Whatcom Transportation Authority will try to work its way out of deficit spending in 2013, in part through a proposed fare increase.
The 25 percent increase, to $1.25 for a single ride, would go into effect in fall 2013. The cost of monthly, quarterly and annual passes would increase by a smaller amount, WTA spokeswoman Maureen McCarthy said.
Before the WTA Board of Directors takes a final vote on the increase, the public will have opportunities to weigh in. Community meetings likely will be scheduled for this spring, McCarthy said. The board also will hold a public hearing.
While the change will boost the transit agency's revenue starting in late 2013, WTA will still lose $1.3 million next year, about the same deficit as this year.
The fare hike would generate about $400,000 a year, according to staff estimates.
The agency's operating budget is projected to grow 7.6 percent in 2013 compared to this year, in large part because of out-of-control costs, McCarthy said.
"The biggest factor for our expenses going up is our employee benefits," she said. "We are actively engaged in not only trying to control that but reverse that."
The cost of health benefits is projected to increase 20 percent next year. WTA staff is negotiating with union employees on a cost-saving solution - possibly switching to a state insurance pool.
A five-year agreement to provide bus passes in bulk to Western Washington University students, approved early this year, already accounted for the fare hike. If the increase is approved, payments from Western to WTA will range from $793,000 this academic year to $947,000 in 2016-17.
WTA's budget took a bad turn in 2009, which was the year of the most recent fare increase: $1 instead of the previous 75 cents.
Budget planners in late 2008 were overly optimistic about income in 2009. That year, sales tax revenues - WTA's largest funding source - came in $3.1 million below projections.
Four years later seemed like the right time to consider another fare increase, McCarthy said, especially given recent increases in fuel and insurance costs.
The WTA board will hold a public hearing on the budget at 8 a.m. Thursday, Oct. 18, in Whatcom County Council chambers, 311 Grand Ave.