Tuesday, February 28, 2012

State Legislature Considering Transit Funding

The State House is expected to consider ESSB 6582 (click view by bills) this week, a bill that could grant transit agencies authority for a portion of motor vehicle excise tax (MVET) funding.

The bill is written to give counties new authority to ask voters for this funding option for transportation purposes, but recent amendments have bolstered the chances for struggling transit agencies to receive a share.

ESSB 6582, as written, says that before preparing the ballot measure for up to a one-percent MVET, the county legislative authority (in our case the Snohomish County Council) shall talk to the transit system/s in its area and establish a collaborative process.

This means that an agreement could be reached whereby the transit agency would receive some portion of the requested MVET funding. Why would a county do this? Perhaps to improve the measure's chances at the ballot by presenting it as a legitimate "roads and transit" effort.

The bill also says that if a county does not impose a local MVET of up to one-percent by December 31, 2013, the transit systems within that county may impose up to one-half of the county's one-percent, and that a county may waive the December 31, 2013, deadline.

Meaning that if the county waits for a vote or simply decides not to go for a vote of MVET funds by Dec. 13, 2013, the transit agency in that county can seek such a measure for up to 0.5 percent.

None of these options guarantee funding for transit agencies. They require a public vote and some measure of cooperation with the county. But for an agency like Community Transit, there is no other option for substantial additional revenue.

ESSB 6582 is in the House Rules Committee now awaiting a floor vote. The 2012 legislative session is due to end on March 8.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Think Transportation

The editors at Seattle Magazine have published some big ideas from citizens and transportation industry leaders on what they would do to solve the region's transportation problems.

Sometimes thinking big is to think small, think local. Inspired by these examples, what would you propose to do for the region's transportation woes, or just Snohomish County's, if money were no object?

Dedicated bus lanes and more funding for transit are on my list.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Service Change - Bus Stop Locations

The service change that took place yesterday was in the works for nearly a year. That's the time it took to get guidance from our Board (once we knew how much money we needed to save), develop three alternative scenarios, present them to the public and gather feedback, go through the Board decision process, then fully schedule the final service plan, train drivers, produce signage and information materials and start the new service.

It is near the tail end of that process, after we have fully scheduled the service plan, that we reach out to cities and the county to talk about where we want to locate new bus stops. Each jurisdiction has a separate bureaucracy for dealing with such requests, with their own criteria and timelines.

What we submit are requests based on what we feel is the best place for riders to catch a particular bus. This year, our route shuffling was designed to eliminate loops and deviations - in other words, make the routes as direct as possible to save time and money. Most requests are granted, but not always; sometimes we are given alternatives to consider, and sometimes flatly denied.

Sometimes the process goes beyond the time frame in which we need to produce Bus Plus, maps and other public information.

Just last week, we were granted permission to put two new temporary stops on Marine Drive outside the Warm Beach Senior Community near Stanwood. The timing on that decision was close! We are still awaiting decisions from the City of Lynnwood on stop requests for Routes 112 and 196 near the Lynnwood Transit Center. Obviously, the new service has already started, so the omission of those stops is glaring. We are forwarding comments from our customers to the city, but it is their decision to make. The service still works without those stops, but it may not be as convenient for some customers.

We can add stops at any time during the year, not just at a service change. With the vast number of changes that took place this week, there are bound to be some tweaks here or there. Most tweaking will happen when we publish new schedules on Oct. 1, but if stop requests are granted before then, we could make some changes sooner.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Service Changes on Monday, Feb. 20

Next Monday, Community Transit bus service will change significantly.

For local riders in Snohomish County, there are major changes to the route network, as well as schedules. Several routes have been eliminated and others serve different destinations. Peak hour schedules (5:30-8:30 a.m. and 3:30-6 p.m.) will be largely the same, but off-peak schedules will have fewer trips, especially away from the urban areas. On Saturdays, buses will run less frequently than they have throughout the county.

Also, the latest any buses will operate is between 10-11 p.m.

For commute riders to downtown Seattle, several routes have been eliminated but most other routes remain the same, with fewer trips. Expect more riders on the remaining buses. Based on current ridership numbers, there should be seats for every rider if people store their belongings on their laps or beneath seats. Some trips may experience standing loads, especially in the afternoon when more people try to take the same bus back to Snohomish County.

Routes to UW are largely unchanged, except for some trip times.

If you have not planned your trip for next week (and maybe considered a Plan B), pick up a copy of the Bus Plus schedule book on buses or use the online Trip Planner. All new route schedules are available online, along with stop lists to tell you where the bus stops along each route.

While Monday is Presidents Day, there will not be a holiday schedule. All buses will run according to the new regular schedule. The Customer Information line (425 353-7433) will be open that day from 6:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. Community Transit employees will be at various locations to help people with their trips on Feb. 20 and 21.

Community Transit is reducing service because of low revenues due to the economy. The agency is pursuing new funding options during the State Legislative session.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Transit Leaders Decry Federal Funding Bill

Leaders of six Puget Sound region transit agencies today spoke out against a U.S. House bill that would eliminate the Mass Transit Account portion of federal highway funds, instead putting the transit money into a general fund account. The bill automatically reduces the size of the transit funds and lumps it in with other "alternative transportation" funding modes. Plus, the funding would not be guaranteed, as it has been for the past 30 years.

"We have been pushing our state and federal leaders for increased funding to preserve and restore service. H.R. 7 goes in the opposite direction, reducing transit funding and, very importantly, putting the only federal money we could rely upon in jeopardy," said Community Transit's Acting CEO Todd Morrow.

Community Transit received about $10 million, or about nine percent of its operating budget in 2011 from the federal Mass Transit Account. Nearly half of that helps support operations. If that support were to go away, or even be made uncertain, Community Transit would need to fill that funding hole with its local sales tax revenue, which could mean more service cuts, possibly as much as 9 percent of the service left after Feb. 20.

On that day, the latest service cuts due to economic shortfalls will be implemented. All together, Community Transit will be operating 37 percent less bus service than it did two years ago. Further cuts in federal funding, as proposed under H.R. 7, could add more cuts to service and jobs.

H.R. 7 passed out of the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee last week and is still under consideration by the full House.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Trip Planner Has Feb. 20 Info

Community Transit's online Trip Planner has been updated with the 2012 service change information, making it possible to plan a bus trip for Feb. 20 or later.

This is the latest in our series of information milestones surrounding the Feb. 20 service change.

Bus Plus books have arrived and will be placed on buses beginning this afternoon. They will likely be a hot commodity. If you find your bus has run out, let the driver know.

We are asking riders to take only one book to help save on printing costs. Reduced print runs, promoted through the "Reduce, Re-use, Re-read" tag on the books, has saved more than $100,000 over the past two years.