AC Transit riders will pay 25 cents more for a basic bus fare, starting July 1, as the transit system joined a growing list of Bay Area agencies raising fares in response to tightening budgets.
The AC Transit Board agreed Wednesday night to boost the basic fare from 1.75 to $2, a 14.2 percent increase that will affect about 236,000 riders a day in much of western Alameda and Contra Costa counties stretching from Fremont to Richmond and San Pablo.
"Times are tough. We're in a deep hole," Rocky Fernandez, the board president, said in reference to the twin problems of sharply declining sales tax and a state raid on local transit funds.
AC Transit administrators said the district would face a $57 million budget deficit by July 2010 if no action was taken to steady its shaky financial condition.
The fare increase — the district's first since 2005 — will bring in an estimated $5.7 million annually.
The board imposed the increase across most of the district's fare schedule, but decided to leave unchanged the price of passes for youths, seniors and the disabled at the urging of several speakers.
The monthly pass for youths will remain at $15, and seniors and the disabled will still pay $20.
The per-ride cash fare for youths, seniors and the disabled will rise from 85 cents to $1. A monthly adult pass will climb from $70 to $80.
The increases were approved on a 6-1 vote. Board member Greg Harper voted no, saying the board is not doing enough to get the transit system out of financial trouble.
"It's so modest, it doesn't address our big problem," Harper said.
Board members said a fare increase is the bitter medicine the district needs to offset the financial shock of sharply declining sales tax revenues, and a state budget settlement this year that diverted $25 million from the bus system.
Joyce Roy, a frequent AC Transit Board critic, said fares should not be increased in light of the November election, in which district voters agreed to double a parcel tax from $48 to $96 a year. At the time, board members and managers said the parcel tax increase would avoid the need for fare increases or service cuts.
Since then, the economy has deteriorated so rapidly that the district's financial health and its sales tax revenues have sunk much faster than anticipated, AC Transit officials say.
Other transit systems in central and eastern Contra Costa County and in the Livermore Valley have voted to raise fares in the past year, and BART is considering raising its fares this summer.