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Eau Claire City Council considers reducing transit fees for low-income riders

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    City Hall in Eau Claire on August 5, 2016. Staff Photo by Dan Reiland

    Staff photo by Dan Reiland
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Several Eau Claire City Council members showed support Monday for a transit system that would provide fare reductions to riders with lower incomes. 

During a study session Monday, where council members are given an opportunity to provide feedback to city staff, council members touted plans put forward to reduce fees paid by riders whose incomes are within 185 percent of the federal poverty limit. 

The discussion came after City Council passed a fare increase in November that raised the amount per ride to $1.75, a quarter increase from the previous rate. All-day passes increased from $3 to $3.75, and the elderly and disabled pay 85 cents per ride compared with 75 cents. Rate increases went into effect on Jan. 1.

 Of two options presented to the council Monday to address ways to subsidize low-income riders, council members favored an option of half-price rates for them.

This option would have low-income riders paying $30 for a monthly pass, or half the price it would normally cost. The $30 fee would also apply to the elderly and disabled so there is only one reduced fare rate for the bus drivers to keep track of.

Councilwoman Kathy Mitchell voiced support for that option and said there’s also an opportunity to increase ridership if low-income people are made aware that such options as lower bus fares are available to them.

Councilwoman Kate Beaton said she also favored a plan to help low-income people, particularly those riding the bus, but said she had concerns with the process for people to sign up for cheaper bus passes. 

“I heard from some riders that getting anything but a single pass can be a run-around,” she said. “Making it as easy as possible for people to obtain those passes with all their other busy life things they have to do would be good.”

Concerned over how city transit users would prove their income levels was a concern for councilwoman Catherine Emmanuelle, who was told that process hasn’t been figured out yet.

“We would want to have some way to verify their income,” said city finance director Jay Winzenz, who gave the presentation to the council.

Beaton said last week that she was frustrated the recommendations looked similar to the proposal she delivered before the rates were increased in November. 

“I think we missed a big chance,” she said of not addressing the issue caused by rate increases to low-income riders. “All I can hope for now is we get another chance in the future.”

Bike enthusiast Jeremy Gragert said last week that he didn’t understand why the city didn’t study the impact of raising the fares on potential riders and low-income transit users before the vote was taken in November. 

“Unfortunately, I think the work they’ve been putting in is mostly damage control,” he said. 

Council member Andrew Werthmann was absent. 

Contact: 715-833-9206, elizabeth.dohms@ecpc.com, @EDohms_LT on Twitter


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