2016.

The half-fare for disabled riders, now at 50 cents, would hit 60 cents in July and 75 cents in July 2016. The student fare would go from 25 cents to 60 cents to 75 cents, bringing it in line with what most other bus services that offer the discount charge, Andrews said.

All transfers would cost 25 cents – transfers from the express route now are free – and Big 40 passes, which offer a bulk discount, would go from $25 to $30 and then $36.

If the hike is approved by PennDOT, unemployed people would no longer be able to get discounted fares. They now pay 50 cents a ride.

“That is a very unusual fare,” Andrews said. “I’ve never experienced that discount before. It’s a generous thing to do but it’s hard to justify.”

Officials were not sure when the discount began, but it has been in place for many years.

Conway said such a discount shifts the burden of fares to other riders, many of whom likely are low-income.

“You try to achieve a balance, being fair and equitable to all the riders,” she said.

Last year, 1,123 riders took advantage of the unemployment discount out of a total of 100,000 one-way trips.

Also as part of the fare hike, officials propose ending bus service to West Middlesex because of lack of ridership.

The West Middlesex service began last July as part of the express route, which also added LindenPointe and Kohl’s to the bus service route. The express bus is the only bus that goes to both the Shenango Valley Mall and Walmart.

“It was a gallant effort,” Andrews said of the West Middlesex service.

Mercer County Regional Council of Governments, which runs the shuttle, last hiked fares in 2006 and 2007.

Sam Bellich, chief executive officer of Mercer County Area Agency on Aging, the lone morning hearing attendee, said that while no one wants to pay more for anything, the bus fleet needs to be “healthy” if it is to function properly.

“It’s been a number of years since they’ve had an increase of any kind,” Bellich said. “It’s a bare-bones operation. Transportation is expensive.”

Comments on the proposed changes can be posted at www.mcrcog.com, called in to 724-981-1561 or mailed to the COG office at 2496 Highland Road, Hermitage 16148. The deadline for comments is May 1.