Thursday, February 21, 2013

State Senate Considers Transit Bill

The Washington Senate Transportation Committee yesterday heard testimony on SB 5773 which would authorize a local motor vehicle excise tax (MVET) to support Community Transit service, if approved by voters. The bill was introduced by Sen. Nick Harper of Everett.

Those testifying in favor of the bill included Joe Marine, Mayor of Mukilteo and chair of the Community Transit Board of Directors, Community Transit CEO Joyce Eleanor, and representatives from United Way, Economic Alliance Snohomish County, Workforce Development Council, Boeing Machinists Union (IAM), UW and Transportation Choices Coalition.

The bill allows Community Transit to seek up to one percent MVET on car registrations within the service district, which is most of Snohomish County excluding Everett. CEO Joyce Eleanor says such funding could be used to bring back Sunday and late-night bus service, and that any specific service plan would go through a public process with input from riders.

In opposition to the bill, Michael Ennis of the Association of Washington Businesses said the AWB wanted the MVET funding source to remain part of a statewide transportation package, and not “peeled off” to benefit one agency.

SB 5773 is the first of several proposals that could fund Community Transit service. A companion “local option” bill has been introduced in the House, while a separate statewide “roads and transit” transportation funding package was announced yesterday by House Transportation Committee Chair Judy Clibborn.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

State Transportation News

There is a lot going on in state transportation news this week.

Yesterday, Gov. Jay Inslee named a new Transportation Secretary. Lynn Peterson serves as an advisor to Oregon Gov. John Kithzhaber and is a former planner with Tri-Met, the Portland-area transit agency. Among other things, Inslee said Peterson shared his vision for improving transit in the state.

Today, State Rep. Judy Clibborn will unveil a transportation funding package that includes earmarked funding for transit. Details on that plan will emerge throughout the day.

Also today, at 3:30 p.m. the Senate Transportation Committee will hear testimony on SB 5773 which would allow certain transit agencies to seek local taxing authority to fund operations. That bill could allow a vote in Snohomish County to help raise funding for Community Transit bus service.

Community Transit is at its state-authorized maximum tax authority, 0.9 percent sales tax. That is one of the reasons the agency relied on fare increases, cost-cutting and service cuts as the primary ways to balance its budget during the recession. As a result, 37 percent of bus service was cut, including Sunday and holiday service. The state provides about 2 percent of Community Transit's funding, although that share was as high as 30 percent before the passage of I-695 in 1999.

Stay tuned for more details on efforts to get new transit funding in Olympia.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Service Changes - on Presidents Day, Feb. 18

On Monday, Feb. 18, Community Transit service will be operating on new schedules. That's not unusual, the agency changes its schedules twice a year. Typically, routing changes and other more substantial changes occur at those times.

Last year, the February service change was significant, we eliminated eight routes, created two new routes, restructured our local service network and cut service hours by 20 percent. And, that happened on Presidents Day.

That presented a bit of a problem. Community Transit no longer operates on Sundays, so our schedule changes take place on Mondays. On minor holidays, like Presidents Day, we typically run a reduced commuter schedule to Seattle as ridership is about 40 percent what it is on a non-holiday. But how do you communicate the many changes that start that day, then say that some of them won't actually happen until the next day?

Well, the Puget Sound transit agencies have agreed to have their service changes on the same day, and those dates are set by Metro. As it happens, Metro has selected Presidents Day as the February service change date through 2015.

For Community Transit riders, this means that the 30 additional commuter trips being added this month will not all be added on Feb. 18. Some will, but only on Routes 402, 413 and 855, which, along with Route 421, are the only commuter routes we operate that day. The other extra trips will start the next day.

Our other significant changes - to Routes 112 and 417, will take place on Feb. 18 because we operate regular local service on Presidents Day. We also encourage all riders to check the new Bus Plus books or the new schedules online to see what time their bus will come that day. Trip times are sometimes tweaked to make better connections, because "real-world" traffic conditions have changed, or to add or take away downtime for our drivers (they need breaks too!).

By the way, Sound Transit buses in Snohomish County will see their service changes beginning Feb. 17.