Tuesday, December 29, 2015

County Raises Bus Fares for Poor and Elderly

Sunshine Bus monthly pass cost to increase
Posted: December 28, 2015 - 11:38pm | Updated: December 29, 2015 - 12:18am

For Nikki Hawkins, the Sunshine Bus is more than just a ride.

It’s part of her life almost every day.

“Thank God for the bus,” said Hawkins, who sat in a bus shelter near the St. Johns County Main Library on Wednesday.

Hawkins, a Vilano Beach resident, rides the bus to work, shop and run other errands. Without it, she said she’d be walking a lot or biking.

“It’s something I depend on,” she said.

Sunshine Bus Co. has been around for more than a decade, and recently St. Johns County approved an increase in the cost of the regular monthly pass from $25 to $30 and half-fare passes monthly from $12.50 to $15. The half-fare pass is for those with disabilities as well as older riders and students, according to the county.

The cost per ride of $1 won’t increase for now.

Hawkins said she doesn’t use the monthly pass — she pays less than $1 with her health care coverage — but didn’t understand the need for the increase.

Others disagreed.

“I think it’s fair,” St. Johns County resident Sheila Nicholas said of the increase. Nicholas waited for the bus on Wednesday in front of the Publix at Cobblestone Village.

Operated by the St. Johns County Council on Aging, the rise in rates is not a necessity. However, officials want revenue to cover more of the service’s operating costs, said Becky Yanni, executive director of the Council on Aging.

The state requires the Council on Aging to report the amount of money the group brings in compared with the operating cost. The Sunshine Bus revenue is at a little more than 11 percent of the operating costs, she said. The statewide number is more than twice as high.

Yanni said the group’s transit development plan includes increasing passenger revenue as an objective. She said it will move toward the goal of getting the percentage to the mid-20s.

She also said an increase in the per-ride fee, while not currently on the table, will have to happen at some point.

The local coordinating board for the Sunshine Bus has to approve any proposed fee increases. Fee increases also go to County Commissioners for approval.

Commissioners voted unanimously to approve the monthly pass increase.

The county’s public transportation system — Sunshine Bus and medical transportation — is funded through about $2.8 million in federal and state grants and a local St. Johns County match of $276,000, Yanni said. The bus serves a swath of the county, including Vilano Beach, U.S. 1 north and south, Anastasia Island and other areas, stopping at institutions and businesses along the way.

One of those stops is the Wal-Mart on U.S. 1 South, where Robin McCarthy waited on Wednesday.

McCarthy, of St. Augustine, said the Sunshine Bus allows her to shop and make it to doctor visits and costs less than cab fare, even with the pending monthly pass cost increase.

“For the price, you still can’t beat it,” she said.

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