On Thursday, Tompkins Consolidated Area Transit Board of Directors approved a plan to eliminate its two-tiered price system that charges more for rides outside the greater Ithaca area.
Beginning Aug. 25, all routes will be $1.50 per ride for adult passengers and $0.75 for those who qualify for half fare, including seniors, minors, and disability recipients.
Currently, TCAT charges $2.50 on inbound rides originating in Zone 2 — which includes rural and village areas such as the towns of Lansing, Dryden and Newfield. At the same time, it costs $1.50 for rides stemming from Zone 1 regions, such as the City of Ithaca and the villages of Lansing and Cayuga Heights.
This difference in fees means that riders making a trip from Zone 2 into the city and then back out must carry two different boarding passes. Following the implementation of the new fee structure, riders currently holding Zone 2 passes will be able to redeem them for full value and transfer them to Zone 1 passes according to the press release.
The $1.50 flat fare will also apply to outbound rides within Zone 2, which are currently free. A public hearing will be held on July 27 to discuss this change.
According to Scot Vanderpool, TCAT general manager, the decision was “geared towards rural riders,” a part of which are low-income populations who typically need transit the most and have been increasingly forced to live outside the city due to the high cost of housing.
“Why should these people be paying more for their transit experience? This just did not make sense to us,” Vanderpool wrote in an email to The Sun prior to the board approval of the plan.
“There is an equity piece to eliminating Zone 2 fares — the lives of everyone in our community and the local economy as a whole are enriched when public transit is accessible and affordable,” he continued.
The two-zone system was originally implemented in 2012 to help balance TCAT’s budget and operating costs. The change to eliminate the extra charges for Zone 2 is expected to reduce fare revenue by $45,000 per year, but TCAT will only need 50 new round-trip riders to balance out the costs, according to Vanderpool.
“We would gain ridership in a fairly short period of time to make up for any loss of revenue. One additional factor is simplification of our fare system. It’s really a win-win,” Vanderpool said.
As part of the New York State Mass Transit Operating Assistance Program, TCAT is also reimbursed by the state 40.5 cents per each passenger trip and 69 cents per mile traveled, according to the press release.
“This is an important step to reach our transportation goals, to make it as easy as possible for people to come to work without needing cars or taking up parking spaces,” said Ducson Nguyen, chair of the TCAT Board of Directors.