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Cedar Rapids Transit proposing $1 to ride bus
‘Equitable’ fare plan also features free rides for many
CEDAR RAPIDS — When the city of Cedar Rapids once again begins charging fares for transit bus rides later this summer, staff are proposing a simplified, equitable reduced-fare system.
To reduce confusion and conflict at the fare box as well as encourage more ridership, Cedar Rapids Transit riders would be charged less to ride the public vehicles, according to a proposal made this week to the Cedar Rapids City Council’s Finance and Administrative Services Committee.
The city has not charged fares to ride the bus since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020 to minimize contact between drivers and passengers. This new fare system would take effect Sept. 6, after Labor Day, pending approval from the City Council.
Full fare would be $1, down from $1.50, under the proposal.
Instead of a half-fare system for qualifying riders, or a 75-cent fare, city staff will propose free fare for the following riders:
- Seniors age 65 and over, with proof of age or free fare ID card
- Passengers with disabilities, with free fare ID card or ADA paratransit card
- Medicare passengers, with Medicare or free fare ID cards
- Low-income passengers, with free fare ID card
- Children age 12 and under (those under age 6 should be accompanied by an adult)
Other ride passes are as follows:
- 31-day passes: $30
- 10 ride passes: $10
- Day passes: $2
- Single ride blue tickets (sold to human service agencies): 50 cents
- ADA paratransit service (contracted with Linn County LIFTS): $2
The current student-sponsored fare program expires June 30, but Cedar Rapids Transit Manager Brad DeBrower said Kirkwood Community College and Cedar Rapids schools are renewing, and conversations are ongoing with Coe College as well as Lin-Mar and College Community schools.
DeBrower said this fare system would help riders avoid having to fumble in their wallets for change.
Some drivers will need to be trained on how to collect fares, particularly those that were hired during the pandemic, DeBrower said, but otherwise there would be minimal disruption resulting from moving to the new fare system.
“It really comes down to the question of what’s equitable,” DeBrower said. “Most of our riders are transit-dependent riders, so what is a fair fare to charge for service?” This change also would assist social service agencies that serve more vulnerable, transit-dependent populations, he said.
DeBrower said staff propose using fiscal 2021 and 2022 operating grants in the 2023 and 2024 budget years, respectively, while keeping $3.2 million in federal American Rescue Plan transit money in reserve to offset potential passenger revenue deficiencies.
The city received federal transit grants of nearly $2.88 million for fiscal 2021 and $3.72 million for fiscal 2022. Cedar Rapids has spent all federal CARES Act transit funds.
Ridership in fiscal 2019, the budget year ending June 30, 2019 — a baseline year as it was the last full year before the pandemic — totaled nearly 1.25 million, generating $870,298. In fiscal 2021, which ended June 30, 2021, ridership totaled 556,654, or 44.7 percent of pre-pandemic levels.
To date in fiscal 2022, which ends June 30, ridership has slowly ticked up to 57.6 percent of pre-pandemic levels.
DeBrower said oftentimes when fares increase, there is a dip in ridership. But higher gas prices might prompt more people to use public transit.
“Will we see an increase in ridership or decrease in ridership because of this? We’re not really sure,” DeBrower said, but staff hope keeping fares low will boost ridership.
Council member Ann Poe, who also sits on the committee, said the new proposal is “fair and equitable,” and she liked doing it while there is ARPA funding to fill in potential revenue gaps.
Council member Scott Olson, a finance committee member, said he also liked the plan and the idea of not having riders search for change.
“The fact that you could ride for a buck is just unbelievable with today’s gas prices and vehicle prices,” Olson said.
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