DeKalb city transit bus fare remains suspended going into new year

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DeKALB – DeKalb residents who take public transit will have until at least February to continue riding without a fare, after the DeKalb City Council decided Monday to revisit fares at nearly the two-year mark for the COVID-19 pandemic next year.

DeKalb City Manager Bill Nicklas said during the Monday council meeting aldermen previously considered whether to reinstate fares during the council’s July 12 meeting. At that time, council decided to maintain a fare-free public transit system for the remainder of 2021 and to revisit the matter in December, he said.

“The council felt, the mayor felt that it was best to continue that to late in the year and see where we were,” Nicklas said.

After public discussion and at the suggestion of Nicklas, aldermen directed city staff to revisit the prospect of reinstating bus fares in February. First Ward Alderwoman Carolyn Morris and Fifth Ward Alderman Scott McAdams were absent from the Monday meeting. Staff also was directed to provide more comprehensive analysis about how state and federal funding compare between other similar transit systems in the state.

“I don’t think we lose much if we don’t reinstate the fare between now and then,” Nicklas said.

DeKalb public transit fare is 50 cents for residents and 25 cents for senior citizens and K-12 students, which is among the lowest bus fares in the state, Nicklas said. Northern Illinois University students pay fare through student service fees instead of per ride and make up about 70% of ridership.

Marcus Cox, head of public transit at City of DeKalb, said the former NIU Huskie Bus Line was operating on a $1 fare for riders before the NIU and city bus services consolidated in 2019.

“And through that process it was recommended that, due to the consolidation, there be a reduction of fare because that actually entices more people to come out and utilize the bus that may not otherwise,” Cox said. “So we actually did see higher ridership on those fare charging routes from the outset of that.”

Cox said fare funds are used for transit-related expenses only. He said the city receives hundreds of thousands of dollars in state and federal grants to run the city’s public transit system.

According to the Monday meeting agenda, the city’s public transit system suspended all route fares on March 18, 2020 due to the pandemic. The only route which required fare was the Elburn Metra Station shuttle.

Suspending the fares was meant to reduce the exchange of cash and enhance safety for passengers and transit employees and it was in line with what most other communities were doing across the U.S., city officials wrote. The move also was meant to help ease financial burdens to frontline workers and others who rely upon public transit to get to their jobs, according to city officials.

Some Illinois public transit agencies reimplemented fares during the summer of 2020 but most remained fare-free, city staff wrote. Illinois cities that reinstated their public transit fares from July 2020 onward include Moline, Peoria, Danville, Springfield, Rockford, Bloomington, Kankakee and Champaign. Decatur’s systems remain fare free.

According to city documents, DeKalb collected $55,437 in fare revenue from the fixed route system in 2019. From January 1, 2021 to November 29, 2021, the city’s fixed route system generated about $25,000 in fares.

DeKalb Mayor Cohen Barnes said he agreed with points made by aldermen about possibly discussing raising the actual cost of fares in the future.

“This is an opportunity for a revenue stream that’s gonna help offset additional expenses that aren’t covered with the state federal matching grants and we’ll have them look at it,” Barnes said. “ … But if they are – well, why not let our citizens ride for free on a transit system obviously running exceptionally well?”

via Shaw Local

December 14, 2021 at 06:49AM

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