Tuesday, January 25, 2011

County Gets Grant for Transit

Snohomish County employees are getting a free ride on transit thanks to a federal grant that supports Commute Trip Reduction efforts.

Snohomish County’s Sustainability Initiative got a $4.8 million Department of Energy block grant funded by the federal Recovery Act. The money goes to 12 different energy efficiency projects.

One of those projects offers free ORCA cards to all county employees in 2011. The ORCA regional fare card can be used by employees to get to work via Everett Transit, Community Transit or Sound Transit. The county’s usual Commute Trip Reduction program has covered part of the cost of a monthly transit pass, but these ORCA cards offer unlimited rides at no additional cost to the employee.

The County Campus is one of the places in the county with excellent public transportation: the frequent service of Swift and the transit hub of Everett Station are right nearby. Here’s hoping county workers will use their ORCA cards to give transit a try.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

It’s Good to Have Backup

Winter rains often bring mudslides down on Washington’s waterfront railroad tracks. Sound Transit’s Northline Sounder train service has been canceled several days in the past month due to slides between Everett and Seattle. For safety reasons, passenger service is not allowed through an area of mudslides for 48 hours, even if the tracks can be cleared before then.

When Northline Sounder service is canceled, Community Transit buses to Seattle help take up the slack. Last week we put 60-foot buses on trips from Edmonds and Mukilteo that usually have 40-footers – and some trips carried 75% more passengers than usual. I heard from a fellow passenger that local buses to Everett Station have also been more crowded when Sounder is canceled - Sound Transit buses from Everett are an obvious backup for train refugees.

Conversely, Sound Transit train service can be a good backup to bus service on I-5. When trains run, they usually don’t get stuck in traffic (not always – sometimes those pesky freight trains get priority). Trains also don’t get stuck in snow.

That’s why I got down to Everett Station the snowy Tuesday before Thanksgiving for my trip home for the holidays. I took Sounder to get to Link Light Rail and SeaTac Airport rather than my usual bus. I guessed correctly that I-5 would be a mess. The train was delayed about 20 minutes to “de-ice,” but it was far more reliable than road transportation that day.

The moral of the story is, our region benefits greatly from a robust transportation network. If one mode fails, we have backup.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Tough Year Had Some Bright Spots

By Tom Pearce
Community Transit Public Information Specialist

Last year was a busy one for Community Transit, with a major service change and a fare change, the rapid growth of Swift bus rapid transit service and the start of the “Buy Local for Transit” campaign.

The service change that took place in June dominated the first half of the year, as Community Transit hosted public meetings around the service district. These meetings drew standing-room only crowds as riders came to learn about the proposed changes and voice their concerns. The Board of Directors hosted a lengthy public hearing in February, then in March reluctantly approved the suspension of Sunday service and other cuts. Final adjustments to the proposal were made in April, then it was time to implement the plan.

Community Transit conducted a massive public outreach in May and June to explain the changes to the public. Dozens of our employees were out riding buses or meeting passengers at park & ride lots in the six weeks prior to the changes. The education efforts appeared to be successful, as by the time the change was implemented on June 13, almost all passengers were aware of the changes.

The June fare change, which increased all fares by 25 cents, also was implemented smoothly and has helped balance the budget.

Swift had a big year, as ridership increased steadily as the months passed. By the end of November – which marked the completion of one year of Swift service – ridership had increased from about 1,500 boardings on the first day to 3,500 per day. The average daily boardings after one year were 40 percent higher than estimates.

Swift was recognized as one of the region’s best projects with a Vision 2040 Award, designed to recognize outstanding work that helps our region grow wisely and improves the quality of life in all of the region’s communities. Swift won numerous national transit and advertising industry awards as well.

Community Transit’s staff also collected awards and honors throughout the year. The team of Howard Evans, Steve Hanks and Joe Hulett paid their own way to Cleveland to participate in the 2010 International Bus Maintenance Roadeo, and finished third out of 25 teams. In 2009, the trio won the championship.

Another the highlight of the year was the number of long-time safe drivers Community Transit recognized.  Three coach operators became Two Million Mile Drivers: Betty Burns, Carl Huth Jr. and Merlin Yost. To earn that recognition, each had to meet the National Safety Council’s standard of 25 years without a preventable accident. Community Transit also honored 11 coach operators as Million Mile Drivers, for 12½ years without a preventable accident: Tim Caldwell, Mary Davis, Michael Felt, Reza Ghandari, Cris Healy, Solomon Habte, Amjad Khalil, Mike Majors, David Rix, Dorothy Saarinen and Diane Sassé.

Community Transit capped the year by rolling out its “Buy Local for Transit” campaign. This long-term effort is designed to encourage people to shop in our communities, strengthening local businesses and increasing local tax revenues, which supports public  transportation. Community Transit is funded primarily through a portion of retail sales taxes generated in its service district, which includes most of Snohomish County.

With 2010 in the books, Community Transit now turns its attention to the future. This year our agency will be busy planning for a sustainable level of service based on the new economic realities. Your involvement will be critical to that process. Keep reading this blog for more information.