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GRTC CARE van price hike comes at great cost to disabled users

Disabled  and elderly bus riders who rely on GRTC’s CARE Van, say they’re hoping city leaders can still find the funds to help take a heavy financial burden off of them.

Richmond City Council voted Monday night to approve fare increases from $2.50 to $3 for basic CARE service and to impose a $6 one-way fare for extended CARE service, which stretches service to the counties.

Brian Montgomery, who suffers from Cerebral Palsy and cannot drive, says the increase will hit him hard.  The disabled man says he makes just over $700 dollars a month and relies on the CARE service to meet critical transportation needs.

“When you’re talking about jumping from $2.50 to $6 a trip each way, that’s a heck of a bite out of the budget and I’d rather feed myself and deal with transportation the best way I can,” Montgomery says.

City Council members, who voted 6-3 in favor of the rate hike, say the money isn’t there to continue subsidizing service to the counties.  The extended service has been provided since 2008, even though it’s not mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The ADA does require local governments that provide fixed-route bus service to offer similar services to the disabled and elderly within a three-quarter-mile zone around existing routes.

Larry Hagin, director of GRTC’s government relations, says the hike is unfortunate but necessary to fill a $780,000 budget gap.  Hagin says city funds haven’t kept up with the demands for ridership.

“We’ve been dealing with budget deficits for years now,” Hagin says.  “From 2003 to 2013 our fixed route costs went up 6%, our CARE service went up by about 75%.”

The basic CARE service will continue to operate in the city from 4:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. during the week.  The extended CARE service will operate from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m., including weekends.  The service will no longer operate until 11 p.m.

If the Richmond City Council can’t come up with alternate funding to help offset the rate hike, the new fares will go into effect on January 5th.

Henrico County is considering a similar rate hike, but a proposal hasn’t been formally submitted to The Henrico County Board of Supervisors.  County leaders say a public hearing will be held once a proposal is submitted and before the board votes.

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