MOVTA talks fare increase at forum

VIENNA – The Mid-Ohio Valley Transit Authority is looking at its first fare increase since 1986 to be able to plan for the future, replace equipment and expand services.

The transit authority held the first of two public forums on the fare increase Monday at the Vienna City Building. The second one will be 6-7 p.m. today in the conference room at the Mid-Ohio Valley Transit Authority, 520 Juliana St. in Parkersburg.

The first meeting was attended by transit authority board members and officials from the City of Vienna.

MOVTA services the Parkersburg and Vienna areas, said Tim Thomas, general manager for the MOVTA.

”We are a growing transit system,” Thomas said. ”Ridership in the last fiscal year was 516,207 boardings compared to the previous year which was 481,840. That is up 34,367.

”At the end of July, our ridership has increased again over last year by 3.1 percent,” he said.

The transit system is dealing with changes in federal requirements and funding. Federal money that was once there to help transit authorities in West Virginia is gone, replaced by a new formula program where the state receives a certain amount of money that has to be divided among 19 transit systems in the state.

From that comes money to replace buses and other equipment.

The MOVTA’s last allocation from that fund was around $72,000. The cost of replacing a bus at current market value is around $140,000.

”We would have to save for almost two years to replace one bus,” Thomas said. ”We have five buses that need to be replaced and we are looking at ways to do that. One reason for looking at the proposed fare increases is to plan for the future when it comes to bus replacement.”

Over the last 28 years, the cost of living has increased, the cost of fuel has increased, maintenance cost on vehicles has increased and insurance costs have increased, Thomas said.

”Let me state today that the MOVTA is financially stable,” he said. ”We are not increasing the fares because we are unstable. This is to plan for the future. It is all about operations and capital replacements.”

If the proposed fare plan is approved, the base fare for the Easy Rider buses would go from 50 to 75 cents, with the half fare for seniors, students and those with disabilities increasing from a quarter to 35 cents. Thirty-day passes would rise by $5 to $25 for full fares and $15 for half fares. Day passes, currently $1.50, would cost $1.75.

Thomas presented fares from other cities that had a base fare from $1 (Athens and Zanesville, Ohio) to $2 (Columbus, Ohio). Wheeling has a base fare of $1.30. Charleston and Huntington have a base fare of $1 with an additional 25 cents if a person changed zones (going from one municipality to another) and has to change buses.

Thomas said changing the fare to $1 outright would be too drastic right now with doubling the fare. After working the numbers, the transit authority felt a 25-cent increase per fare would do what was needed.

”We are looking into extending our hours to what we are calling our commuter route service,” he said. ”We are going to be running three buses from 7 p.m. to 11 p.m.

”We are trying to pinpoint people who are workers who don’t have a way home after we usually shut down at 6:20 p.m.”

Thomas and Vienna Mayor Randy Rapp told the story of a man who was walking from Vienna to south Parkersburg after his shift in below-zero weather in the winter.

”That struck me to start pushing this and getting this commuter route up and running,” Thomas said. ”There are a lot of people we are addressing who are workers who don’t have a way home.”

One bus will go to the north side of Parkersburg, one to the south side of Parkersburg and one for Vienna. The idea is to put people within a few blocks of their home.

Transit board member Bill McClure said the board wanted to raise the fare amount to ease the burden on taxpayers who have regularly supported the bus levy.

Thomas said the MOVTA is planning for the future with regulations and other challenges coming up, like safety and security.

”It is all about money; it is about providing quality service,” he said.

The transit authority will be accepting written comments from the public until 4:30 p.m. Sept. 19 on the proposed rate increase.

”We will address each and every comment and respond to all parties that submit a comment after we research it,” Thomas said. ”Each person submitting a written comment will receive a written comment by mail.”