Congratulations to Governor Schwarzenegger for being the first winner of the Once-ler of the week award. So far he’s managed to avoid any blame for Foothill Transit’s fare hike, but the root cause of the hike and the structure of the hike can be traced directly to state policy.
At the end of the speaker’s list for last night’s fare hike meeting in West Covina, I had a chance to speak with Rahul Kumar, Foothill’s director of planning, about some of the questions and complaints they had heard during the hearings. It should be noted that Kumar DID NOT lay blame with the governor’s office and just attributed the increase to fiscal realities.
Of course, the main complaint people had was that there was a fare increase, the third one in three years, at all. The reasons given for the increase are the increased cost of running the buses (especially gas) and insufficient state aid. Of course, back in August the Governor’s office decided to take money dedicated to transportation and use it to balance the budget.
The second most-heard complaint was on the structure of the increase. The base local fare remained unchanged. Instead, the increases came across the board on Silver Streak and Commuter Express Services targeting their regular fares and discounts. In fact, all discounts were completely eliminated. The biggest losers are seniors and the disabled that use Foothill for long-distance commutes. The elimination of the Silver Streak discount will over double the cost of a monthly ticket for seniors/disabled passengers from $40 to $96. For the Commuter Express, the cost of the monthly pass rockets from $65 to $155.
When asked why the fare hike was structured the way it was, Kumar explained that the senior/disabled discount was intended to help people get to hospital appointments and get around town if they have no other options. Thus, by eliminating monthly long-range discounts, they’re just charging all commuters the same amount. When asked specifically why there was no change in the local fares to spread out the pain of the hike, he conceded that changing local and base fares reduces the amount of state aid you can get.
In other words, Foothill Transit had no other option, BECAUSE OF STATE POLICY, then to focus their increase on seniors and the disabled.
So, for causing a fare hike by stiffing transportation at budget time and because state policy dictates that Foothill over double monthly passes for seniors and the disabled, Governor Schwarzenegger earns the distinction of being this blog’s first environmental villain of the week.
Congratulations, Governor! When you’re fiscal policies lead to doubling transit rates for people in wheelchairs, you know you’re doing something special.
Editor’s note: While this increase has gotten no attention other than blog’s and two local news stories; it is not reflective of the response Foothill Transit has seen. Kumar says that on top of the testimony at hearings, they’ve received over 200 comments via email. This compares to just over 50 comments total received on Foothill’s increase in 2005.