Proposed light-rail fare increase to offset Valley Metro operational costs

Although ridership on the light rail has exceeded expectations in recent months, Metro Light Rail is considering a fare increase that would coincide with a rate hike for buses. (Jessica Zook/DD)

Despite record ridership in recent months that has exceeded most official expectations, Metro Light Rail may see a fare increase this summer to coincide with proposed increases for the rest of Valley Metro’s public-transit services.

Valley Metro announced earlier this month a proposal that would boost the cost across the board for all bus and light-rail ticket prices beginning July 2012. The proposal calls for increasing one-ride fares from $1.75 to $2 and the standard all-day pass from $3.50 to $4.00, as well as monthly passes from $55 to $64.

The increases, if approved by Valley Metro’s board of directors, will be the first to go into effect since those implemented in July 2009, just six months after the opening of the light rail. Valley Metro is proposing the increases to reach a stated goal of recovering at least 25 percent of operational costs through fare collection, which has fallen below that benchmark to about 23 percent.

While the light rail recovers more than 25 percent of its cost from fares, according to light-rail spokeswoman Hillary Foose, Valley Metro’s other transit services are not achieving the same level of success. To maintain price consistency, the proposed fare increase will impact all of Valley Metro’s services, including the light rail, Foose said.

“At the end of the day, while we have great ridership and are so thankful to our riders … our operating costs do continue to rise and it’s difficult to continue doing business,“ Foose said. “It’s important for us to be streamlined with other transit services.”

Metro and ASU transit officials acknowledge increasing fares will likely also increase the price of ASU’s student U-Pass and employee Platinum Pass, which the university subsidizes in part.

“At this point we really haven’t heard much of anything as far as anticipated rate increases,” said Leona Morales, spokeswoman for ASU’s Parking and Transit Services said. “We don’t know if the raise will be slight or larger than in the past.”

The student U-Pass, which allows unlimited access to the light rail and Valley Metro’s bus service, saw an increase from $80 to $150 for the 2011-2012 academic year.

Morales said previous increases to the U-Pass have resulted in fewer student purchases. About 9,000 student U-Passes have been purchased this year, down from more than 13,600 purchased during the 2010-2011 school year, according to data provided by PTS. During the 2008-09 school year, more than 27,500 students used the then-free U-Pass.

Sean Sweat, an urban transportation expert and downtown community activist, said he expects the fare increase will have a “measurable but not huge” impact on light-rail ridership.

“It obviously reduces ridership because that’s how it works: supply and demand,” Sweat said.

Valley Metro would only need to increase fares by 9 percent to achieve its stated goal of 25 percent fare recovery, Sweat said, but the current proposed fares increase prices by about 15 percent.

“The increases seem a little aggressive to me,” Sweat said. “It frustrates me that we don’t fund (public) transit more. We subsidize the hell out of our roads. Everyone thinks they’re free.”

Valley Metro is holding public meetings in several cities to collect opinions about the proposed increases. The first meeting in Phoenix is being held Wednesday at noon at Cesar Chavez Library. A downtown meeting is scheduled for next Tuesday at noon at Valley Metro’s headquarters on First Avenue. A full schedule of public meetings can be found here.

“We feel it’s very important to have public input when we make any changes to service, especially a fare change,” Valley Metro spokeswoman Susan Tierney said. “We have a board-mandated goal to achieve fare-box recovery at 25 percent and we have fallen below that goal.”

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  1. While I did purchase a UPASS for both of the discussed years, I regret doing so for this year. I am also 98% confident I will not purchase a UPASS for the upcoming 11/12 school year and if the fee to purchase a UPASS is increased again, I will most definitely won’t. The fee, while subsidized, is not worth it in my opinion. I moved close enough to light rail to be able to utilize it but it is so poorly supported I feel my money is not being put to use well. Moreover, I’d rather buy my passes directly from Valley Metro, rather than through ASU because they rationalized the increased with “administrative fees” when I asked at the Downtown PTS office, but when I purchased my UPASS, was sent to a computer to purchase my pass and than go to the office to pick it up a few feet away. How does this justify an administrative fee increase? Less paper is being used, fewer people are needed in the office, you get the idea. Id’ rather get a straightforward response that ASU needs more money and one way to get it is through the UPASS, something many students cannot go to school without.

    Lastly, while less students purchased the UPASS, ASU still made a profit:

    10/11 year = 13,600 students x $80 = $1,088,000
    11/12 year = 9,000 purchases x $150 = $1,350,000

    1350000-1088000 = profit of $262,000

    Bravo. I absolutely do not see or anticipate how that money has gone to benefit my education or anyone I know at ASU.