City of Camarillo blames TDA funding requirements for massive bus pass increase. State Moratorium on Farebox Recovery Ratios still in place

by Chris Bailey

01 August 2021, Camarillo

This article is presented in a decidedly different format than normal, as it is addressing a Press Release from the City of Camarillo on Friday, July 30, 2021. Citizens Journal has been researching the background of the May 26 2021 Camarillo City Council decision to raise bus fares for Senior and ADA passengers on the (CAT)Camarillo Area Transit network. Each section of the Press Release has been framed and numbered to give the reader an easy reference to the investigative information for each section.

Organizations typically avoid late afternoon Friday releases, to ensure a press release is widely received. This News Release was distributed at 4:10PM on Friday. This topic was initially on the Camarillo City Council Agenda on May 13 2020, and has been an expenditure of grave concern to the Camarillo City Council for up to 2 years(according to the utterances of Councilmembers during the May 26, 2021). The public should review each section in this press release and determine if more discussion, transparency and information is warranted. 

Statement 1. “The City uses state Transportation Development Act (TDA) funds to match the federal (FTA) funds the City receives annually. In order to use TDA funds, the City must maximize the farebox recovery ratio, or the City risks losing funding.”

According to Tyler Nestved’s presentation on May 26, 2021 there is currently a State Moratorium on the penalties associated with TDA funds. On November 18 2020 at the 44 minute mark Mr. Nestved stated during their Zoom public meeting the city currently used the available TDA funds for Streets and Roads, and should the funds be transferred to Public Transportation there would be two additional requirements: Adherence to a Farebox Recovery Ratio(FRR) standard (which is currently under the State Moratorium), and fairly extensive audits of the public transportation system. Mr Nestved’s May 13 2020 PowerPoint presentation is here. Citizens Journal has not found any record where the city transferred TDA funds into public transportation.  As of this report, there are no FRR penalties for the CAT system due to the State Moratorium. Mr. Nestved also stated that the State appears to be preparing to transfer the responsibility for FRR compliance to the Ventura County Transportation Committee through legislative process. He stated the VCTC will then negotiate reasonable FRR targets to continue the receipt of TDA funds. These statements begin at the 3:42 hour of the May 26, 2021 meeting. There is no offer of information about what a FRR baseline would be from either Mr. Nestved or any Councilmember. In any case, it is not a current challenge. It is in the future.

Statement 2.“We understand the dilemma some of our community members face with the new CAT fares,” Mayor Craven empathized. “The current fares have been a tremendous bargain for a number of years–a bargain that the City can no longer afford to continue. The General Fund has always subsidized rates, but the amount of the subsidy became so high that it is necessary to raise the fares, which will be more in line with what neighboring cities charge.” 

Mayor Craven’s statements at the May 26, 2021 meeting are as follows. “this is the pitfall of never raising rates” and “it seems it would help to do these raises incrementally” and “government is not really in the charity business, riders pay the costs” These statements can be found in the May 26 2021 Councilmember comments after the city staff presentation at approximately the 3:50 mark here Councilmember statements prior to the vote to increase rates on riders reflect a lack of historical focus toward public transportation, a failure to propose an incremental increase that evening, and a basic lack of understanding that public transportation will never be funded by the riders. It is simply too costly for that expectation in a city the size of Camarillo. The only Councilmember who expressed concern for those who would shoulder the burden of a drastic fare increase was Councilmember Susan Santangelo. During Councilmember Santangelo’s comments Mr. Nestved stated that there were NO studies of individual riders, but did not volunteer that there have been extensive studies of the CAT ridership, that were presented to the City Council during the November 18 2020 staff presentation. This was no attempt to deceive the public, as his last presentation was submitted to a Zoom public hearing, and the studies were extensive and extremely informative about the user base for the CAT transportation system. His presentation at the November 18 2020 Council meeting begins at approximately the 44 minute mark and is extremely enlightening with regard to where all the costs for the CAT system are absorbed. Councilmember Kildee also uttered that an incremental increase would seem more appropriate, but for the rules and regulations. As there was no discussion of those barriers in the public meeting, it must be in the Zoom record during the pandemic.

Statement 3.“The increase in transit fares is required to increase revenues by approximately $114,000 for a total estimated fare revenue of $277,000, maximizing the farebox recovery ratio at approximately 12.6%, which is almost double the 7.4% farebox recovery ratio from the prior fiscal year”

There is currently no requirement to hit a FRR target due to the State Moratorium. The requirement doesn’t exist. Could there be a FRR target in the future that requires a rate increase? Yes. Is it now? According to the presentation by Mr Nestved on May 26 2021 and November 18 2020, the answer is a clear no.

Statement 4.Frequent CAT users who ride more than 40 times a month can benefit from buying a Monthly Pass for $80.00 (Senior and ADA) and $120.00 (all others) which is good for unlimited rides during the month for which the pass is purchased. These fares were increased from the heavily subsidized prior cost of $25.00 (Senior and ADA) and $50.00 (all others). A Monthly Pass is not required to use the service and individuals are encouraged to purchase the pass type that best suits their needs and frequency of use.”

At current rates, ALL fares are subsidized. Given that the current fare schedule is not under the scrutiny of TDA audits due to the State Moratorium, the city has options. The city chose to raise the fares over 220%. All American cities accept funds from a number of sources to make public transportation a reality. The largest expenditure category in CAT funds is the General Purpose Dial A Ride. 

Statement 5. What is the total TDA fund commitment? It was covered in the November 18 2020 staff presentation as well. Mayor Craven mentioned a 1984 agreement with Leisure Village which appears to be $16,000 per year in revenue, as stated by Mr Nestved in each of his presentations to the City Council. The city is looking to increase that contract to $25,000, but as of today Citizens Journal has no information on that negotiation. There has also been no reveal of the elements or parameters of the contract negotiation with Leisure Village.

According to Mr. Nestved during his May 26 2021 presentation, the city will reach out to the public AFTER the fare increase was approved. Per the YouTube record of the 28 May 2021 meeting, Councilmember Trembley has monthly meetings with Leisure Village constituents, but no other city councilmember has reached out to anyone in the Senior Citizen or ADA community since May 13 2020 when this issue was first an item on a city council agenda. 

A constant theme among persons who have come to the City Council to state they were never notified a fare increase was on the way is correct. It was NOT decided until May 26, 2021, and there were no published warnings the fares would change prior to that date. The Agenda Item on May 13 2020 and November 18 2020 are very similar to the May 26 2021 Agenda Item description. There was no fare increase after the May 13 2020 or November 18 2020 Council meetings. There was no press release asking for feedback from those who use CAT, and there have been no posting at Camarillo City Hall where bus passes are purchased from May 13 2020 to May 26 2021.  On May 26, 2021 there was no pressure from TDA or any other agency to adjust the FRR, if the public record is fairly presented by Mr. Nestved. In addition to offering this presentation to the City Council on the CAT proposed bus fare increases, in the follow on meeting to discuss the Trolley Mr. Nestved stated Trolley fares was first put into motion by a City Council request to review fares on November 18, 2020. Mayor Craven and Councilmember Kildee were required to recuse themselves due to business conflicts. 

Statement 6. From the Trolley presentation to the City Council who were now three members, there was a discussion of a $30,000 loss in revenue that specifically funded the Trolley. $25,000 a year from Cal State University Channel Islands, and $5000 a year from the Camarillo Chamber of Commerce. Online campus classes ended the CSUCI commitment, and the transfer of the route to a normal bus instead of the Trolley ended the Chamber of Commerce contribution.  Absent any other information to the contrary, it would seem the loss of funding for the Trolley route, and a continued desire or need to keep the General Public DAR system intact triggered the search for revenue solutions. Unless there are other facts outside the public City Council record, there is no current pressing need to increase fares by 220% prior to public feedback. The Press Release heading Funding Requirement Led to Fare Increase for Camarillo Area Transit Service is at best, misleading. 

Chris Bailey is a reporter-at-large of, a business owner, military veteran and long time resident of Camarillo

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