TOMPKINS COUNTY, N.Y. — Starting in August, rural riders will no longer pay a premium to use Tompkins transit. The TCAT zone system, which charges bus riders heading into Ithaca from the county’s rural areas and villages an extra dollar per ride, will be eliminated at the end of the summer.

TCAT general manager Scot Vanderpool announced the change Tuesday at a Transit Awareness Day event at the Tompkins County Public Library. “There is an equity piece to eliminating Zone 2 fares,” he said. “The lives of everyone in our community and the local economy as a whole are enriched when public transit is accessible and affordable.”

According to a media release, TCAT will revert to a single fare system on Aug. 25, charging $1.50 for a single adult fare or $0.75 for riders eligible for half fare. Those holding Zone 2 passes will be able to transfer their value to Zone 1 passes after the change takes effect.

The change comes after seven years of experimenting with the zone system. TCAT implemented Zone 2 fares in 2012 to make up for budget shortfalls, charging riders outside greater Ithaca $2.50 per ride on inbound trips. Vanderpool said Zone 2 fares are no longer necessary, though, given TCAT’s rising ridership.

Since 2012, TCAT riders in Zone 2 have paid higher fares to travel into Ithaca.

“We’ve done our homework,” Vanderpool said. “The cost is minimal and we feel strongly that we will be able to recover any loss of revenue relatively quickly through increased ridership.”

The state reimburses TCAT 40.5 cents per passenger trip and 69 cents per mile, so state funding increases along with ridership.

The TCAT board is expected to formally approve the change on Thursday. Board member Denise Thompson chairs the Transit Service Committee, which recommended the elimination of zones after careful study according to a media release.

“We are truly pleased with this initiative toward barrier-free and equitable public transportation. The elimination of the Zone 2 fare is an important step to meet that end,” Thompson said.

Vanderpool said the change will simplify bus service for all riders and visitors while specifically making transit more accessible to low income riders who live outside the county’s center. “TCAT feels strongly that people struggling to make ends meet should not have to pay more for their transit experience,” he said.

Devon Magliozzi

Devon Magliozzi is a reporter for the Ithaca Voice. Questions? Story tips? Contact her at dmagliozzi@ithacavoice.com or 607-391-0328.