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Kitsap Transit to ask public about rate hikes

t Series of hearings on the way.

Before the Kitsap Transit Board of Directors makes a move to increase rates on bus routes, they’ll be looking for input from someone outside the board: you.

At their most recent meeting on April 15, the board revealed plans to schedule a series of public hearings between now and the next board meeting on May 20 to discuss changes in fares.

“Since we just heard this morning that gas could reach $4 a gallon this summer, I am not willing at this moment to say the worst is even over,” Kitsap Transit Executive Director Richard Hayes said of the current gas crunch.

Dates and locations for the meetings have not been determined, but should become available in the next week or so.

If the hike went into effect, it would hit services across the board — routed and ACCESS fares, monthly passes, worker/driver fares, the foot ferry and Vanpool.

The year has been difficult for transit thus far and March was by far the roughest month.

The agency paid an average of $3.25 per gallon for fuel in March, up from $2.73 in February and much higher than the $2.70 it had budgeted for.

Prices topped out at $3.39 per gallon for the week ending March 22, the most transit has ever paid.

The last time Kitsap Transit approved a rate increase was in 2005. A clause in that resolution allows transit to approve future increases if the price of gas hits $1.75 per gallon or more for six continuous months.

The last time transit paid that much for fuel was in 2005.

Despite transit’s ability to increase rates whenever at this point, staffers said they’re involving the public in the decision-making process.

In another venture outside the 2005 resolution, board member and Poulsbo Mayor Kathryn Quade suggested the rule for rescinding the rate increases be amended.

As the resolution stands, any surcharge would be eliminated if gas prices hit $1.50 per gallon or less for a period of six continuous months. Given the unlikelihood of that event, Quade suggested the board reconsider that figure.

The idea of any rate increase wasn’t popular with her.

“Seems to me that we’ve seen this model with the ferries and it hasn’t worked,” she said.

Figures produced by transit staffers disagree.

A 25-cent increase in fares would result in an estimated $50,000 boost to monthly revenues, according to information presented by Hayes.

That would just be a fraction of how far gas prices are driving the agency into the red — about $200,000 each month — but other changes could allow transit to meet costs.

Cuts to service routes could save about $40,000 per month, administrative cuts another $10,000 and changes to the agency’s Transportation Incentive Program about $100,000.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” Kitsap Transit Finance Director Paul Shinners said. “It doesn’t quite meet our target funding goal, but it’s a step in the right direction.

“Bottom line is ... our revenue growth rate is not keeping pace with our expense growth rate.”

The board also discussed a change in terminology, preferring to refer to any increase in rates as simply a “rate increase,” as opposed to the term “fuel surcharge,” which is what was being used prior to the meeting.

“I think it’s much more straightforward to call it rate increase because of the gas prices,” North Kitsap Commissioner Steve Bauer said. “We may as well admit the costs...”

“Our clients aren’t stupid here, we just need to be honest with them,” Port Orchard Mayor Larry Coppola added.

Whatever term the board uses, however, it’s one that’s likely to be used a lot during the next month and perhaps beyond.

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