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Hearing on proposed Pan Tran fee increase attracts few

December 01, 2008|By MATTHEW UMSTEAD

MARTINSBURG, W.Va. -- A public hearing held Monday on a proposal to increase Eastern Panhandle Transit Authority (Pan Tran) bus fares attracted little interest, despite significant ridership gains in the last year.

A bus driver who said he wanted to be prepared for questions from riders if the increases are put into effect on March 1 was one of the few people who attended the hearing, along with other than Pan Tran board members and Operations Director Lynn Walker.

Pan Tran's base fare of $1 for a one-way trip would increase to $2 and a monthly pass would increase from $40 to $60 if the changes are approved.

A second public hearing will be today from 4 to 6 p.m. at Ranson (W.Va.) City Hall in Jefferson County. Comments should be submitted in writing by 6 p.m. to the Transit Authority.

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Operated in Berkeley and Jefferson counties, Pan Tran provided more than 13,000 trips in November and overall ridership has increased by 7 percent in the 2007-08 fiscal year, Walker said Monday. The jump in ridership was the largest gain in West Virginia, Walker said.

"I'm afraid that we may lose some people," Walker said of the fare increases proposed. "I'm hoping it won't be too big of a burden on our riders."

Walker said a large number of riders already receive a 50 percent discount on fares because they are 62 or older, disabled or have Medicare cards.

The "half-fare program" would be applied to the new rates.

The fare increases proposed are due in large part to unexpected spikes in the cost of diesel fuel, which burned through 51 percent of money budgeted for the current fiscal year in the first four months, Walker said.

Pan Tran operates on a $900,000 budget, with the bulk of the money coming from federal allocations and contracted services, including Shepherd University campus shuttles, Walker said.

Local governments contribute $150,000 to $180,000, and Walker said she did not feel she could go back and ask for more money after they already helped offset significant state funding cuts in recent years.

"The public should understand how difficult it is to keep public transit running," Transit Authority board member Gregg Wachtel said.

"The costs are going nowhere but up," said Wachtel, adding significant ridership increases were not enough to keep up with maintenance, insurance and other expenses.

Walker said efforts to make Pan Tran more readily available by offering a reservation-based bus ride program have been so successful that she could fill a second bus in a couple of months, if she had the money to do it.

Riders can call Pan Tran a day in advance to schedule a bus trip for an additional $2 above the regular fee.

More information about Pan Tran's transit schedules and fares are available at www.pantran.com.

Comments concerning the proposed fare increases can be mailed to Lynn Walker, Pan Tran, 446 Novak Drive, Martinsburg, WV 25405. E-mails should have the subject heading "hearing comments" and be sent to epta@pantran.com, Walker said.

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