If approved by the COIC board, it will be the first increase in its six-year history

To help account for steady budget cuts while maintaining its services, Cascade East Transit leaders have proposed a 20 percent rate increase for certain routes.

The bus service, which was launched by Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council (COIC) in 2008, provides town-to-town public transportation throughout the Central Oregon area, as well as in-town rides by reservation.

Up to this point, CET has never altered their $1.25 rate per one-way trip for zones 2 and 3, which include the communities of Prineville, Madras, Redmond, La Pine, and Sisters. However, they began exploring the option last year, and now intend to raise the fare to $1.50 for those zones.

The rate change proposal noted that CET has experienced steady budget cuts during the past two years, and in the absence of dedicated local funding, needs to look to new revenue generating opportunities. The document added that CET rates are low compared to the industry average and that passengers have stated a preference for higher fees over losing service.

This marks the third rate change proposal for CET. An initial proposal in June 2013 was greeted by the COIC board with a request for revisions out of concern the rate hike was too drastic. A second proposal was discussed, but not acted upon, leading to yet another revision.

The current proposal is designed to impose rates that will increase the overall fare box recovery rate from 11 percent to 15 percent of system costs.

In addition to the income generated by rider rates, CET receives $10,000 per year from Crook County, and the City of Prineville contributes $7,500 from its transportation fund and $2,400 more from the city council’s discretionary fund.

City officials and staff said they value the public transit system and hope that it not only continues in Prineville, but thrives.

“We feel that transit that comes here that connects us to Redmond and Bend is important,” said City Planning Director Phil Stenbeck. “There are certain sectors in the community that need that transportation to get to facilities and opportunities provided in other communities.”

Prineville Mayor Betty Roppe expressed similar sentiments, and supports the rate increase if it helps continue the bus service.

“We would like to keep the transportation coming to our community,” she said. “If a slight increase in the rates will do that, I think it’s a good thing ...We would like the increase to be as modest as possible, but we know they are really struggling to make ends meet.”

Roppe hopes that if CET weathers its financial struggles, the service will eventually gain more momentum in Prineville.

“We think it’s a matter of time before people adapt and realize there is transit,” she said. “They are so used to just jumping out and getting in their cars. We believe it will increase.”

COIC will take feedback on the fare change at their next Regional Public Transit Advisory Committee meeting on Tuesday. They are holding the session at the Redmond Public Library in order to optimize the ability of CET riders to attend.

During the meeting, the committee may accept the changes as presented, accept them with revisions, or reject the proposal in its entirety. The resulting proposed fare changes, if any, will then be considered by the COIC board during their June 5 meeting.

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