Friday, March 9, 2012

State Provides Some Transit Funding, Defers Bigger Decision

The State Legislature ended its regular session late last night without reaching a decision on a supplemental operating budget. Technically, they don’t have to since it’s not a budget year, but since the state is some $500 million in the red, it’s better to have a plan where to cut that spending than not. So, Gov. Gregoire is calling legislators into a special session beginning Monday, March 12.

Transit’s biggest funding bill, which would provide counties a local option for motor vehicle excise taxes (MVET) that could go to transit and transportation projects, did not pass despite making it out of a House-Senate conference committee earlier this week. However, Gregoire has indicated that this is one of the issues she would like to see revisited in the special session, so there’s still a chance.

That bill, ESSB 6582, was amended in conference committee to give counties authority to ask voter approval of up to a one percent MVET. The counties would need to work with cities and transit to come up with a plan that benefits all parties. There are many what-ifs in this scenario, but it represents the best chance for substantive funding that could be used to restore some lost transit service.

Stay tuned for more on that bill.

Meanwhile, two other measures did pass that will benefit Community Transit. A “fees” bill that raises several fees like vehicle license plates, driver record abstracts, etc. was approved. Proceeds will primarily benefit the Washington State Ferries, but some money has been set aside for transit agencies. Based on the funding plan, Community Transit would expect to receive about $580,000 this year, and slightly more each of the next two years, pending legislative approval in 2013. Compare that with the $12 million in service we cut last month and you can see it is not a lot in service terms, but we are grateful for any funding we get at this point.

Community Transit also received a $100,000 transportation budget line item (thanks to Rep. Marko Liias) to help fund an alternatives analysis on where a second Swift line should go. This project will help us gather information as a requirement for federal funding for that Swift line. The bigger question there is whether we will be able to get those federal funds to start that project, given the debate over transit funding in Congress.


  1. So could we expect more service to be added in September?

    Thanks for keeping us posted on this by the way!

  2. @Will, good question. First, we have not seen any of this money. Until we have a check in hand, we're not going to spend it. Second, any new service that is added will not go in until Feb. 2013 at the earliest. That doesn't mean that we can't make adjustments (extra trips, etc.) in September, but any substantive changes would not happen that quickly due to board approval.

    Remember, whenever we add service we have to pay for it each year, so one-time money cannot be used to put buses on the road or we might have to take them off the road the following year. The "fees bill" money is guaranteed only for this year; while it is designated for 2013-14, the legislature would have to take it up and approve funding again next year for us to get that money. The MVET funding, if it were approved by voters, would be more long-term and that's what we can count on to fund new service. Let's hope for better economic times!

  3. It's great that a bit of funding went community transit's way but hearing about the possibility of a second Swift route worries me. Don't get me wrong, the Swift bus on 99 is great, but the amount of bus service that was cut last month should show that starting new projects is not the necessity. Times between buses was increased, routes were cut in half (making getting to your destination both longer and more expensive), it wasn't great for anyone. Before we go spreading ourselves too thin, we should try to regain the service we recently lost.

  4. Those of us who want to help should contact our legislators and promote ESSB 6582.
    This is really what we need.
    That combined with buying locally here in Snohomish County.
    This is really what Community Transit needs, otherwise options are very limited indeed.

  5. Has there been any progress on the new stops for route 196 closer to Lynnwood Transit Center?

  6. "Progress" is a subjective term, re: 196th stops. We have heard from the city of Lynnwood that their consideration of these stops has advanced, but there has been no approval. At this point, we are hopeful but still waiting...

    Regarding a second Swift line, this is a long-term plan. If you read our Long Range Transit Plan, available on our website, you can sees that Community Transit envisions a network of Swift lines on the major corridors in the county. The success of the first line indicates that this is what a viable transit audience in this county needs, fast, reliable transit on well-traveled corridors. We cannot fund this ourselves, even when the economy recovers, so seeking federal funding is vital. The more homework we can do now to identify those corridors and make the case, the quicker we might receive those funds. In any case, this is years away, but if we did not start planning now, that competitive money would be awarded to other agencies.

  7. Heh, maybe the new Swift line SHOULD be 196th St. Or perhaps 164th St.