The new year will begin with a grim start for many of Delaware County’s less affluent residents, particularly senior citizens.
Starting Jan. 1, customers of the Delaware Area Transit Agency (DATA) who utilize DATA’s demand response service will find their fares increasing as much as five-fold in some cases when new rates take effect.
One senior citizen has told The Gazette her round-trip ride to her part-time job will increase from $4 to $22, using DATA’s demand response service.
DATA was recently redesignated from a rural transit system to an urban transit system.
The change will cost DATA about $700,000 in federal funding, or about one-third of the transit systems’ operational budget.
In the past, DATA was able to use a portion of its federal funding to subsidize demand response trips. Now the transit system will have to charge passengers the full cost of the trip.
To ease the burden for DATA users, the transit system will not change the cost of fixed routes, which are $1. Users over 65 and under 18 are charged a fare of 50 cents.
As it applies to Delaware County, the federal designation of “urban transit system” is flawed. Delaware County may have more than 170,000 residents, but we remain a rural county.
A massive system like Columbus’ Central Ohio Transit Authority has large area to cover, but COTA has scores of vehicles, scores of routes and thousands upon thousands of riders (all packed into an area with a high population density), with a 0.25-percent sales tax to help pay for it all.
DATA has bus routes, too. All but one are concentrated in the city of Delaware and one travels along U.S. 23 south of the city. A large percentage of the county is not covered.
DATA could seek a levy, but the DATA board has not discussed option. Levies do not always pass. When they do, money is not always quickly collected.
Meanwhile, the senior citizen riding to her part-time job will see her annual income plunge by $2,808 a year (assuming she works a three-day week) and similar DATA riders face equally hard choices.