Social service agencies say Whatcom Transportation Authority's proposal to eliminate some fare options in favor of new ones would make transit for people in need too inconvenient or expensive.
Between now and the next meeting of the WTA Board of Directors, the transit agency's staff will work to resolve problems these groups said would arise from replacing tokens with day passes. The board is scheduled to vote on the fare proposal on April 18.
The concerns came to light at a public hearing before the WTA board on Thursday, March 21.
If WTA offers $3 day passes and eliminates reduced-fare tokens for single rides, service organizations will have less flexibility and higher costs, agency officials said.
"The tokens have just been really flexible to us in being able to service a number of very vulnerable and needy families," said Bobbie Wiley of Catholic Community Services. "Yes, they will get more rides (in a day), but we will lose the ability to serve more people."
Ian Linterman, special programs director at the Mount Baker School District, figured the 50-cent tokens he provides to homeless students so they can get to or from school would need to be replaced by the $3 passes.
"A six-time increase is a significant concern for a budget that's very small," Linterman said.
WTA officials said they hadn't realized these unintended consequences might arise from the fare-payment policies.
"We need to reconsider our proposal with those things in mind," WTA spokeswoman Maureen McCarthy said.
Besides eliminating tokens and instituting a day pass, the proposal would end the distribution of 50,000 free-ride coupons, to be replaced by free day passes for low-income people. The WTA also would offer a 10-ride ticket for $9 or a similar discounted multi-ride ticket, said Rick Nicholson, WTA's director of service development.
Other passes would not be affected by the changes, he said. No fare increase is proposed.
The new policy will go into effect when new fare boxes are installed in all the buses - no later than Jan. 1, 2014, Nicholson said.