By Cindi Andrews
The Cincinnati Enquirer
Hamilton County residents with disabilities may not have to pay up to $5 for a bus ride after all. Two county commissioners told transit officials Tuesday that the county will give them $100,000 to wipe out a deficit racked up by the Access handicapped bus service.
"Being able to get around has a tremendous impact on quality of life for people with disabilities," said Commissioner Todd Portune, who uses a wheelchair following back surgery earlier this year.
The deficit prompted the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority to propose raising fares for some riders from 75 cents or $1 to up to $5 one way beginning Feb. 1.
The SORTA board approved the higher fares Tuesday but said they wouldn't take effect if Portune and Commissioner John Dowlin come through with the $100,000.
SORTA, which runs the Metro and Access bus systems, expanded Access in 1997 to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. It went beyond ADA requirements, and the bulk of the fare increases would have been for riders Access is not required to serve.
Other changes are still planned for disabled riders who don't meet ADA guidelines, spokeswoman Sallie Hilvers said. New riders will not be accepted beginning Jan. 1. and service hours and the number of trips will be limited.
In addition, all Access riders will have to pay 50 cents to cross between the bus zones beginning in February, Hilvers said.
Still, advocates for the disabled are relieved that the steep fare increase appears to be off.
"They do have places to go - jobs, if they're lucky enough," said Lin Laing, executive director of the Center for Independent Living Options.
Most of SORTA's $78 million budget comes from the city of Cincinnati, but it gets $325,000 a year for Access from the county, the Southwest Ohio Council on Aging and the Hamilton County Board of Mental Retardation and Developmental Disabilities.
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