Proposed changes in bus service for next school year could leave students a little poorer, but potentially with improved transportation services.

Representatives from the Santa Barbara Metropolitan Transit District presented proposed changes to the rates and services provided to students and the community for the 2003-04 year in a meeting Tuesday at the Graduate Students Association Lounge from noon to 1:30 p.m. The MTD, which busses people to UCSB on seven separate lines, may lose a significant chunk of its funding next year due to the state and national budget crises and the failing economy. As a result, the MTD is planning to raise rates so it can still operate at its current capacity. UCSB students already pay a lock-in fee to provide unlimited bus rides, but the fee would increase as regular adult fare rates rise.

All UCSB students currently pay a $7.50 transit lock-in fee per quarter, which provides unlimited bus use for students during every quarter in which they are enrolled. Due to the failing economy and state and federal budget crises, the MTD could raise fare rates at least 25 percent next year, which would trigger an equal rise in the student lock-in fee – bringing it to over $9.37. The regular adult fare would be $1.25 per ride.

“The lock-in fee is based on a contract with MTD that does exist and there’s an automatic trigger for an adjustment in the rate of that lock-in fee when you raise adult fare,” Transportation and Parking Services Director Tom Roberts said. “So there will be an increase for the student body in their lock-in rates based on what you end up doing with the general public adult fare.”

The five graduate students at the meeting agreed an increase in the lock-in fee would be worthwhile considering the benefits of the bus service.

“As a grad student I rarely say this, but I think I’m being undercharged,” said Sarah Kriz, GSA vice president for academic affairs and graduate student in the Psychology Dept.

The MTD has not had a major fare increase since 1998 while operating costs have increased significantly, from about $11 million in 2000 to about $14 million in 2003. The MTD makes up the difference with federal and state subsidies – primarily the Federal Operating Systems subsidy and local transportation tax.

The MTD is expecting to get at least $300,000 less this year from the Federal Operating Systems subsidy, a national subsidy based on population, MTD Controller Jerry Estrada said. It is also expecting a significant cut in funds received from the local transportation tax, a state subsidy based on sales tax.

“Essentially, 0.25 percent of the sales tax generated in Santa Barbara County is dedicated to public transportation issues. Now in Santa Barbara County, the Santa Barbara Association of Governments distributes those funds by population. So approximately 50 percent of that comes to MTD as a subsidy each year,” Estrada said. “Now, as we all know, the economy is down and as such that’s translated into about a $400,000 decrease from our fiscal year 2002 figures.”

The impending funding cuts are expected to eliminate at least $700,000 from the MTD coffers, about 25 percent of MTD’s budget. In order to continue the current bus schedule, MTD is considering several fare raising measures, such as increasing the existing flat fare rate, creating different peak hour rates above the regular rate, charging more for express lines, increasing the fare in specific areas, creating transfer fees and creating more pass programs in order to generate funds.

“[The figures] give you an idea of approximately how much money we’re looking for in order to generate the revenue needed to maintain the existing level of service,” Estrada said. “When you look at the services we have now, just to maintain that service, we have to generate those funds and what we’re left with, unfortunately, is raising passenger fares.”