Planned fare hike for bus, AnchorRides draws mixed reaction

Nathaniel Herz

The Sullivan administration is proposing fare increases for the city's buses and parallel transit service for the elderly, after the Assembly struck down similar plans last year.

The proposal, which was released earlier this month with Mayor Dan Sullivan's 2014 budget, would boost fares for seniors from 50 cents to $1, and notch adult fares upwards from $1.75 to $2.

Monthly passes would go from $19.25 to $30 for seniors, from $25 to $30 for youths, and from 55 to $60 for adults.

Fares for AnchorRides, a shared service for Anchorage's elderly and disabled residents, would go from $3 to $3.50 -- which is reduced from last year's planned increase to $4.

The proposal would reduce day pass prices for youths, from $5 to $2.50. It would also allow veterans, who currently pay full price if they're under 60 years old, to pay half price.

The fare increases for senior and Anchor-Rides would be the first since 2005, said Lance Wilber, the city's director of public transportation. They're designed to pump about $600,000 of new money into the department's $23 million budget, he added -- about $300,000 of which would go towards boosting service.

The city currently raises between $4 million and $5 million a year from fares, and adults are the ones who "carry the system," he said.

"It's difficult. There's just no doubt about it," Wilber said in an interview. "But I think proportionally and equitably, we're trying to come to a situation where everyone's paying an equitable share for the service we provide."

Wilber said that his department would consult with the city's Public Transit Advisory Board to determine how the new money would be spent.

One option, he said, would be to run buses every 30 minutes instead of every hour on the 75 route, which travels south from downtown on C Street, then east on Tudor Road and north on Muldoon Road to the Veterans Administration clinic.

The city could also send more buses on routes to Eagle River, which were cut back in 2010, Wilber said, or provide more service on Sundays or at night.

So far, the proposed increases have generated mixed reactions.

Rita Hatch, the Medicare director for Anchorage's Older Persons Action Group, objected to the large proportional increase in the fares for senior citizens.

"Fifty cents may not seem like a lot to you. But when you don't have much money, 50 cents is a lot," she said. "And you can't get anywhere if you don't pay for it."

At the Anchorage Senior Activity Center, receptionist Mary Wolcoff said that she had been hearing from visitors who feared the proposal to raise prices for AnchorRides would force them to cut back their use of the service. (Wilber noted that the planned hike to Anchor-Rides had been cut in half from last year's, after vigorous opposition to a proposed increase to $4.)

But the transit advisory board will probably support the city's proposal, said member Jed Smith, given that the increases would help pay for new service.

"I don't think anyone's necessarily being unfairly targeted," he said. "We all just kind of agreed that everyone's going to have to float this."

Anchorage's transit advocates have been trying to fend off cuts over the last few years, so they welcomed the plans to boost service, Smith said Tuesday, a day after members of the advisory board met with Sullivan to discuss the administration's proposal.

"There's always been the threat of, 'we're going to cut these buses; we're going to cut these routes,' " Smith said. "We thought, geez, this is a step in the right direction."

Two Assembly members, Patrick Flynn and Jennifer Johnston, were more cautious.

Flynn said he was waiting for a detailed breakout of the effects of each increase on revenues, and how those revenues would be used -- though he added that it would take substantial improvements to the bus system before he'd be willing to back a fare hike.

"We're providing what's absolutely needed, but we're not providing enough that it becomes a service of choice," he said. "And so, until we kind of switch the mentality around that, I think it's tough to justify fare increases."

Johnston said she was also awaiting more information, adding that she was generally skeptical about "docking the working poor." She said she would explore whether the Assembly could find another source of money to replace the fare hikes.


Reach Nathaniel Herz at or 257-4311.