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Government & Politics

Free Rides Ending Soon; FAX Bus Moving To Hybrid Fare Model In September

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As City Councilmember Tyler Maxwell and I get on the FAX bus at Shaw and Cedar, a cool blast of air greets us. Our fare is free but that ends in September. Maxwell says the zero fare experiment was helpful during COVID, especially for low-income residents without cars. FAX busses returned to full capacity last week.

“I can't tell you how many stories my office has gotten over text, email, phone call, just saying what a huge relief this has been for so many families, especially during the pandemic,” he says.

But the free fare policy is changing, he says, because he and other council members were unaware of a contract that the city entered into before the pandemic, for a grant to purchase ticket vending machines, which dispense paper tags. The contract is valid for another 8 years.

“If you don’t use machines for their effective life, you're on the hook for about the tune of $18 million,” Maxwell says.

Maxwell and other council members are still weighing the benefits of zero fare; if it’s worth the option of paying out the contract early, or implementing a gradual transition over the remainder of the contract. 

In September, some people will still ride free: Fresno Unified, college students, kids ages 1 to 12 and veterans. Maxwell says he’s working on a plan to reduce the fare for others from $1.25 to $1. Maxwell says offering free fares was a way to make transportation more equitable.

“Most of the people that get on the bus are riding it because they absolutely need to,” he says. 

But he acknowledges, FAX has a long way to go to grow ridership out of its core users. Maxwell says some people could be motivated to ride buses to reduce their carbon footprint.

“I’ve talked to a lot of people all over the socioeconomic ladder who are really environmentally-conscious and trying to make that difference by switching to the bus,” he says. 

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FAX Busses have been offering free fares since March 2021.

But with nearly 120 busses and 20 different routes, Maxwell says it’s difficult for FAX to cover the city’s urban sprawl and attract more riders.

“The sheer size of our city has been an obstacle. And I'm not talking about population, I'm talking about square mileage,” he says. “115 square miles and that makes it really difficult to get from point A to point B.”

Adding to the environmental incentive, Maxwell says FAX will have to convert its fleet to 100% electric by 2040. Two electric vehicles will be coming on board soon and eight more over the next two years. 

Maxwell says he’s hopeful that the city will find a way to implement permanent zero fare in the future. That includes fighting for more of the city’s share of Measure C funds, as well as funding from private enterprises that Maxwell says have expressed interest, in addition to state and federal grants.

 

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