Proposed New Bus Fares Would Include Free Saturdays in Cedar Rapids

By Rick Smith & Dave Franzman, Reporters

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By Aaron Hepker

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa — Some Cedar Rapids city bus riders could soon pay more. Some less. But everyone could hop on a city bus for free of Saturdays.

That’s the bottom line on a proposed new fee structure for the Cedar Rapids Transit Department. If approved by city council next month, the cash price for a city bus ride would increase from $1.25 to $1.50. But some groups would pay less for the popular monthly, or 31-day, passes. Low income riders, those earning just 160 percent of the poverty level, would qualify for $20 passes. The current price is $36. Students and the disabled could also qualify for the same $20 monthly pass which would be less than current fees. And the biggest change would be free rides for anybody on Saturdays.

Transit officials presented the proposed new fares to the city’s finance committee on Wednesday. It could go before the entire city council with a public hearing in November. Transit manager Brad DeBrower said he wants the new fares to go into effect on December 1st. That would be the same day the city reopens the Ground Transportation Center (GTC) after remodeling to serve once again as the main city bus depot for all riders.

DeBrower said the city’s ridership last year was 1,225,199. But ridership on Saturdays was well under 10 percent of the total. In fact, income from Saturday bus service was only $36,110.26. So DeBrower said there wasn’t much financial risk to giving up fares on Saturday — especially if the move brought in new riders who started using, and paying for, city bus service on weekdays.

One rider waiting for a bus on Wednesday, Steve Dennis, was excited to hear about “free” Saturdays.

“I don’t usually come down on Saturdays but if the bus was free I would,” Dennis exclaimed. Another rider, Kristin Allnutt agreed. “I think it’s a good thing to do because more people will ride and take the bus,” she said.

If the city council approves the new fare structure, Cedar Rapids Transit would still rank about average compared to many Midwestern cities at $1.50 per ride. The city expects the new discounts and free Saturday rides to just about balance out with last year’s income when the new, higher fares are added in.

But another rider, Becky Thatcher, said if you’re the one paying the increase so others can pay less or ride free on Saturday — then it might not sound like such a great deal.

“There are a lot of people in our society who just fall above the guidelines. That could hurt them because they do take the bus too,” Thatcher said.

Transit officials said ridership was up 7 percent two years ago, but only 2 percent last year. The hope is a new fare structure will mean an influx of new riders as well.

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