Drastic changes will be made to transit services in Ceres starting Dec. 1, with the state forcing the city's hand since farebox revenues are falling far short.
Members of the Ceres City Council wrestled with the tough decision before voting 3-1 on Monday to go along with recommendations made by Fred Cavanah, director of the city Transit Services. The changes affect the Ceres Area Transit (CAT) fixed route system and its hours of service as well as Ceres Dial-a-Ride (CDAR) fares and eligibility for service.
The changes are designed to increase the ratio of fare revenues to operating expenses (fare box ratio) to meet the State Transportation Development Act (TDA) requirements. The state requires the city to collect enough fares to cover at least 20 percent of operating costs for CAT and Dial-A-Ride. During the 2014-15 budget year Ceres Dial-A-Ride had a fare box ratio of 10.96 percent while Ceres Area Transit buses posted a 12.88 percent ratio. A financial penalty of about $100,000 a year would be imposed on the city by the state for failing to meet fare box ratio requirements.
The changes also will result in an estimated $286,000 savings with the Storer Transit Services, the city's contractor.
"It would be wonderful and I'd love to be able to provide that level of service but it's not going to meet that objective of a 20 percent fare recovery ratio," said Cavanah. "So if we in the city of Ceres wanted to do that we would need to be prepared to supplement the transit system with general fund revenues."
Vice Mayor Mike Kline said he didn't like the city "eliminating a lot of services that, to me, in certain areas that possibly need it."
Cavanah agreed, saying "there's a lot of areas that are not going to be getting service with this new route that would need service."
"There will be people who will not find it convenient to ride," said Cavanah. "Hopefully there will be more people who will ride on a regular basis because service is consistent and it's direct and the travel times are reasonable."
Cavanah said the state is willing to give the city a two-year exemption from the fare box ratio requirement if it made significant changes to both transit systems.
CAT routes A and B are to be combined into one shorter route while routes C and D will be eliminated. Service will operate from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays with no weekend service. CAT currently operates 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. weekdays, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Saturdays and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Sundays.
The council went along with Cavanah's proposal to limit Dial-a-Ride services to only seniors and persons with disabilities. He explained that because CDAR service is limiting ridership to seniors and the disabled, the city only is required to meet a 10 percent fare box ratio as opposed to the 20 percent it would have to meet by serving the general population. He said dial-a-ride systems rarely generate the 20 percent fare box ratio. People cut out of CDAR service have the option of riding CAT buses, he added.
Ceres Dial-A-Ride will continue operating seven days each week, except holidays, but will reduce hours of service. CDAR service will end at 6 p.m. on weekdays instead of 8 p.m., and on Sundays end at 3 p.m. instead of 4 p.m.
Fare changes are proposed to for both systems. Fares will be lowered for general public rides on CAT from $2 to $1.50; and for students in elementary and high school from $1.80 to $1.50. Currently a child aged five or younger can ride CAT free with a paying adult but that will be expanded to two children riding free. Senior rates for CAT stay the same at $1.50.
Fares for Ceres Dial-A-Ride will be raised from $1.50 to $3 per trip for CDAR for all riders, with the exception that one child age 5 or younger who will continue to ride free for each fare paying passenger. Care attendants for persons with disabilities will also continue to ride free.
The council approved a $39 pass that will allow unlimited rides for 31 days on the fixed route CAT. Current fares range from $1.50 to $2.00 for CAT and $1.50 to $2.15 for CDAR.
Cesar Rubio, who is blind, told the council he depends on the service and said the cuts "does seem to be pretty extreme." He added that the fixed route is "missing a lot of the community."
Kline said he wasn't happy about three-fourth of Ceres service being eliminated but supported the changed when motioned by Mayor Chris Vierra. Councilman Bret Durossette supported the changes while Linda Ryno voted no. Councilman Ken Lane was absent.
A link to a brochure on the changes is available online at www.ci.ceres.ca.us and clicking on the red letters, PROPOSED CHANGES TO CERES TRANSIT SERVICES, toward the bottom of the home page.