Inundated with petitions, the Juneau Assembly is reversing its decision to collect bus fare from all seniors and disabled riders. Instead, the Assembly decided Monday, Capital Transit will exempt seniors and low-income disabled riders.
"This service should never have been taken away from seniors and disabled persons," said Lorilyn Swanson, chairwoman of the Juneau Committee on Aging. "Those that ride the bus are those who do not drive and need this source of transportation. Many are not riding the bus because they cannot afford to."
Before August, all seniors and disabled passengers rode city buses for free, regardless of income. But to increase revenues, the Assembly decided last summer to charge them $12 for a monthly pass. Capital Transit expected to make $40,000 a year.
Then came the complaints, including from the city's own Committee on Aging and the Americans with Disabilities Act Committee.
In agreeing to the change, Assembly member Jeff Bush said it's important to encourage seniors to remain as active as possible.
Andy Pope, who had led a campaign to reverse the policy, said taking a bus at minimum cost is a quality of life issue for the city's seniors.
Kevin Gadsey, who represented Southeast Alaska Independent Living, said many of the clients his organization serves rely on buses to live an independent life.
"The Capital Transit system is an important piece to that puzzle for persons with disabilities who don't have other transportation modes or cannot schedule the Care-A-Van ahead of travel time," Gadsey said.
The Assembly didn't exempt all people with disabilities from paying bus fare, just disabled people with low incomes. The city doesn't know how many people with disabilities will be affected. City Manager Rod Swope also needs to define what "low-income" means.
Gadsey said many people with disabilities can afford to pay $12 to ride the bus, but some will fall through the cracks due to an already tight budget.
Capital Transit Manager John Kern said city buses serve about 400 seniors and people with disabilities every month. They make up 20 percent of the riders.
To ride free, seniors just need to show bus drivers the sales tax exemption identification card issued by the city.
Mayor Bruce Botelho said it's unclear when the new fare policy will be effective.