627379LvO1986F7A.lg

(photo by Brandon Wise)

CITY HALL — Bus fares are going up, and the cost of a parking violation could be next.

Faced with a $6.4 million Big Blue Bus operating deficit, the Santa Monica City Council on Tuesday approved increasing cash fares from 75 cent to $1 for standard passengers, from 50 cents to $1 for students and from 25 cents to 50 cents for seniors, the disabled and those on Medicare.

The approved increases, which will take effect Aug. 29, were less than the transportation officials had asked for and may require the council to hike parking ticket costs to keep the bus system financially solvent.

The increases will generate an additional $2.4 million annually for the bus system and will prevent service reductions through fiscal year 2011-12, officials said.

The council approved the increases by a 4-3 vote, with Mayor Bobby Shriver and council members Richard Bloom and Bob Holbrook dissenting. A potential 10 percent increase in fines for parking violations would raise about $1.25 million annually, City Manager Rod Gould told the council, potentially offsetting the need for an additional fare increase.

The council is expected to consider that idea, along with other possible revenue generating strategies, later this year.

Councilman Terry O’Day said he believed the council should raise parking violation fines by as much as 20 percent to generate revenue for the bus system.

“Already cars are so heavily subsidized in our society,” he said, so the goal should be to shift costs away from public transit users and toward drivers. Other revenue streams for the bus system could come from increasing Downtown parking fees or increasing parking meter rates on the boulevards, he said.

Council Member Bloom noted that an increase in parking violation fines would generate revenue that the city may need for its general fund, which is facing a $13.2 million deficit.

In voting with the minority against the increases, he said the BBB needs more guaranteed revenue that will put the system on firm financial ground without requiring new revenue streams.

“This is an issue where if we start addressing it now we’re going to be in a far better place,” he said.

Mayor Shriver said limiting costs should also be part of the discussion about the Big Blue Bus budget.

“If we’re going to ask the public to increase the fares, it seems to me we ought to be asking the employees, who are such an enormous percentage of the budget, to make some contribution to that,” he said.

BBB officials had asked the council to hike the standard fare to $1.25, an increase that would have brought in $3.4 million annually, but council members opted for a more moderate increase, citing the steep decline in ridership the larger fare hike would have caused.

The fare increase for seniors was the first rate hike in 25 years, officials said.

In addition to the raised fares, the council also approved new 30-day bus passes that offer unlimited trips at reduced rates. The 30-day passes will cost $60 for standard riders ($80 for a pass that includes Express lines), $40 for students and $24 for seniors, the disabled and those on Medicare. There’s also a “Baker’s Dozen” pass that offers 13 local rides for $12.

nickt@smdp.com