People who use Fresno’s FAX transit buses on evenings and weekends will get a 20 percent break in the fares they pay.
Starting Monday, the city is launching pilot reduction of cash fares in hopes of reversing a years-long decline in ridership that now threatens millions of dollars in grants that support the service.
The Fresno City Council last week approved a pilot program to cut fares from $1.25 to $1 on weekends and after 7:30 p.m. on weeknights for up to a year.
“We want to have the flexibility to reduce fares ... in order to attract riders back to public transportation,” said former City Manager Bruce Rudd, who in recent months has been Fresno’s interim transportation director.
Fares will also be sliced to $1 for all hours and routes in November and December during the holiday season, Rudd said. “If it doesn’t move the needle at all, we’ll adjust the fares back in January to where they were,” he added. The reductions will only apply to cash fares paid on the bus, not for passes.
We want to have the flexibility to reduce fares ... in order to attract riders back to public transportation.
Bruce Rudd, interim transportation director for the city of Fresno
The fare cuts are among a number of strategies FAX – an acronym for Fresno Area Xpress – is trying to regain some of its lost riders. Earlier this year, new buses were added to major crosstown routes to increase daytime bus frequencies to every 15 minutes along Shaw Avenue and Cedar Avenue, both serving Fresno State. And the city is continuing with construction of its BRT, or Bus Rapid Transit, system along Blackstone Avenue and Kings Canyon Road that will have buses running every 10 minutes with fewer stops and faster trips.
“Making it more convenient seems to resonate with individuals,” Rudd said of increases that have taken place on the FAX15 routes on Shaw and Cedar avenues.
Maintaining ridership is important because grant funds that subsidize the service depend on fares pitching in on the cost. “To be eligible for state funds, you have to recover 20 percent of your operating expense from the fare box,” Rudd said. “We are getting precariously close to having to use other funds to augment the fare box.”
At the peak of its popularity, the FAX bus service provided between 15 million and 16 million rides per year, Rudd said. Since 2011, however, ridership has dipped 46 percent. The decline in ridership roughly coincided with an increase in fares as well as reductions in service on some routes, he added.