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Transit fares fall short
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Ceres' public transit system is falling short in meeting minimum farebox revenues to satisfy federal rules which prompted city leaders to make changes last week to attempt to bring in more paying customers.

The city receives federal and state funding to subsidize both its CAT (Ceres Area Transit) fixed route and Dial-A-Ride bus services but is required to recapture a minimum percentage of expenses through fares. Dial-A-Ride is exceeding its minimum farebox ratio of 10 percent with a 11.94 percent recapture; however fixed route CAT is failing to meet its 15 percent farebox ratio with just 12.51 percent.

To attract more revenue, the City Council took two courses of action on June 11. First, it added a new fixed route to serve more commercial areas and Cesar Chavez Junior High School. It also nixed the policy of allowing two children aged 5 or younger to ride free with a paying adult to allowing just one child for free.

Councilman Mike Kline failed in a motion to allow the second child ride for half price.

"This policy is consistent with what other agencies in Stanislaus County are doing," noted City Engineer Toby Wells. "It's pretty much the standard that it's one child per paid adult. You have to keep in mind...this is an effort to help that because we are below on our farebox ratio on CAT."

Kay Dunkel, a city of Ceres administrative analyst, said free rides are offered still to a caretaker of paying disabled riders.

"It would help a little bit," said Dunkel of eliminating the second free child rider. "The number of non-paying passengers has increased this fiscal year. It's pretty high. It's about 17 percent of our ridership. We know that changes have been made in the other transit systems to allow just one child under the age of five to ride for free."

She said ridership is climbing and that adding a CAT route D several times a day "should help."

A new CAT route D will operate weekdays focussed on peak school areas and serve Eastgate and Cesar Chavez school.

Wells said it's important for the city to meet the minimum farebox ratio since falling short puts the city at risk of having to make up the difference with general fund dollars. It also would give fuel to the notion of forming a regional transit system whereby the city would lose control of routes and services, said Councilman Bret Durossette, who serves as the city's representative to StanCOG, or the Stanislaus Council of Governments which allocates transit funds.

"We won't have a say," said Durossette of a regional transit system. "We don't want that to happen."

Dunkel is hopeful for the passage of legislation that will allow cities to count bus ad revenue to count toward the minimum farebox ratio.

The Ceres transit system costs approximately $1 million a year. Services are provided through a contract with Storer Transportation.

Dial-A-Ride services have been provided in Ceres since 1977 and the fixed route system since 2003.

Dunkel said the city plans to buy two new clean-burning compressed natural gas buses to its transit fleet and add electronic fareboxes.

The general fare is $2 for CAT rides and $2.15 for Dial-A-Ride.