By Joe Pinchot
Herald Staff Writer
MERCER COUNTY —
Mercer County Community Transit has asked for a fare hike, but officials said riders should not have to pay much more than they do now.
Transit has not asked for a hike since 2005, when a 35-percent boost was instituted to attack a growing deficit.
That deficit was wiped out last year, but a cut in state funding to specific programs serving transit riders has knocked down revenues and set transit back on the path to red ink.
“We’ll probably end June 30 in a deficit situation,” said Thomas R. Tulip, executive director of Mercer County Regional Council of Governments, which runs transit.
June 30 is the end of transit’s fiscal year.
Transit is seeking an 8.1-percent fare hike, most of which would be realized by higher reimbursements from the state for trips.
As part of the fare hike, transit also is asking PennDOT to change the reimbursement formula from one based on zones to one based on the actual mileage traveled.
Few transit riders pay full fares. Most qualify for rides because of age, disability or a medical condition. Transit receives differing amounts of reimbursement depending on the program a rider is enrolled in.
Tulip said he expects that people who live in the Shenango Valley and get a ride a short distance might not see any change in the co-pay charged. People who take longer trips will be asked to pay more, he said.
“The lowest fare will probably stay as it is,” he said. “It’s the ones who travel more distance who will be affected.”
Because of the unpredictability of ridership, Tulip would not say how much more money transit could collect with the fare hike.
“It’s hard to even guesstimate,” he said.
A public hearing will be held as part of PennDOT’s review of the request. A date for the hearing has not been set.
Tulip is hoping a fare hike can be approved to begin May 1, giving transit two months “to eat away at some of the deficit for this year.”