SamTrans riders board on El Camino Real near downtown San Mateo.

SamTrans officials are interested in making bus fares round numbers for the sake of convenience and they also entertained the possibility of letting youth ride free at a recent meeting. 

Those two ideas were raised at a July 10 public hearing on a series of other proposed bus fare changes that the SamTrans board has previously discussed and is set to adopt in August. They include holding off on a 25-cent fare increase that was supposed to happen this year and maintaining adult base fare of $2.25 indefinitely; making transfers within a two-hour period free for SamTrans mobile app and Clipper Card users and lowering the price of the adult day pass from $5.50 to $4.50.

The SamTrans board is also set to lower fares for bus lines that travel between San Francisco and San Mateo counties, which include lines 292, 397 and 398. Traveling between the two counties currently costs $4, but it will likely be lowered to the standard $2.25.

Other proposed fare changes include replacing adult and youth coin tokens with paper ones to save the agency $300,000 in costs associated with minting the coins; eliminating the 20% discount for buying a bundle of 10 coins and doing away with change cards, which are administered if a rider overpays. Bus drivers will instead simply not give change to riders.

Also, express bus lines, the first of which will launch in August between Foster City and San Francisco, will cost $4.50 in cash or $4 on Clipper each direction. 

If the above changes are adopted by the board in August, then they will take effect in January.

Despite some protest from Board Member Peter Ratto, who wants to keep change cards as well as the discount for buying a bundle of tokens, board members are all on board with the above changes.

Some board members are also interested in making fares round numbers, an idea that was initially raised by Socorro Aguilar, a student and Half Moon Bay resident, during the meeting’s public comment period. 

“One thing I have witnessed is students not being able to get on the bus because they don’t have the 10 cents out of the $1.10 youth have to pay to get on,” she said. “The person has to either hope the bus driver is nice and lets them get on or that another passenger has the 10 cents to give them or they will arrive late to school.”

Board Member Charles Stone, also a Belmont councilman, sympathized with the concern and suggested round numbered fares will make it easier on riders and the financial hit will be negligible.

“If we are going to keep cash fares, maybe we want to put some thought into making them round because candidly fare box recovery is so low to begin with that playing around the edges doesn’t have that huge of a financial impact,” he said. “If a youth fare is $1.10 and people are struggling to find a dime, heck make it $1 and we won’t take that big of a hit. If a fare of $1.90 — we might want to make it $2, much as we don’t like rounding up, but in terms of dwell time and the convenience factor it might make sense.” 

Board Member Josh Powell and Vice Chair Karyl Matsumoto also welcomed the suggestion.

In addition to youth fares, Powell wants to see a student discount for SamTrans riders who might be in college and are too old to qualify for the youth discount. Senior Planner Daniel Shockley said staff is already working on it, but offered no additional details. 

Stone endorsed at least exploring an even bigger discount: free youth passes. His comments came after several SamTrans riders, including Skyline college student Annette Salgado, said free passes for youth and elderly would increase ridership. 

“If SamTrans introduced changes to make it easier to take the bus there wouldn’t be so many people choosing cars as a first option. The primary change that would help me out is making transit free,” she said. “If I take the bus to school and back home that’s approximately $70 a month — money that could go towards other things, like tuition, books, food, etc. It seems like a small amount, but it adds up and that doesn’t include if I want to go anywhere else.”

Stone agreed that such a move would increase ridership.

“I am curious and would like to know if there’s other interest from the board — I wouldn’t mind seeing information on what it would cost to make youth rider fare nonexistent. In other words, to adopt a program where youth are eligible to apply for a free pass as they’ve done in other places,” he said. “I understand it’d probably be an impact, but at the same time the youth fare is pretty minimal as it is and it may be worth it to increase ridership. And it certainly has some equity issues that appeal to me.”

Stone’s colleagues did not weigh in on the proposal during the meeting.

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