Hampton Roads Transit is beginning to strike deals to keep its GoPass365 ridership program running at colleges and major employers under scaled-back arrangements that will charge much more per pass.
Norfolk State University officials have agreed to buy 600 passes at $250 each for the fiscal year beginning July 1, said Ray Amoruso, HRT's chief planning and development officer, on Thursday. The university plans to give them to students on a first-come, first-served basis and monitor the demand before buying more, Amoruso said.
The city of Norfolk is considering a similar arrangement, but one in which workers would pay half of the cost of the $250 pass if they want one; the city would cover the rest, Amoruso said.
City spokeswoman Lori Crouch said by email that specifics are still being worked out and that the City Council would have to approve any deal with HRT during its budget vote later this spring.
Old Dominion University's executive board also is weighing a deal, as is Newport News Shipbuilding, Amoruso said.
Less progress has been made toward new agreements with Tidewater Community College and Eastern Virginia Medical School, he said. Students, staff and faculty at the two institutions are covered under deals that will expire June 30.
Representatives from EVMS and Old Dominion University told HRT's Board of Commissioners last month that they could not afford the transit agency's higher asking price and fretted about their students losing the perk.
The GoPass365 program allows users to ride without paying a fare on any of HRT's services. Former CEO Philip Shucet started it in 2011 to boost ridership and fill empty seats. It began costing the agency so much in lost revenue that it prompted Shucet's successor, William Harrell, to begin overhauling the program last year.
Under the original offer, HRT charged schools and employers lump sums based on how many students or workers they had, and every student or worker was automatically covered. Colleges were billed $6.50 per person. Rates for employers ranged from $25 to $200, depending on the total number of workers.
HRT lost an estimated $2 million in fare revenue over one year. Use of the passes peaked in January, when they accounted for about 334,000 trips, according to agency statistics. There were about 267,000 trips taken on them in March.
Under the new program, Norfolk would buy at least 600 passes in the scenario that Amoruso presented, putting its minimum share of the expense at $75,000. The city paid about $130,000 in 2012 for every employee to be in the original program - a deal that covered some 5,600 people, according to HRT records.
Revamping the GoPass program was one of the top recommendations of a critical report earlier this year on HRT's finances. The changes were under way by the time the third-party review was done at Harrell's request through the American Public Transportation Association.
The HRT Board of Commissioners last month ordered their internal auditor, David Taylor, to investigate the report's findings. He returned Thursday with a spreadsheet that said all of the issues raised by the peer review were known by HRT staff and in most cases already were being addressed.
Taylor, a board appointee who is independent of the agency's CEO and staff, also said that items in the report were worded in such a way that they sounded more serious than they actually were.
Dave Forster, 757-446-2627, firstname.lastname@example.org