Price of ORT rides set to rise in county today

Wednesday, February 2, 2005

The estimated 150 residents of Carroll County using Ozark Regional Transit face a different-tiered rate structure effective today, according to ORT Director Phil Pumphrey.

The previous rate of $1.25 per ride has been changed to a sliding rate based on the distance of trips. For rides of 10 miles or less, users will pay $2, with rates of $5 for between 11 and 20 miles; $7 for between 21 and 30 miles; and $10 plus 50 cents per mile for trips over 31 miles.

County Judge Ulys Smith, the county's representative on the ORT board of directors, noted that Carroll County riders have not had a rate increase in nine years, and while the added expense could be a hardship that some won't like, "it's like higher gasoline prices ---- it's a fact of life."

The likelihood of a marked increase in rates came to light in December when Pumphrey conducted a public hearing for ORT riders in Berryville. At that meeting, he said that between Eureka Springs, Berryville, Green Forest and the county, $30,315 was budgeted for the service in 2005, which will be matched 50/50 with federal money to provide slightly less than one and one-half vans to service the county this year.

Service equivalent to a half-time van is contracted to taking Carroll County patients to Ozark Guidance Center in Berryville.

The county and its three major cities all raised their contributions to ORT significantly, with the county's portion almost tripling to $7,500, Smith said.

"It will hold us steady," Pumphrey said. "It helps, but it's not going to solve everything."

Pumphrey indicated that the increased fares could eventually raise enough money to reinstate the bus service that was eliminated. "This will double our revenue based on the current ridership in Carroll County."

"I have no problem about the service they provide," said Smith, "It helps a lot of the elderly, I'm glad it's here."

Select members of the ORT board of directors are expected to travel to Reno, Nev., to study that city's local gas tax which is used to fund public transit and road improvements.

Such a scheme could be implemented by ORT, particularly in fast-growing Benton and Washington counties, where the population is fast approaching that of the Reno area.

The Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department has drafted a bill to override state code prohibiting cities, counties and municipal corporations from levying taxes on gasoline, and is looking for a state legislator to sponsor it.

If enacted, the bill would allow communities to use an interlocal agreement to form a transportation authority, and voters would have to approve a gas tax separately.

Arkansas Highway Commissioner Jonathan Barnett, who represents northwest Arkansas, objects to to the idea because it could take money away from highway projects.

The draft copy of the bill includes a clause that 70 percent of the revenue generated from such a tax must go to state highway improvements, but Pumphrey is hoping ORT board members can lobby to remove that clause.

Pumphrey describes the idea as being "locally permissive," meaning that Carroll County would not be obligated to being part of the authority and enacting a gas tax if such action was initiated elsewhere in ORT's service area.

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