Friday, August 25, 2017

What is Fare Simplification, and Why Now?


Moving toward “One Bus, One Fare”

Community Transit is proposing a fare policy change as part of an effort to simplify the regional fare structure for customers. The proposal would eliminate fare zones, resulting in each bus route having one fare.

The proposal is part of a regional agreement for the Next Generation ORCA project. ORCA is the regional fare system that allows riders to pay their fare on multiple Puget Sound transit agencies using one smartcard. The current ORCA system is reaching its end of life, so development is underway on the next generation of ORCA.

Before ORCA was launched in 2009, there were more than 300 regional fare options. ORCA streamlined those to 85. One goal with Next Generation ORCA is to further simplify the regional fare structure, as well as offer new ways to pay your fare.

For Community Transit riders, this proposal means there would be only one fare option on the bus you board. Local buses have always had only one fare option. However, riders now boarding commuter buses have two fare options.

People now boarding any commuter bus can request to pay local fare if they are only traveling within Snohomish County. Also, people now boarding a north county commuter bus in Lynnwood can request to pay a south county fare going to Seattle.

Under the proposed policy change, those options would go away. Simply put, this means “one bus, one fare.” The bus you board has only one fare.

Systemwide, about two percent of Community Transit riders now request a lower fare on commuter buses. Those riders would have the same choice of buses available, but the decision they might face is whether they want to pay a higher fare in order to catch the next bus going their direction.

Regionally, fare simplification makes it easier for new and existing riders to know exactly what fare is required on each bus. King County Metro has announced its plan to move toward a flat fare, eliminating both zone and peak/non-peak fares.

Why now?
The fare simplification policy is proposed to go into effect region-wide in mid-2018, although Next Generation ORCA will not go live for several years. This was a regional decision as agencies are hoping to simplify their fare structures sooner, rather than having large-scale changes when the ORCA system switches over.

Public comment is being accepted on Community Transit’s proposed policy change through September 11. Information about how to comment, and the actual policy is available at www.communitytransit.org/FareProposal.

What’s next?
Fare simplification is one change coming to Community Transit. Over the next few years, the Swift bus rapid transit network will be built out, offering more frequent buses and easier connections throughout the county.

Other route changes will take place to connect with Link Light Rail, which is now scheduled to start serving Snohomish County in 2024. At that time, Community Transit plans to stop serving downtown Seattle and UW as Link will offer a quicker commute.

Community Transit is updating its 20-year Long Range Transit Plan this coming year; you can review the current 20-year plan at www.communitytransit.org/futureplans.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Expanded Service Makes It Easier To Try Transit



Dump the Pump Day is June 15


Thursday, June 15 is the 12th annual National Dump the Pump Day. This was an event created back in 2005 when gas prices were very volatile, even approaching $5 a gallon in some parts of the country.

Community Transit has participated every year, encouraging Snohomish County residents to leave their cars behind and try using transit on this day. That was a hard sell for us after 2010 when service was cut.

For several years as our service hours dwindled, our buses were overcrowded and schedule performance was spotty following massive layoffs at our company.

This year, we take pride in inviting everyone to try transit! Thanks to county residents, our service is expanding. Last year we added two new core routes connecting Ash Way with Mill Creek and Snohomish, and Lake Stevens with Marysville and Quil Ceda.

This fall we’ll be adding a new route between Lynnwood Transit Center and Boeing, and extending Route 105 during peak hours to establish service on the future Swift Green Line corridor.

We haven’t just created new routes, we’ve been adding more trips. New Sunday trips, new late-night trips and new Seattle/UW trips are coming in September. Even more opportunities to dump the pump.

Why transit? It can save you time, headaches and money. It takes more vehicles off the road, easing traffic. It’s good for the environment and the air we all breathe.

And, it’s a whole different perspective walking our sidewalks and watching the traffic go by from a second-deck window on our Double Tall buses. Try it and let us know what you think!

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Coach Operator Training: Inspiring Confidence

Imagine sliding behind the wheel of a 42,500 pound vehicle, buckling up, and turning the key. Would you be excited? Nervous? Terrified? All of our Coach Operator trainees have been there, and no matter how anxious they may have felt, within just a few weeks they look back fondly on those first-day jitters. What does it take to drive such a huge vehicle without sweaty palms and a racing heart? It takes confidence, the kind of confidence that comes from feeling fully prepared for anything that crosses your path.

Our ten-week Coach Operator training program is designed to empower our employees to take on challenges that build confidence from day one. Training begins in the classroom, focusing on a team environment. We understand that not everyone learns the same way. Our training staff utilize adult learning theories that ensure that all learning styles are met so that each employee feels completely ready to move from one phase of training to the next.

The first eight weeks of training start with basic skill mastery. Trainees move from classroom demonstrations to learning how to maneuver the bus around cones in the bus yard. Skills include everything from learning how to turn the bus to backing up an articulated coach. These skills and drills create confidence and build muscle memory about driving. Trainees have an opportunity to drive every piece of equipment we operate. That scary bus becomes much less scary after just a few days behind the wheel. We define our success by how successful our trainees are, so we encourage a team environment where employees celebrate each other's achievements.

We understand that test taking isn't easy for anyone. We are sensitive to test anxiety and create a program that eliminates that anxiety. There are pop quizzes throughout training to help employees get used to test taking. Formal testing doesn't take place until there's a lot of informal testing, so trainees are comfortable with the format. There is a midterm that focuses on basic skill and traffic control, and a final that covers all of the material including our routes.

To prepare for the CDL exam, trainees are given multiple opportunities to practice simulating driving without instruction. Trainees will have all of the technical understanding needed to pass the CDL "skills tests" which include pre-trip inspection, basic controls, and road test. We pay for this portion of the test, schedule the test, and provide a vehicle for testing purposes.

After becoming proficient at basic skills, around four weeks into the program, trainees take the CDL exam! Once the CDL test is complete, training moves onto driver skill mastery, including learning our transit technology, every type of coach in our fleet, and special areas like University of Washington and downtown Seattle. Trainees drive with groups into neighborhoods across Snohomish County. They receive personalized attention and mentoring from our instructor staff. Trainees learn how to take route notes - about landmarks, the difficulty of certain turns, lighting effects, and where bus zones are located. They not only learn every route, they also learn about fares, how to take lunch, where to use the bathroom, and how to help our customers.

Trainees then have two weeks to operate a vehicle "in-service." With another Coach Operator aboard to assist, trainees will apply everything they've learned, picking up passengers, securing mobility devices, and providing the excellent customer service for which Community Transit is known. These two weeks are an opportunity for trainees to be successful and really shine.

Coach Operator trainees earn while they learn. Paid training starts at $19.75/hr plus great benefits for the whole family (medical, dental, vision, life insurance). Trainees also have access to our wellness program and workout facilities. Upon graduation, pay increases to $23.23/hr and additional benefits include a retirement pension, paid time off, and disability insurance coverage.

We value our employees and want them to be successful. Our Coach Operators are the face of our agency, and play a critical role in our community. The bonding that happens in training classes shapes how our Coach Operators feel once they graduate and take to the road on their own. They feel proud to be part of our ranks and our community. And we are proud to welcome them to the Community Transit family.

Do you want to work where you are valued, and where you make a difference in your community? Apply today for our next training class!

Friday, March 17, 2017

Swift Green Line is still on schedule – for now


Within the next two months, construction will begin on the Seaway Transit Center. This facility will be a central hub for Paine Field-area transit service and will serve as the northern terminal for the Swift Green Line. This is a state-funded project and all finances are “in the bank.”

This week’s news that President Trump’s proposed 2018 “skinny” budget does not include many transportation projects already in the pipeline was not a surprise at Community Transit. While the bulk of funding to build the Swift Green Line will come from the federal government, Snohomish County’s second bus rapid transit project is very much moving forward. Presidential budgets are starting points for funding discussions, but it is Congress that writes and approves the federal budget.

Last year, President Obama included Swift II (later renamed the Swift Green Line) in his 2017 budget proposal. Community Transit received a favorable ranking in the Federal Transit Administration’s Small Starts grant program for the project; it just needed funding. Because of the close presidential election, Congress never approved a 2017 budget.

Instead, the federal government has been kept afloat by Continuing Resolutions, which allow regular spending at 2016 levels, but do not include new projects. Not only are the Swift Green Line and Lynnwood Link light rail among these, but there are many transportation and infrastructure projects nationwide that were vetted through their respective federal agencies in this funding limbo.

Community Transit hopes to get a $48 million Small Starts grant approved as part of a 2017 budget or through a 2017 appropriations bill. Just this week, Community Transit staff and board members were in Washington, D.C. pushing for that. They were told by all five of our elected officials – Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, and Reps. Suzan DelBene, Pramila Jayapal and Rick Larsen – that they strongly support our Swift Green Line project and were hoping to get such bills done fairly soon.

Community Transit Board members and staff met with Sen. Maria Cantwell
on March 14 to discuss federal transit funding and the Swift Green Line project.
Budget approval will allow for new Swift buses to be ordered and stations to be constructed starting later this year. This would keep us on schedule to open the Swift Green Line in early 2019, about two years from now.

Meanwhile, Community Transit has received a “Letter of No Prejudice” from the FTA, which gives us authorization to spend money now, to be reimbursed later when the grant is approved. With this letter, we are able to start work on one part of the project that is federally funded – road improvements to the I-5 bridge at 128th Street in south Everett.

This summer, we expect to start work creating one new lane approaching the I-5 bridge from both directions that will allow cars to enter I-5 more easily and buses to get across the bridge more swiftly.

There are very real concerns about federal funding for public transportation, and how the Swift Green Line project could be impacted. For now, we’re optimistic that a 2017 funding package will include projects that already have FTA’s approval and there will be no delay for the next Swift.