C-U transit board increases bus fare, addresses student safety

By Brittney Foreman

The Champaign-Urbana Mass Transit Department board approved a proposal to increase bus fares on Wednesday, effective August 12, 2007. The increases will only affect the already discounted fares, including tokens and passes, but the base fare will remain at $1.

For now, University students do not have to worry about any extra costs. The contract the University holds with the C-U MTD is good through August 2008, said William Volk, C-U MTD managing director. Volk said in 2008 an increase may be negotiated between the district and the University.

At the public hearing, which took place before the board meeting, Dale Woodworth, Champaign resident, said there didn’t seem to be a lot of public negotiations for the residents of Champaign County.

“The first notice I saw about this was in Sunday’s News-Gazette,” Woodworth said.

On July 18, a week before today’s hearing, Jan Kijowski, marketing director of C-U MTD, posted the notice of the public hearing on the C-U MTD Web site. On the notice, the proposed increases are listed. There was also an amendment passed by the board to change the cost of the fall/spring pass to $115 instead of the originally proposed $120, since the increase in that case would have resulted in a higher percentage than the others. Now the increase is one to two percent lower than the other passes.

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    The rising cost of diesel fuel is the main cause for the increases, Volk said. He also said bus fares haven’t been adjusted for three years.

    “Substantial increases in diesel fuel costs over the last year and a half, have gone from $1 a gallon to $2.20 a gallon,” Volk said.

    He said that with each penny increase in the cost of diesel fuel results in an increase of $7,500 per year. He said that since the C-U MTD has had more than a $1 increase in fuel, in rough terms, it has incurred a total cost of $1 million, which is more than it was paying a few years ago.

    To combat diesel costs, Volk said the MTD is looking into buying hybrid buses, which will decrease its dependence on diesel fuel. However, it will end up paying a higher premium – $500,000 for a hybrid bus versus $300,000 for a regular one. Despite a larger short-term cost, in the long run, hybrid buses will result in an increase in miles per gallon and lower emissions.

    Volk said funding for the C-U MTD relies on fares, taxes and state funding.

    Board member Paul Lucas said they are caught between a three-way rock and a hard place: the people who pay the taxes for the buses aren’t necessarily the same ones who use the service; the people that use the buses now have to pay a higher cost; and the state has not been paying its 20 percent like it’s supposed to, Lucas said.

    “I don’t think any of us take any relish in . (making) fare adjustments,” Volk said. He added that C-U MTD offers a higher level of service than other communities with populations over 100,000 do, such as the Sunday service.

    “I think there is great value for the fares that we do give to the public,” he said.

    Woodworth said he doesn’t like the Sunday service because of its inconvenient hours of operation. He also had a list of other things he addressed, such as foul language use on buses and University students who cross the street in front of buses. He saw one incident where he said 10 students got off of a bus and crossed in front of it at the shelter by the Union.

    He said maybe students think they are superheroes who can stop the buses from hitting them.

    “Something needs to be addressed before students get back,” Woodworth said.

    Volk said eventually there will be a fence erected in front of the Union so that when the bus pulls up students will have to walk further away to cross the street.

    Board member Pam Voitik said the University has a comprehensive plan to address the issue. Voitik, previous interim director for the University Parking Department, said the University is doing a lot to get the message out that students need to use the crosswalks, including passing the word through safety videos freshmen are required to watch.

    It may not be enough.

    “(With) 40,000 students on campus, not everyone’s going to follow the rules,” Voitik said.