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Council moves decision on upping bus fares to June

Tucson may see higher bus fares after all.

Almost a year after rejecting a fare increase proposed by the Transportation Department, the City Council voted Tuesday to have an ordinance created that would raise regular fares to $1.25 from $1.

The vote on the ordinance will occur after a public hearing scheduled for June 2, City Attorney Mike Rankin said.

The council voted unanimously to have Rankin draw up the ordinance, although Councilman Steve Leal took pains to ensure that he was not voting to raise rates.

“There’s parts of this that I do not support,” he said.

Leal later explained that among his concerns was the availability of economy passes at places along bus routes.

Tuesday’s motion was put forward by Councilwoman Nina Trasoff and seconded by Councilwoman Karin Uhlich, who spearheaded opposition to the increase last summer based on questions about data supporting it.

The new proposal advanced the recommendations of the citizens’ committee that was created after the proposal last summer was voted down.

The group advised raising regular rates to $1.25, increasing day passes to $3 from $2 and raising express passes to $1.50 from $1. The group did not recommend an increase for the economy fare but supported more long-term planning.

Transportation Director Jim Glock told the council that not raising fares last summer under a slightly different schedule caused a $2 million loss to the mass transit fund for the fiscal year that ends June 30. He was responding to a question from Councilman Rodney Glassman, who supported the increase last year.

The talk of fee increases widened divisions among council members about how to keep the city in the black.

Leal is a vocal supporter of regular fee discussions in the council. Others including Uhlich advocate considering an index system that would incrementally raise fees over time, ideally avoiding sudden and sharp increases. A proposal to have the directors of departments in which fees are supposed to cover operating costs set the rates also was floated Tuesday.

Trasoff said she understood the council’s role as setting policy on how to adjust fees. In the other camp, Leal said that would be an abdication of responsibility of elected officials and a compromise to the transparency and accountability council members say they have been pushing.

A proposal to increase golf fees amplified the debate. The fees of the golf program are supposed to cover the city’s costs, but this fiscal year, the golf fund was short $1.5 million.

The council voted unanimously to have an ordinance increasing the fees drawn up for a later vote.

Also Tuesday, an increase in water rates that would amount to about an extra $1.80 a month tacked onto the bills of 90 percent of Tucson Water users moved a step closer to reality.

Officials emphasized the $11 million in spending cuts Tucson Water has put in place and the low price of city water compared to bottled water. With the increase, a gallon of tap water would still cost one-tenth of a penny, Director Jeff Biggs said.

“I think it’s a pretty good deal for our customers,” he said.

The increase would generate a 10 percent increase in water rate revenue.

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