Sunset Empire Transportation District is proposing to slash and simplify fares and passes as the bus provider tries to further increase ridership and get a bigger slice of grant money that subsidizes the service.
A $1 flat rate would cover each one-way trip, rather than the zoned system that can cost $3 to go from Astoria to Seaside. Daily passes would drop from $5 to $3. A monthly pass would cost $30 and the discounted monthly pass $20 — both 33 percent reductions.
One thing critics of public transit point to is empty seats. “The goal is always to increase ridership, and lowering fares does that,” said Jeff Hazen, the transit district’s executive director.
Only 7 percent of Sunset Empire’s proposed $4.3 million operating budget next fiscal year would come from fares. State funding accounts for nearly one-third of the agency’s budget, cash reserves more than one-quarter and taxes nearly 22 percent.
Grant funding is determined by ridership and the percentage of operational costs recovered at the fare box, Hazen said.
The recent $5.3 billion transportation package passed by the state Legislature included a $1 billion carve-out for public transit, funded by a 0.1 percent employee payroll tax. The funding required transportation agencies to show how they are helping low-income riders access transportation.
The new discounted passes, expanded to include low-income households, met that requirement, Hazen said.
Simplifying the pass structure is also an effort to reduce the use of cash on buses, Hazen said, allowing drivers to focus on driving and cutting down wait times. Under his proposals, only daily passes and the flat fares would be sold on buses. Monthly passes would be sold at the Astoria Transit Center and Seaside kiosk.
In the coming year, Hazen said, the bus agency will also be transitioning to electronic fares, further reducing the cash handled on buses.
The bus agency will hold a public hearing June 28 on the budget, including the fare and pass changes. If the proposed fare and pass changes are accepted, they would become effective with the new budget in July.
The agency also recently started using the smartphone application Transit, allowing riders to track bus locations online. For those who don’t have smartphones, the agency provides a phone number for riders to call for arrival times.
Sunset Empire Transportation District is holding four open houses on proposed fare and pass changes.
• June 18, 1 to 2 p.m., Bob Chisholm Community Center, Seaside
• June 18, 3 to 4 p.m., Cannon Beach Chamber of Commerce
• June 19, 1 to 2 p.m., Astoria Transit Center
• June 19, 3 to 4 p.m., Emerald Heights Apartments community room.