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No Fare Hike - ROTA Eyes County System
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Riverbank Oakdale Transit Authority directors on April 10 again discussed the public bus system's failure to meet state funding requirements by recovering at least 10 percent of their costs in fares and talked about possible options such as handing over its operation to Stanislaus County Regional Transit.

They declined, however, a recommendation from their transit coordinator Donna Bridges to raise the local system's fares by 25 cents. Fares are currently $1.50 for seniors and the disabled and $2 for the general public. Encouraged by news the fare box recovery figure had climbed from about 7 percent in 2010-2011 to 9 percent in the current financial year, they asked for more information and postponed action to their next meeting in June.

Funding for ROTA comes from Local Transportation Funds derived from one-fourth cent of the general sales tax collected statewide. For ROTA to continue receiving state funds it must collect 10 percent of total operating costs in fare revenue, Bridges reminded the board.

Since ROTA did not achieve the 10 percent fare box ratio in fiscal year 2010-2011, it incurred a penalty of $14,000, the difference between the mandated fares and the actual fares, and ROTA will lose this much in funding for the fiscal year 2012-2013.

In addition, ROTA is currently not being charged for approximately $18,000 in costs. The Local Redevelopment Authority, for example, which manages the Riverbank Industrial Park where buses are stored and the transit coordinator's office is located, does not charge for rent, water and electricity. The city absorbs ROTA's costs for technical support, office supplies and Bridges' use of a city vehicle. Storer Transit in addition has not increased ROTA's costs for the past two years to help meet the fare box ratio.

Local clubs, Bridges added, have purchased bus tickets and distributed them for free, which helps fare revenues. But ridership remains the same and ridership must increase for ROTA to reach a 10 percent fare recovery ratio.

Presenting several options to achieve that, Bridges noted Stanislaus County has proposed merging ROTA with its Stanislaus Regional Transit (StaRT) system which already provides services to smaller cities like Patterson and would offer a simple transition through an agreement to serve.

Among the benefits, ROTA's insufficient fare box ratio would no longer be a concern because those cities with higher ratios would compensate StaRT for the lower ones and fares would be what the county charges at $1.50 or less.

ROTA, however, would lose its local control to Stanislaus County and the joint powers authority (JPA) that runs ROTA would be dissolved; the county would only guarantee the current level of service for the first year and customer service might deteriorate when lost in the larger system.

In another option, Bridges suggested Oakdale and Riverbank could consider dissolving the JPA and submitting separate claims to the Stanislaus Council of Governments (StanCOG) for transit funds. Oakdale might be able to continue functioning because it provides about twice the riders that Riverbank does including many students (about 700 per month) who ride the buses in Oakdale. (Oakdale school buses do not pick up students within the city limits). But it would be limited by vehicle service hours and see its operating costs increase. Riverbank, she felt, would not be able to support its own transit system for lack of riders.

Most transit agencies in the state are struggling financially, and all transit agencies in Stanislaus County have raised bus fares to achieve the 10 percent fare recovery ratio. ROTA directors were presented with this option last year but declined because they did not want to discourage riders, Bridges said, estimating every 25 cents in fare hikes would increase the fare box ratio by 1 percent.

When the ROTA was formed in 1994, the Public Works Department provided administrative oversight and was given a stipend for hours performed. As the system grew, it needed more administrative services. So in January of 2006, ROTA promoted the part time coordinator to a fulltime position. Then in 2009 her job was cut back to three-quarter time. Currently ROTA operates very efficiently, said Bridges. Her transit coordinator's position could be cancelled and administration returned to Public Works. This would reduce operating costs. If ridership remained the same, however, the required fare box ratio would be closer but not achieved.