Tight budget times at City Hall led public transit leaders on Wednesday to propose the first-ever fare increase for the T.
Transit leaders opened a 30-day public comment period on a proposal to increase one-way bus fares from 50 cents to 75 cents by June 1, and then to $1 by Jan. 1. Fares for the paratransit T lift - which serves people with disabilities - would increase from $1 to $1.50 and then to $2 by 2008.
Transit leaders also are proposing new regulations that would tighten guidelines on who can ride the paratransit system by requiring riders to receive a note from a medical professional verifying their disability.
"I'm hopeful that the community will be understanding," said Cliff Galante, the city's public transit director. "I don't think what we're asking for is out of line."
A crowd of about a dozen people attended a public hearing on the changes at City Hall on Wednesday evening.
"I understand the need for raising fares, but at the same time the public should get something they wanted for years, like increased hours," said T rider Tolgay Figarelli.
Transit officials currently are not proposing any increase in service hours or routes as part of the fare increase.
Area residents will have until May 11 to provide written comments to the city's Public Transit Advisory Board. City commissioners ultimately will make the final decision on the changes.
Galante said the six-year public transit system is due for a rate increase. He said fares from the system are paying only about 5 percent of the total cost to operate the buses.
The new fares would keep Lawrence in line with what other transit providers are charging in the state, Galante said. One-way fares for other transit providers are $1.75 for Johnson County, $1 for Topeka, $1.25 for Wichita and $1.25 for Wyandotte County.
"What we're proposing falls in line with what the market is clearly willing to bear in other cities," Galante said. "Besides walking or riding your bike, this is still the cheapest transportation option available."
Galante said changes to the paratransit rules are needed because the number of riders for that system is increasing at a rate faster than the city's budget can absorb. In 2006, the city went over budget by $30,000 to provide paratransit service. The paratransit service is required by federal law because the city annually accepts about $1.3 million in federal transit funding.
"We don't have that type of budget flexibility anymore," Galante said.
Other changes that transit leaders are proposing include:
l Requiring all riders of the paratransit system to receive a note from a medical professional verifying their disability once every three years.
l Tightening the current reservation policy for the paratransit system. Currently people can reserve a ride on the paratransit system 14 days in advance. The new system would limit it to three days in advance.
l Prohibiting children younger than 12 from riding on the T or the paratransit system without an adult. Galante said the system has not experienced any specific problems with children riding the bus unattended. But Galante said he thought it was a "general safety issue" that was worth addressing.
l Suspending people from riding the paratransit system for 30 days if they cancel 50 percent or more of their reservations during a 90-day period. Galante said the system has had problems with some riders making multiple reservations and then canceling many of them at the last minute.
l Conditionally qualifying some people to ride the paratransit system. That would mean that transit officials could determine, for example, that when there is snow or ice on the ground that a person's disability requires them to ride the paratransit system, but on clear days they are able to ride the city's fixed-route T system.