Riders say Sun Van rate-hike proposal would be burden

2013-08-14T00:00:00Z Riders say Sun Van rate-hike proposal would be burdenBy Joe Ferguson
Arizona Daily Star
Arizona Daily Star

There were two things not in dispute during the second public hearing for the Sun Van rate increase held at the nonprofit Beacon Group on Tuesday.

The city paratransit service is indispensable to the day-to-day activities of the mostly disabled adults and children who use it, and a proposed elimination of the reduced fare — boosting the cost per ride to $3, or $6 for a round trip — is an impossible burden for most riders.

That was consistently the message delivered by about 40 people, many of them Sun Van riders or parents whose children rely on the service.

One man rose and patted his 38-year-old daughter on the back, saying the public discussion so far has focused on the working poor, when it should instead focus on the thousands of disabled people who rely on Sun Van buses.

Outlying his daughter’s finances — a combination of disability and Social Security checks as well as her meager salary — Theodore Knuck said she doesn’t have the ability to absorb the proposed 300 percent increase. Neither do countless retirees or disabled people living on similar fixed budgets, he said.

“Most of the people here have no chance of earning any more money than that. They are stuck with that. The proposed increase takes away from what they’ve earned here at Beacon or at other jobs,” Knuck said. “It is absolutely impossible for these people to pick up $3 a ride. They simply don’t have the money.”

One man shouted “Amen” while others murmured in agreement.

Nearly 3,100 riders qualify for the discount fare. Currently, the economy fare is $1 for each trip for those who qualify for the reduced fare. The proposal phases in the economy fare increases over the course of the next 11 months. A $1 increase is scheduled to go into effect on Oct. 14 and another $1 increase is scheduled for July 1.

Sun Van officials said the transit service needs to recoup more of the cost in providing the service, estimating that each of the 544,000 one-way trips it provided last year cost $28.75.

Assistant General Manager Mary McClain told the audience on Tuesday the transit service is offering free coaching to Sun Van riders, helping them to better utilize the less-expensive Sun Tran bus line.

The proposal was a nonstarter for Knuck, who said his developmentally disabled daughter has been taken advantage of while riding the bus.

“She is going to be 39 years old but she hasn’t learned what ‘stranger danger’ is,” he said, his voice breaking. “It is difficult for some people to ride the bus. It is dangerous for some people to ride the bus.”

The director of development for the Beacon Group, Patrick McCarthy, agreed.

He said hundreds of his employees — many of them developmentally disabled with no other opportunities for work in the community — take the bus. For many, he said, it works. But there are hundreds solely relying on Sun Van.

“It is not safe, it is not practical for many of our clients,” McCarthy said.

A father whose son uses the service, Skip Woodward, said the fare increase, which could put an estimated extra million dollars in Sun Van coffers, would hurt many people barely surviving on Social Security or their wages from the Beacon Group.

“You have no idea what that million dollars is going to do in the way of impact,” Woodward said, pleading with officials to watch the number of Beacon employees who couldn’t make it to work without the low-fare option offered by Sun Van.

He was quick to praise the paratransit service, despite his opposition to the proposed fare increase.

“I haven’t seen an organization that is run better than Sun Van,” Woodward said. “We are constantly calling to change things and we are getting great service.”

The next public hearing on the increase is scheduled for Thursday at the Eastside City Hall, 7575 E. Speedway. The meeting starts at 4 p.m.

Contact reporter Joe Ferguson at jferguson@azstarnet.com or 573-4346.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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