Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Graffiti Gets Expensive

Graffiti at our bus shelters is a big problem. It’s unsightly, creates an unsafe feeling for passengers and at a time when every penny counts, it costs money to repair. In 2007 and 2008, Community Transit’s Shelter Maintenance program fully refurbished about 70 shelters a year at a cost of $1,200 to $1,500 per shelter. That added up to $90,000 to $100,000 each year.

Major shelter refurbishing work has been discontinued during the recession, but the graffiti hasn’t stopped. To figure out how to efficiently deal with the issue, Community Transit established a multi-departmental Anti-Graffiti Project team.

The key question the team discussed is, “What is the tolerable maintenance, condition and appearance Community Transit will accept for our bus shelters, and at what cost?” The team also looked at issues such as why some stops are consistently vandalized while others are not, as well as various solutions to make shelters less attractive to vandals.

Swift stations were designed to be vandal-resistant, and already have an established standard to clean up graffiti within 24 hours. The quick response has effectively discouraged vandalism at Swift stations, but other bus shelters in the busy Highway 99 corridor have been targeted instead.

One of the major problems is that vandals scratch or etch the plexiglass panels of the shelters. When the plexiglass get badly damaged, it costs our agency about $850 just to replace the panel. Community Transit has been identifying and replacing shelters at high risk for vandalism and replacing their expensive plexiglass panels with metal screens. The screens aren’t as weather-resistant or attractive, so we continue to use plexiglass panels in low-risk shelters. We’ll be installing some redesigned shelters to test a new glass pattern that may withstand damage better than current designs.

Please report any graffiti you see at Community Transit facilities to our Customer Information staff by noting the stop identification number (on the bus stop post) or location. If you see a vandal in action, please call 911.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Sales Tax Revenues Not Recovering

Once upon a time, the economy of Snohomish County was growing along with our population and employment. Sales tax looked like a stable and growing source of revenue. That was a good thing for Community Transit, since sales tax has historically made up 60-70 percent of our budget.

In 2006 we began working on our six-year Transit Development Plan for 2008-2013, and we had all sorts of hopes for the future of public transportation in Snohomish County. Our financial forecasts anticipated a slight slow-down in sales tax growth by the end of the plan, but an average growth of 6.9 percent a year seemed reasonable in Washington’s economy at the time.

Then, along came the Great Recession. Our Transit Development Plan had estimated sales tax collections of $103 million in 2011. We’re now hoping for $62.7 million in sales tax revenue this year, 18 percent less than we collected in 2007 and 40 percent less than we expected to collect before the recession hit.

The recession is supposed to be over now, and revenues are up 2 percent compared to 2010. However, about 2/3 of the increased sales tax is the result of a tax amnesty program by the state Department of Revenue. Adjusting for one-time effects, sales tax revenue is less than 1 percent higher than in 2010.

A report from the Department of Revenue last month indicated taxable retail sales overall in Snohomish County were down by 1.7 percent in the first quarter of 2011 – worst in the state.

While it looks like sales tax collections will be sufficient to balance our budget this year, our future is still uncertain. Major service cuts in 2012 are part of our long term sustainability plan. Earlier this year we had assumed a more favorable economic recovery and projected an average sales tax growth of 4 percent for the next 6 years. The fact that the economy is recovering so slowly could mean the need for more cost cutting in 2012, including the possibility of additional service cuts in the future.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

King County Metro Gets Car Tab Revenue. Why Not Us?

On Monday, the King County Council approved a two-year, $20 fee on car tabs that will help fill King County Metro’s $60 million budget shortfall and stave off a 17 percent cut in service.

Why doesn’t Community Transit seek a car tab fee?

Short answer: We can’t.
Longer answer: We tried. The original bill to give transit agencies the authority to temporarily raise revenues with a “congestion relief” or car tab fee was written with Community Transit in mind by state Rep. Marko Liias. Ironically, Community Transit and Pierce Transit were excluded from the bill when it finally passed out of the state Senate Transportation Committee.

Why don’t we raise money some other way?

Short answer: We have done what we can.
Longer answer: We have raised bus fares twice in the past three years: local and paratransit fares in 2010, and local, commuter and paratransit fares in 2008. But the public service that is transit cannot be funded by fares alone.

Snohomish County voters approved a 3/10 of 1 percent increase in the sales tax in 2001 after the state took away a third of our funding that came from the motor vehicle excise tax. That vote put us at the state maximum 9/10 of 1 percent sales tax. As it happens, the only other agency in the state that has topped-out its sales tax authority is King County Metro.

As a result of the recession, agencies that have sales tax authority remaining have been asking voters to increase support for transit for the past two years; some have succeeded, some haven’t.

Bottom line for Community Transit: We need state support – in terms of direct revenue or new taxing authority – to help fund our service. Until that happens, the Community Transit Board must make difficult decisions to balance our budget, and Snohomish County residents face more painful cuts to public transportation.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Same Alternatives, New Mix for 2012 Changes

Just as the Hybrid Alternative (see previous post) is a mixture of existing proposals to reduce service, our revised "2012 System Changes" web page provides new ways to view existing information. Both the Hybrid and the web page have some differences compared to the originals which we hope are improvements.

New information now posted on the system change pages includes:

Friday, August 5, 2011

Board Asks for Comment Before Sept. 1 Vote

The Community Transit Board of Directors did not take a vote on a 2012 System Change alternative yesterday, but asked for more time for public review and comment on the hybrid alternative that has recently emerged.

Yesterday's pass sets up a likely vote on Sept. 1 as a decision is needed on a final service plan for staff to do all the work needed to implement the changes in February 2012.

The hybrid alternative came out of board discussions based on the public input about the original three service alternatives.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Potential Board Action on 2012 System Change

One of the action items on the Aug. 4 Community Transit Board of Directors meeting agenda is the February 2012 System Change - the proposed service cuts for next year.

Although this is a scheduled action item, depending on the board discussion there may or may not be a vote.

Over the past two weeks, since a July 21 board workshop on the service alternatives and public comment, a new hybrid alternative has emerged. Details are available on the website, but in a nutshell the hybrid alternative combines the commuter network of Alternative I with the local route network of Alternative III, with some modifications.