C-Tran board OKs fare increase, gets BRT update

By Eric Florip, Columbian transportation & environment reporter

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C-Tran riders can expect to pay a little more for some bus trips later this year, after the C-Tran Board of Directors approved a fare increase Tuesday for the seventh consecutive year.

Some fares will go up by a nickel. The new rates will take effect Sept. 1.

But the 5-3 vote came over the objection of some board members who argued that C-Tran simply doesn't need the extra money in a year when higher-than-expected sales tax revenues have added to the agency's already-healthy capital reserves.

"Nobody needs to suffer," Clark County Commissioner David Madore said of the fare increase. "We don't have to make it harder for anyone."

The cost of a single adult C-Zone fare, covering trips within Clark County, will jump to $1.75. The All-Zone fare, including trips to Portland, would remain unchanged at $2.50. Discounted fares for youths and seniors also would stay the same.

Single-ride fares for C-Tran's Express service to Portland will increase from $3.60 to $3.75. A monthly Express pass will cost $122, up from $119. The cost of a monthly C-Zone pass will increase from $60 to $61.

The proposed increases follow C-Tran's recent policy of using regular but gradual fare hikes to help cover costs but minimize the sudden impact to riders.

Battle Ground City Councilor Bill Ganley said he believes that approach is working. In past years, when C-Tran approved much larger fare hikes, opposition was much stronger, he said.

Tuesday's public hearing drew just one unhappy speaker. And a series of meetings on the subject last month resulted in a total of three public comments, though all were against the proposed increase.

The 2014 increase is expected to raise an additional $63,000 in revenue annually, according to C-Tran. It was already assumed in the agency's adopted two-year budget.

Madore joined County Commissioner Tom Mielke and Washougal City Councilor Connie Jo Freeman in voting against the increase.

BRT project continues

photoCourtesy of C-Tran C-Tran has proposed building a bus rapid transit line in Vancouver stretching from downtown to the Westfield Vancouver mall along the city's Fourth Plain corridor. The system would also serve Clark College, as shown here in an artist rendering. If built, the line could open as soon as 2016. But some elements, including boarding station designs, remain undecided.

Board members also received an update on C-Tran's proposed bus rapid transit system ahead of a key decision point expected this summer.

BRT uses larger vehicles, raised boarding platforms and other features to move passengers more efficiently and reliably. C-Tran has proposed building a $53 million line primarily along the city's Fourth Plain corridor between the Westfield Vancouver mall and downtown. The system would also serve Clark College on Fort Vancouver Way.

If built, BRT would replace the No. 4 and No. 44 buses along that stretch, and cost less to operate, according to C-Tran. It could open as early as 2016.

Planners have picked a station design concept. C-Tran is now asking residents to help name the system, offering four options to choose from: "The Vine," "The Voyage," "The Vibe" and "VROOM."

C-Tran would purchase 10 BRT vehicles at a cost of about $1 million each, said project manager Chuck Green. They'd operate on a loop within Vancouver, with a separate shuttle taking riders to Portland, as the 4 and 44 buses do now.

The controversial project continues to advance despite uneasiness or outright opposition from some C-Tran board members. The board narrowly authorized additional design work on BRT last month. In July, it will be asked to make an even bigger commitment: spending at least $6 million of C-Tran's reserve funds on the project.

Though its board hasn't yet signed off, C-Tran has already told the Federal Transit Administration that it expects to use reserve money to help pay for BRT. The project can't receive a key federal grant — expected to cover most of its overall cost — until local funding is committed.

The board took no action Tuesday on BRT.