After nearly increasing bus fare rates for Teton Village and commuter routes, transportation officials will take more time to consider how the move could affect ridership.
It has been more than a decade since fares have changed, START Director Darren Brugmann said, meaning they’re due for an update.
But the START board agreed not to rush the decision, opting to think it through more and to wait and see the results of a forthcoming analysis of bus routes.
“We know without a doubt when we increase fares that there will be a decrease in ridership,” board member Seadar Rose Davis said. “How much of that will there be, and how much are we willing to let there be?”
All of the proposed increases to fares have been postponed. But the board still plans to move ahead with a few additions to the fare structure, giving employers the option to purchase discounted six-month and annual commuter bus passes for their employees, priced at $405 and $720, respectively.
“It’s imperative that we keep this part to roll that out as soon as we can,” board member Wes Gardner said.
He said he believes many business owners will sign on to the opportunity, as a tax deduction for themselves and a benefit for their employees.
Those new employer-sponsored passes were one major reason for the fare overhaul, but Brugmann said another was to bring fares into alignment with the cost of operating each bus route.
“Fares have to have a relationship to costs,” he said. “That was an important policy decision.”
The Town Shuttle routes were omitted from the fare increases, meaning they will remain free rather than become linked to the cost of running them.
Melissa Turley, executive director of the Teton Village Association, pointed out that discrepancy, saying she was “challenged to understand how these proposed fare changes take a cost-based approach.”
Board Chair Susan Mick said the Town Shuttle is often used by people who don’t have another transportation choice, suggesting that it’s important for it to remain free.
One controversial proposed fare change targeted commuter routes, increasing the monthly pass rate from $105 to $130.
Pat Donley, who commutes from Star Valley, told the board that fewer people would ride the bus after what they would deem a “fairly large increase.”
Several board members said they were uncomfortable raising fares at all, especially for commuters. Ultimately they agreed not to increase any of them, at least until they have processed the route analysis consultants are preparing.
That study should be complete within about a month, and will offer insights into how to make bus routes more efficient and frequent, and encouraging ridership by making public transit about as convenient as driving.
Board member Gardner argued that to manipulate both variables — routes and fares — at once will make it difficult to tell how well either works.
“How can we judge the success of the route reorganization if we’ve also tinkered with fares?” he asked.