Passengers board a VIA bus in downtown San Antonio. Photo by Iris Dimmick.
If San Antonio voters approve the tax increase, the funds would go toward the city’s Advanced Transportation District (ATD) to fund various transportation and traffic projects. Credit: Iris Dimmick / San Antonio Report

The VIA Metropolitan Transit board of trustees will meet Tuesday to consider updating VIA’s fare policy to include a minority and low-income disparate impact policy.

VIA held a public hearing Thursday on the proposed policy revision. According to VIA’s public information officer, Lorraine Pulido, no actual fares are being changed right now. The matter is language in the fare policy that must be revamped, as required by Federal Transit Administration guidelines.

The meeting room at the VIA Metro Center was nearly empty save for one resident attendee and a handful of VIA employees. Steve Lange, VIA’s vice president of fiscal management, provided highlights of the proposed policy change.

Lange said transit providers such as VIA must develop a policy to measure whether minority and low-income riders bear a disproportionate share of a proposed fare change.

The transit provider must involve the public in developing the measurement process. Thursday’s session was the only public hearing on this proposal before the board considers it for action.

If approved, the policy would call for a disparate impact test. Lange said, for minorities, such a test would compare the percentage change in their average fare to that of non-minorities.

If the difference in the change is less than five percentage points, VIA would consider there to be no disparate impact between the groups. For low-income riders, VIA would use the same test threshold.

“If there were a disproportionate impact on minorities or low-income riders, other fare options must be examined,” Lange said at the public hearing.

Lange said the 5% difference is deemed reasonable and appropriate to meet Title VI requirements. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, and national origin in programs and activities receiving federal financial assistance.

According to Lange, at current rate levels, the test threshold ensures that the impact is now more than appropriate at $.05 as VIA’s present average fare levels per linked trip are slightly more than $1.

“The magnitude of difference is consistent with how VIA sets fares, since fares are set in multiples of $.05,” Lange said, adding the only exception here are half-price transfers.

Lange gave some disparate impact test examples. In one instance, if the average minority fare goes from $1 to $1.10 with a proposed fare change, it would be a 10% increase. If the average non-minority fare goes from $1 to $1.04, it would be a 4% increase. In this case, the impact on minorities would be 6% higher than on non-minorities, meaning there would be a disparate impact.

In another example, the average minority fare would see a 10% increase and the average non-minority fare would see an 8% increase, meaning a 2% impact on minorities. There would be no disparate impact.

Lange said VIA’s fare policy has a built-in mechanism for helping to prevent a disparate impact from occurring, since it includes fare multipliers used to adjust fares. For example, when base fares change, other fares change based on specific relationships between those fares and other fares.

The lone public comment came from Damon Mason, who asked for specifics about fare multipliers. Lange responded by offering another example.

“Let’s say if low-income people were to use cash more than monthly passes and the non-low-income people tended to buy the monthly passes, if you had a fare change that impacted the cash fares, that could create an issue,” Lange said.

“But we have a policy whereby if you change the base fares, other fares move in concert with that based on multipliers that will prevent any disparate impact from occurring.”

Lange added that the proposed addition of wording is simply “meant to specify that, say, if we’re not below this threshold, there may be a disparate impact.”

Tuesday’s board meeting begins at 5 p.m. at 1021 San Pedro Ave.

*Featured/top image: Passengers board a VIA bus in downtown San Antonio. Photo by Iris Dimmick.

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Edmond Ortiz, a lifelong San Antonian, is a freelance reporter/editor who has worked with the San Antonio Express-News and Prime Time Newspapers.