The Capital Metro board Monday unanimously approved its fourth fare increase in the past five years and a $283.7 million budget for 2013-14 that incorporates those changes. But, the board made small changes to the fare changes as proposed that will soften the effect on disabled riders.
The board also passed route changes that, beginning in January, include the elimination of one University of Texas shuttle line and changes to another.
The fare increase will come in two waves. The first round, in January, includes increases for 31-day bus passes, from $30 to $33, and a larger bump for 31-day MetroRail and express bus passes, which will go from $64 to $77. The agency also will eliminate its two-zone setup for MetroRail, which included a $1 ticket for shorter trips and a $2.75 charge for longer distances.
Agency officials have said that system, given that MetroRail has no turnstiles and only sporadic ticket checks by inspectors, was open to abuse by passengers buying the cheaper tickets even when crossing from one zone to another. Starting in January, all one-way train tickets will be $2.75.
And Capital Metro in the new year will institute a new class of service, dubbed "premium," which will include the two "rapid bus" lines scheduled to begin service next year, as well as the existing "flyer" routes. A one-way ticket for premium routes will be $1.50, 50 cents more than the cost on regular bus routes.
The second phase of the fare increase, in January 2015, will be more comprehensive, with prices increasing on all types of bus and train tickets. The base fare for a one-way bus ticket, which until 2008 was still 50 cents, instituted at Capital Metro's 1985 founding, will increase from $1.00 to $1.25.
At that point, tickets and passes for people with disabilities who qualify for the agency's door-to-door service, called MetroAccess, will go up 16 percent or more. That is less than what Capital Metro staff had recommended -- increases in 2014 and 2015 that together would have hiked charges by 50 percent or more -- but still a change opposed by the agency's advisory board for people with disabilities.
Board chairman Mike Martinez, also an Austin City Council member, moved to have MetroAccess prices remain unchanged, but that amendment was defeated 4-3. The MetroAccess hike will generate less than $15,000 a year in revenue for Capital Metro, Martinez said.
"If we're going to increase fares on our most vulnerable riders, there has to be a stronger justification than just that we can," Martinez said.
The agency's budget writers estimate that with the price changes, the agency fare revenue overall will increase from about $18.2 million to $19.2 million in the fiscal year beginning Oct. 1. That is about 9.3 percent of the $207.3 million operating budget approved by the board Monday.
The overall $283.7 million spending plan, about 4 percent above this fiscal year, also includes $59.4 million for capital expenses such as the rapid bus project, information technology upgrades, rail line upgrades and replacement of MetroAccess vehicles. The agency also will spend another $17 million, principally on debt payments for its six rail cars, a loan for bus purchases, and money it owes to the city of Austin.
The board voted to eliminate its Wickersham Lane UT shuttle route, which goes to the East Riverside Drive area. There will still be two other shuttle routes to East Riverside, serving neighborhoods north of where the canceled route runs. And the board accepted a change in the agency staff's earlier recommendation to eliminate the Cameron Road shuttle, instead altering its route and extending service through the end of the school year.
The shuttle service, because UT payments have not increased and costs have gone up, officials said, has seen steady reductions in recent years, In 2007-08, Capital Metro ran 143,500 hours of shuttle service. This coming fiscal year, according to the budget, the shuttles will be on the streets an estimated 121,800 hours.