New Pierce Transit passes meant to stop cheaters

Magnetic strip cards would replace paper transfer tickets that some riders reuse; 1-way cost would go up $1

Staff writerJune 11, 2014 

Pierce Transit is moving to eliminate paper transfer tickets in favor of all-day bus passes as the agency tries to increase fare box revenue and end transfer-ticket abuse among passengers.

“The current paper transfer is rife with problems,” said Jay Peterson, a transit development manager who spoke at a Pierce Transit board meeting this week.

The proposed all-day passes would cost $5 for adults and $2.50 for students, the elderly and disabled. They would go into effect Nov. 1.

The change would effectively increase a round-trip adult rate by $1; a one-way fare with a transfer ticket currently costs $2.

The transit board will vote on the proposal at its next meeting, July 14.

To prevent abuse, the all-day passes would have a magnetic strip allowing bus access only on that day.

The magnetic strip technology would require the replacement of all fare boxes, many of which are more than 20 years old.

Peterson said Pierce Transit plans to pay for it with a $2 million federal grant. The agency will replace the fare boxes even if they don't change the bus pass system.

He said some riders collect and reuse old transfer tickets days or weeks later, taking revenue from the agency.

Pierce Transit recovers 16 percent of its operational costs — 4 percent lower than the national average. The agency has endured several years of declining revenues, a pair of failed ballot measures to raise the sales tax, and a reduced service area and hours. In recent months, its sales-tax revenues have stabilized.

Answering a question from transit board member Kent Keel during Monday’s presentation, Peterson said he couldn’t estimate extra revenue from the fare changes because the agency doesn’t know the full extent of the transfer abuse problem.

Officials say they would be able to provide better numbers in early 2015, after the proposal is implemented.

Janine Robinson, a senior planner for Pierce Transit, said the all-day pass could benefit low-income and minority riders who take the bus frequently throughout the day for groceries and other necessities.

The proposal is in response to a comprehensive fare study that confirmed what many had known for years: Transfer tickets are reused by riders looking to dodge additional fares.

Peterson said the study was based on feedback from bus operators and transit supervisors. The agency later collected rider opinion by conducting a survey and holding two focus sessions earlier this year.

In response to the study recommendations, Pierce Transit also started a “closed door policy” in which the doors of a bus are locked when the driver exits the vehicle. Peterson said the change, which went into effect this month, is intended to increase fare box revenue and improve driver and passenger safety.

Michelle Douglas, executive director of the Rainbow Center in Tacoma, spoke during the public comment part of Monday’s meeting and said Pierce Transit did not consider social service organizations in the process.

The Rainbow Center is a nonprofit group active in sexual orientation and gender identity issues.

Douglas said organizations such as hers provide bus tickets to disadvantaged citizens.

“It is really important to reach out to these social service agencies that are buying these tickets,” she said. “The people that we’re providing them to, this is often the only way they are able to get to their appointments.”

Douglas said if the proposal goes through, she won’t be able to purchase as many bus passes for the people she serves.

Ryan Tarinelli: 253-597-8670

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