Why Sun Metro is proposing fare increases after receiving millions in federal funding

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EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — It’s been 15 years since Sun Metro has increased fares and the city’s public transit system is looking to do just that this year.

“It’s really bad on us, bad on Sun Metro for not raising our rates previously, so we’re not ever going to do that again,” said Sun Metro Managing Director Ellen Smyth.

While the fare increase has not yet been approved by City Council and won’t be until the fall, Sun Metro says they are proposing that regular bus fares go from $1.50 to $2. In addition, there would no longer be transfers but instead, riders would need to purchase all-day tickets, which would be $5.

There will be no increase on already discounted rides for seniors, students, military and children.

Smyth said Sun Metro received more than $40 million in CARES Act funds, however, she said more is needed since Sun Metro is facing a $17 million deficit.

“The CARES funding that we received, the first thing we did was pay off our deficit,” Smyth said. “We actually used the money from the CARES for the salaries and used salary money to pay off the deficit and we also ordered 10 new buses.”

Smyth added that some of the CARES Act money is being saved for next year. As for funding from the American Rescue Plan, Smyth said Sun Metro may receive more funding, but that’s not a sure thing.

Smyth estimated that the fare increase would add an additional $880,000 in revenue to the more than $6 million in revenue Sun Metro made in 2020.

An El Paso disabilities advocate said that, after 15 years, now is the time for the fare raises.

“Why now? We’re just coming out of a pandemic. Why do you want to kick us when we’re down?” asked George Zavala.

Zavala said he knows many people who rely on Sun Metro, as he is blind himself and cannot drive.

“People, especially individuals with disabilities like in my example, I can’t drive. When my wife is working, I have to use transit or LIFT and normally, thank god, I’m working because 99.9 percent of LIFT passengers don’t work.”

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