Whatcom Transportation Authority plans to offer new ways to pay for a bus trip without increasing fares.
At its next meeting, on Thursday, Feb. 21, the agency's Board of Directors is expected to schedule a public hearing for March 21, to hear input on payment options. Agency staff, working on the changeover for the past four months, has come up with a recommendation: Add a $3 one-day pass and a $9 10-ride ticket, and eliminate the tokens and the free-ride coupon.
To replace 50,000 free coupons per year for low-income riders, social-service organizations could receive 30,000 free day passes, according to a WTA memo.
The change in payment methods will coincide with a replacement of all fare boxes in WTA's fleet, at a cost of $1.5 million. About half the fare boxes are 18 years old and are becoming more unreliable, agency spokeswoman Maureen McCarthy said. Soon, the manufacturer will no longer supply parts for repairs, she said.
The fare box replacement is scheduled for late 2013 or early 2014.
People have demanded the day pass for a long time, McCarthy said.
"The requests intensified after we eliminated transfers," she said. The day pass saves $1 for commuters who make a round trip with a transfer.
The current $1 fare has been in place since 2009. WTA budget writers had added a 25 percent increase in the final quarter of 2013, but the fare hike is no longer proposed for this year, McCarthy said. The anticipated revenue will be made up by WTA's switch to more cost-effective medical insurance and higher-than-anticipated sales tax revenue in 2012, McCarthy said.
Other new payment methods were considered, including smart cards, debit cards and bar codes. The staff wouldn't have these implemented right away but would like a system that could add options in the future, the memo said.
Among current riders, 79 percent use passes, 14 percent pay cash, and 7 percent use free-ride coupons or tokens.
WTA's board meeting is 8 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 21, at 311 Grand Ave., in Bellingham, but that's just to set a date for a public hearing on the payment options in March.
The public hearing on the payment options isn't until March - if the date is approved at the next WTA board meeting, 8 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 21, at 311 Grand Ave., Bellingham.