Could BFT rates go up again?

Could BFT rates go up again? »Play Video
TRI-CITIES, Wash. - A year after Ben-Franklin Transit announced a rate hike, KEPR is digging deeper into the budget. Was that hike enough? Could the transit company be asking for more in the future?

On the bus, off the bus, more than 12 thousand people board these buses daily. Even more when you add in dial-a-ride and vanpool.

Keeping the fleet of 600 vehicles rolling is no small job. It's no wonder Ben-Franklin Transit raised rates last year. But are they likely to go up again?

Richard Chudej rides everyday. He said, "There's no such thing as never saying never."

Riders like him are bracing for the worst..

"You never know. When they say one minute they're not going to do the rate increases and then the next minute, boom, everybody's getting hit," he said.

This is the feeling most riders had last year. A single ride went from a $1.25 to a $1.50 last year. Some of those costs are spent on upkeep. Crews work around the clock to keep buses on the road. Repairs can run close to $40 grand a year per bus and BFT has 60 of them.

BFT gets most of its budget from you, even if you don't ride the bus.
It gets a portion of the sales tax. That can be volatile, just like the cost of gas.

If you're feeling pain at the pump, imagine what BFT feels buying nearly a million gallons worth of fuel every year without a fixed rate.

Right now BFT doesn't have a contract for fuel. It has in the past. It's waiting for prices to level off before locking a new one in. A risky game, especially if the fares stay as is.

Christy Watts with BFT said,"People depend on the service so when you cut service it puts people without rides. It's better to raise the fare a little bit so it's still there."

This makes everyday riders a bit nervous.

Richard said, "Lower ridership, higher the rates, higher the rates, lower the ridership, it's a domino effect."

That domino effect isn't always cured with higher prices.

Despite raising fares halfway through the year, BFT still ended 2012 more than $150,000 dollars over on operating expenses, saved only by a bigger windfall on sales taxes.

The transit company tells KEPR the board of directors isn't scheduled to review rate hikes for another year or so.

Last year's changes should remain in effect until at least then.