ST. GEORGE – In its work meeting Thursday, St. George Transit Manager Fred Davies asked the City Council to consider several proposed changes to the city’s bus system, including the purchase of an additional bus, a restructuring of bus fares, and permission to offer full bus-wrap ads to advertisers, allowing ads to appear on the sides of the busses.
Since the SunTran service began in 2003, the city has seen a dramatic increase in ridership. In the first year the service was offered, about 60,000 rides were given throughout the city. SunTran projects that this year it will provide more than 600,000 rides to residents – a 1,000-percent increase from 2003.
Each year, SunTran has seen an average of 10-percent growth in ridership, Davies said, and in that time both fuel and maintenance expenses have increased steadily; however, fees have not increased since the city bus system first began, over 10 years ago.
One of the proposed changes is to do away with discounts for bulk passes. Currently, SunTran offers a 50 percent discount on all bus passes for senior citizens, Medicare card holders, and people with disabilities. Under the proposed changes, the 50-percent rate would still be available for single-ride passes and for 10-ride punch cards; however, riders will not be able to purchase unlimited all-day, monthly, or semester passes at the 50 percent discounted rate.
“This is to keep the system riding and growing,” Davies said.
Under the current fee structure, riders are able to purchase bulk passes, which allow for unlimited rides, at a 50-percent discount. The bulk passes already offer a significant discount for riders who take multiple rides each day, Davies said.
Although the 50 percent discount is meant only for senior citizens and people with disabilities, SunTran does not require riders to show proof of their disabilities. This has led to significant abuse, Davies said, pointing out that 79 percent of all bulk passes issued by SunTran are at the discounted rate. Davies estimated that, while the average rider pays around $.30 per bus ride, it costs SunTran an average of $2.65 per rider to provide the level of service that residents have come to expect.
SunTran is currently planning an expansion of its service to include routes to Ivins and Bloomington sometime in 2014 or early 2015. This expansion will require the purchase of two additional busses – one of which will be purchased by the city of Ivins, and one to use as a spare while the other busses in the fleet are being repaired and maintained. The expansion will also require SunTran to hire another full-time bus driver. In order to help finance this expansion, Davies also proposed that the city consider allowing SunTran to sell advertising space on the sides of the busses.
At the meeting on Thursday, the City Council voted to approve the purchase of an additional bus; however, they said that they would like more time to consider the fee changes and the expanded ads. The city receives substantial subsidies from the Federal Transit Administration, and the council wants to be sure that the requested changes comply with FTA stipulations on grant money.
These proposed measures are expected to be included on the agenda for this Thursday’s regular council meeting at 4 p.m., Marc Mortenson, assistant to the city manager, said. The agenda for the meeting will be posted on the city website at least 24 hours in advance.
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