WILLIAMSPORT - Fare increases for STEP Inc.'s transportation program will go into effect on June 1, but most customers will see only nominal increases - and in many cases, no increase at all - for rides under the program, agency officials said Friday.
The transportation program provides an average of about 100,000 rides per year for residents of Lycoming and Clinton counties. Services are available to people receiving Medical Assistance, the elderly, people with disabilities, and even the general public.
"Eight out of 10 will see either no increase or a nominal increase of only 15 cents (per ride)," said James D. Plankenhorn, STEP director of transportation.
The agency, which receives reimbursement for the cost of each ride from the state Department of Transportation and state Department of Public Welfare, recently was authorized a reimbursement increase by those agencies from $16.60 per ride to $20 per ride.
The reimbursement helps cover the actual cost of the ride, STEP President and CEO Terry Roller said.
"Prior to (the increase), every single trip STEP made cost us more than we were being paid," Roller said. "For years, STEP was providing services and using internal resources to help pay for those rides."
The amount a customer is required to pay for a ride depends on which program the ride is sponsored by, he said.
"There will be, in some cases, a very minimal fare increase to customers themselves, but in most cases, there will be no increase at all," Roller said. "The funding source really drives what the customer pays and in many cases, that is nothing."
According to Plankenhorn, 37 percent of the program's ridership is under the sponsorship of the Department of Public Welfare's Medical Assistance Program. People in that program pay nothing for rides, Plankenhorn said.
Senior citizens who ride under the sponsorship of the Bi-County Office of Aging and account for 32 percent of the program's ridership, will see an increase of 15 cents, from 85 cents to $1 per trip.
Those sponsored under the Shared Ride Program, which account for 12 percent of program ridership, will see a 50-cent increase from $2.50 to $3 per trip, he said.
Those riding under the Americans with Disabilities Act or Persons with Disabilities sponsorship account for 12 percent of the program ridership and will see no increase from their current $4 per trip fare.
The general public not under any type of program sponsorship will see a cost per ride increase from $16.60 to $20 per ride.
In spite of the fare increases, the Transportation Program is a deal for STEP customers, Roller said. That is due to the vastness of the agency's coverage area and the largely rural nature of that area, he said.
"We are one of the largest providers in the state in terms of footprint and (geographic) territory," he said.
"(The program provides) rides from anywhere in the Clinton-Lycoming County area," Plankenhorn said. "Theoretically, $3 (under Share Ride Program sponsorship) could pay for a ride from Renovo to the Lycoming Mall."
Coupled with changes in service hours implemented this year, the increased reimbursement and fares "really strengthen the financial viability and stability of the program," Roller said.
On Jan. 1, STEP went from providing transportation services 24 hours a day, seven days a week to providing those services from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday.
Those changes were made in response to funding cuts by PennDOT and the DPW. Those agencies asked STEP to make cuts and increase efficiencies to get in line with the funding cuts.
STEP soon will begin working with a PennDOT consultant who will work with the agency with an eye on improving efficiencies in the transportation program even further.
Roller said challenges remain regarding the agency's efforts to provide transportation services. Those challenges include funding - or a lack of it - and variables like ridership, gas prices and unforeseen maintenance costs.