An anniversary is a celebration. It’s a milestone in life, marking another achievement. Even in tough financial times, we find ways to commemorate those milestones. It may be a husband and wife marking their 10th wedding anniversary with a nice home-cooked dinner because they can’t afford a fancy restaurant. But we do remember.
Today is the 35th anniversary of the start of Community Transit. We’ve done big celebrations in the past. But this year, we are that couple sitting down with candles in our own dining room. We’re marking our anniversary with another day of planning to implement service cuts in February 2012. It’s certainly not what we would choose, but it is what we must do, just like some families across the nation who spend anniversaries just trying to make ends meet. Hopefully those families find at least a few minutes to fondly look back at those quaint early days, and look forward to a brighter future.
On Oct. 4, 1976, Community Transit was the newlywed. Our drivers were dressed in fine new uniforms, but they were driving 15-year-old leased buses. We started small: seven communities, seven routes. We were casual: no bus stops, just wave to the bus somewhere along one of our routes and the driver would stop to pick you up. Ring the bell and we’d stop and let you out at your destination.
As time went on, our family grew. Routes became more formal. Almost every city in Snohomish County joined Community Transit. We added routes and began to run buses more frequently. Ridership climbed as the public embraced us. Our future was bright.
And then a crisis. The Motor Vehicle Excise Tax was eliminated, taking away about 30 percent of our funding. But our friends rallied to support us. The public went to the polls to approve new funding, and Community Transit recovered and thrived. Service that had been slashed was restored, new service was introduced and ridership soared. In the mid-2000s there were four consecutive years of record-breaking ridership, culminating in 11.9 million rides in 2008.
The next year, Swift was born.
Like every other family, Community Transit was hit hard by the Great Recession. Four straight years of record ridership turned to four straight years of budget cuts. The agency borrowed from its reserves, holding off new projects and new purchases to keep service on the road as long as possible. In June 2010, service was cut 15 percent. The economy still did not rebound. In February 2012 there will be another 20 percent service cut.
This time around there is nothing for friends to rally around. Not yet. The agency has put itself in a position to be able to grow again, smarter and with a focus on improving productivity. The February 2012 service change will be a place of stability that will provide a solid base from which future growth can occur.
And we're still optimistic about that brighter future!