Riding the bus will cost a quarter more starting Oct. 1 because of a vote Wednesday by the Charleston Area Regional Transportation Authority Board.
The basic fare will increase from $1.50 to $1.75, a 16 percent hike approved for all CARTA services.
Despite record ridership, the higher fares are needed because of a $1.3 million shortfall in Charleston County half-cent sales tax revenue. CARTA is facing up to a $1 million shortfall in the current budget year ending Sept. 30, officials said.
Eliminating the Otranto/Stall Route 106 and CARTA@Night is recommended to board members in a memo from CARTA Executive Director Howard Chapman. He said two more buses are needed for Route 10 Rivers Avenue to relieve overcrowding.
The board postponed a decision on whether to change or eliminate routes to save money. It will take up the issue at its next meeting Sept. 15. "We need to reduce our expenses dramatically," Chairman Patterson Smith said.
Eliminating or reducing service on low-use routes and raising fares will lead to an annual surplus of $500,000 to $700,000, Chapman said.
Smith said he didn't have confidence that the 2011 budget presented by staff to the board would be an effective tool in addressing CARTA's budget woes. At his urging, the board voted to send the budget back to its Finance Committee for further review.
Chapman said that raising fares by 16 percent will lead to a projected 6 percent decrease in ridership in the coming budget year starting Oct. 1. However, overall revenue for the year would rise by an expected $303,000. Little or no change in ridership combined with the higher fares would increase revenues by $580,000, Chapman said.
Eliminating Route 106 Otranto Stall and all Carta@Night services would save $543,000 annually. Changes to the Express Route 2 Mount Pleasant/West Ashley would save $70,000 and eliminating some Sunday bus service would reduce costs by $247,000.
Smith said CARTA should focus on improved service so that completion of a route takes no more than an hour. The idea of eliminating Sunday service was discussed, but board members had mixed feelings about it.
"Let's take a look at this and bring some options back to the board," Smith said.
The board needs to focus on ensuring the long-term sustainability of the CARTA system. "We are at a crossroads now," he said.
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