For the first time since 2002, some Big Blue Bus fares are going up, after the Santa Monica City Council unanimously voted for fare adjustments at its meeting Tuesday, April 10th.

This is the first time in 16 years that thereís been any kind of fare increase for students, seniors or people with disabilities, said Stephanie Negriff, director of transit services for Santa Monicaís Big Blue Bus, the cityís bus company.

The basic fare remains 75 cents. The increase in fares will kick in Sunday, July 1st.

The fare increases will be used to help cover increasing fuel costs and other operating costs, Negriff said.

For the first time ever, ìday passesî will be available to the public for as little as $1.25 for seniors, the disabled, people on Medicare and students from kindergarten to age 20. The regular day pass is $2.50.

ìYou can ride the bus all day for one fare, hop on and off as many times as you want,î said Dan Dawson, customer relations manager for the Big Blue Bus of the day pass.

Bus fares will also go up for students, and there will no longer be free local Big Blue Bus transfers, but one universal transfer fee of 50 cents that can also be used on any public transportation system, Dawson said. The universal transfer fee will be ten cents for seniors, the disabled and those on Medicare.

The new fare restructure should result in an additional $1.3 million in revenue for the Big Blue Bus, Negriff said.

Revenue has not kept pace with increases in fuel and other transit operating costs, she said.

ìAs you can imagine, the cost of gas in the last two years has tripled,î said Dawson. ìWe expect not this year or next year, but starting in the í08-í09 fiscal year, we will run into a shortfall of about a million dollars [if fares are not adjusted]. These fare increases will help us bridge the gap.î

Even with this change, only 35 percent of revenue needed to operate the Big Blue Bus system comes from fare box revenue, Dawson said. Sixty-five percent comes from state and federal sources.

ìAnd with the fare increases, weíre still equal to or less than the other agencies in our region,î Dawson said of bus fare costs.

Dawson said the fare adjustments will accomplish three things.

ìIt will simplify the fare structure, which can be very difficult for customers to understand because we have so many different fares,î he said. ìIt will make a fare structure thatís more equitable and fair, and it will allow us to offer a day pass that offers increased customer convenience.

ìWeíve heard from the community that they want a day pass for several years. Weíre offering this now in response to community input.î

At the meeting, Alison Kendall, transportation chair for the Parent Teacher Student Association (PTSA) at Santa Monica High School, expressed her concerns about fee increases for students.

ìThe school-age children in this town often rely on the Big Blue Bus to get home and itís incredibly important they have that option,î said Kendall, who was concerned that a fare increase might make it harder for lower- income families to afford.

ìIíd like to see a smaller increase for school-age children who rely on the Big Blue Bus to get home from school,î Kendall said.

Councilmen Bob Holbrook and Kevin McKeown were also concerned with the fare increase for children.

ìIím just a little uncomfortable,î McKeown said. ìThatís an increase of over 100 percent for families.î

McKeown said that, five years ago, when the City Council looked at the fare structure, they did everything they could not to raise fees for students, seniors and the disabled, but he realized it might be inevitable.

ìItís only the students Iím concerned about,î McKeown said. ìIs there a Plan B?î

ìI wish there was a Plan B,î Negriff said. ìIf we increased our base fare, weíd lose [state and federal] subsidies.î

Negriff pointed out that the Big Blue Bus is still one of the few transit systems that offers a 33 percent fare discount for students.

ìI think the problem is not so much the level of these fares,î said Mayor Richard Bloom. ìMost people can afford these fares. The problem is that the fares are not needs-based. An increase of $10 or $20 a month is the difference of something important for some people, like a food item.

ìFor that percentage of our population, Iím reluctant to vote for this, but I know we need to maintain our fiscal stability and Iím inclined to vote for it.î

ìI donít feel uncomfortable [voting for this] as we look at the rising fuel prices,î said Councilwoman Pam OíConnor. ìIt impacts everyone. I think itís a trade-off. In context of other things, this is a reasonable increase.

ìAnd the day pass is a really wonderful method of helping folks use the system. Itíll make it an easier system to use. It offers flexibility in many ways.î

Santa Monica city manager Lamont Ewell pointed out that he, Negriff and staff did not take the fare adjustments lightly.

ìWe recognize that this is a sacred area,î Ewell said to the council. ìWeíve worked on this proposal for the past six months and struggled with it. Itís been 16 years since youíve made adjustments. Itís not just the cost of fuel thatís gone up. Youíre going to have to make adjustments or the general fund is going to have to subsidize that.î

McKeown said that he trusted staff and their work on the proposal, and he realized there was no better way to do this.

ìWe not only have the best busses, but the cheapest and I can honestly say this,î McKeown said, pointing out that he travels both domestically and internationally and utilizes public transportation on his travels. ìAs much as I regret having to do this, I donít see any other options. With my concerns and swallowing hard, I will be voting for this.î

The City Council unanimously voted for the fare adjustments. Councilmember Ken Genser was not present.

ìIím excited,î Dawson said. ìI think weíre going to be able to offer a lot simpler fare structure and some new ways to go around and offer some more convenient fare categories like day passes. Itís way more convenient. Itíll be a lot easier for people to get around.î