The Santa Monica City Council voted May 25th to increase fares for the Big Blue Bus in a move that is expected to close the agency’s budget gap by $2.4 million annually.

Big Blue Bus officials said the transit agency was faced with a $6.4 million structural deficit for the coming fiscal year and expressed ongoing concerns over future operating funds.

Under the fare restructuring, regular fare riders that choose to pay cash when boarding will see an increase from 75 cents to $1 beginning in August. The fare for seniors, disabled and Medicare travelers who pay cash when boarding will rise from 25 to 50 cents. To ride the 10 Express bus, students will pay $2 and seniors, disabled and Medicare passengers will pay 50 cents.

The changes will go into effect August 29th and will avert reductions in service through fiscal year 2011-12.

There will be no changes to Santa Monica College’s “Any Line Any Time” or UCLA’s “BruinGo!” student passes, and the EZ transit pass fee will remain the same as well.

Stephanie Negriff, director of transit services for the Big Blue Bus, said that the fare restructure is one of several strategies necessary to retain service levels.

“The approval of this fare adjustment will allow the Big Blue Bus to continue its commitment to providing quality transit service,” said Negriff. “I believe this new plan is responsive to community concerns and provides the additional revenue needed to avoid service reductions in the near-term.”

The senior/disabled/Medicare fare has remained at 25 cents for the past 25 years.

In April, the American Public Transportation Association reported that 69 percent of all bus systems nationwide are projecting budget shortfalls in their next fiscal year, and 59 percent of public transit systems are reporting that they have already cut service or raised fares.

The council also approved new discounted passes for riders who pre-purchase before boarding the bus, and to retain the universal transfer for boarding either a second Big Blue Bus or other regional bus or rail system.

Agency officials said frequent riders will benefit from the new 30-Day “unlimited ride” pass for $60 ($80 for express), which allows riders to board as many local Big Blue Buses as they want for $2 ($2.67/day for the express).

Occasional riders can benefit from the “Baker’s Dozen” pass, which provides 13 local rides for the cost of 12 at $12.

In addition, Big Blue Bus will also offer 30-day unlimited passes for frequent and occasional student senior, disabled and Medicare passengers.

“We hope our riders will see their feedback in these new fare changes,” Negriff said.

To help reduce the financial burden of the proposed fare adjustments, the Big Blue Bus plans to participate in Metro’s Rider Relief Transportation Program, which offers a $10 per month subsidy coupon for regular riders, and a $9 per month subsidy coupon for seniors, disabled and student riders who meet eligibility requirements.

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