PRTC bus fares to rise about 10 percent Tuesday

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By Jennifer Buske
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, July 1, 2010

Riders who use the Prince William area bus system will pay more starting Tuesday as its parent agency looks to fund its budget in another grim year.

The Potomac and Rappahannock Transportation Commission is increasing fares about 10 percent on its local, commuter and Metro Direct buses that serve Prince William County, Manassas and Manassas Park. PRTC officials said the fare increase is needed to reduce the subsidy paid by the local jurisdictions, which are also strapped for cash.

"No one ever wants to see the cost of something increase, but we've had quite a few passengers write in, and they recognize it's not just PRTC," PRTC spokeswoman Christine Rodrigo said, noting public hearings on the fare increase were held in January. "Every transit program is facing similar challenges."

Fares for OmniLink and Cross County Connector buses will be $1.20, up from $1.10. OmniRide fares will rise from $6.50 to $7 for cash-paying customers and from $4.75 to $5.25 for SmarTrip users. On Metro Direct and the Tysons Express, fares will be $3.30 for cash-paying customers, up from $3, and $2.65 for SmarTrip users, instead of $2.40. Rodrigo said that if Congress reauthorizes a $230-a-month transit subsidy for federal workers, OmniRide fares will increase an additional 25 cents.

PRTC officials said the fare increase is the first since December 2008. It will not fund new service but instead will offset a decline in contributions from the local jurisdictions, particularly Prince William. Overall, the local jurisdictions are expected to contribute $8.7 million in fiscal 2011, $2.2 million less than in the current year.

Prince William County relies on a 2.1 percent tax on fuels to fund its subsidy to PRTC and Virginia Railway Express. PRTC officials said the county's combined subsidy for fiscal 2011 to PRTC and VRE of $15 million is about $3 million greater than the revenue currently generated by the fuels tax. Although the county has been able to tap into gas tax reserves, that will dry up soon.

"As we go on, that balance is going to dwindle and go into the red unless we plan ahead," Rodrigo said. "We've done projections for a few years out, and we know if nothing changes, the county is going to be running a deficit."

With the ticket price increase, fares are projected to generate $10.2 million for PRTC's $30.4 million fiscal 2011 budget, compared with $8 million in the current fiscal year. Reduced fares for people who are 60 and older, have a disability or a valid Medicare card will still be available on PRTC buses.

VRE spokesman Mark Roeber said the commuter rail service isn't raising fares but has done so four times within 16 months to shift some of the burden off local jurisdictions. For fiscal 2011, local jurisdictions will contribute $16.1 million to VRE's $91.9 million budget, with Prince William providing $6.4 million. Fares will make up about $28 million of the VRE budget.

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