Golden Gate Transit proposes yet another rate increase

In what has become a predictable development for passengers of Golden Gate Transit, fares could soon be rising on agency buses and ferries, with the latest proposal calling for annual increases totaling roughly 25 percent over the next five years.

Every year since 1998, passengers of the North Bay transit system have dealt with some sort of fare increase.

Facing a five-year operating shortfall of $89 million, the Golden Gate Bridge District is now hoping to raise $2.6 million over the next half-decade.

If the proposal is approved by the district’s board of directors, the fare increases would take effect July 1.

One-way fares would initially increase by 10 cents a year for bus passengers traveling from Zone 2  (Sausalito and Mill Valley) and 55 cents for those coming from Zone 6 (Santa Rosa). Over the entire five-year period, the increases would total $1.10 for Zone 2 passengers, and $2.55 for Zone 6 passengers.

Clipper card users currently get a 20 percent discount for traveling on the system, a deal that would remain throughout the fare increase program.

The proposed increases also would affect the district’s ferry system. Starting July 1, one-way passage from Sausalito would increase by $1 — from $8.25 to $9.25 — and then rise by 50 cents a year thereafter. Ferry prices from Larkspur would increase by a flat 50 cents a year.

Ferry passengers who pay with Clipper cards (at a highly discounted rate) will not be immediately affected by the fare increase proposal, but they could be considered for separate hikes in 2012.

Other transit agencies in the region have resorted to fare increases to help balance their budgets, but none with the frequency of Golden Gate Transit.

Nonetheless, according to the latest reports from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, Golden Gate Transit ranks fourth among the region’s 28 transit operators in terms of cost efficiency.

Bridge district spokeswoman Mary Currie said the transit division gets nearly half of its funding from toll revenue.

When the region experiences economic downturns, such as the dot-com bust and 2008’s nationwide recession, car traffic drops dramatically and puts the district’s transit system in dire straits.

“We don’t have a lot of options here,” Currie said. “When the economy suffers, our transit service suffers in a heightened fashion.”

A subcommittee of the bridge district’s board of directors will vote Thursday on whether to hold public hearings on the new fare hike proposal.

If approved, there will be two hearings held in early April, and a vote by the board on final authorization later that month.