Tuesday, July 23, 2013

"Can You Bag My ORCA Card?"

This spring local retail stores began selling ORCA cards. Since ORCA started in 2009, retailers have been able to load fare value on existing cards, but this is the first time they started selling cards.

That was a huge step for the ORCA program as it quadrupled the number of locations where you could buy an ORCA card if you didn’t already have one.

People who qualify for reduced fare, such as seniors, disabled or youth, still must buy their ORCA card in person at a transit agency customer service center because proof of eligibility is required. But the vast majority of transit riders use the standard “adult” ORCA card and that can now be bought at Safeways, QFCs, Roger’s MarketPlace and other convenient locations.

When you visit one of these retailers, there is often an ORCA sign, usually at the Customer Service desk. A new ORCA card costs $5, plus the cost of a monthly pass or whatever E-purse fare you want to put on the card. The hope is that expanding the locations where you can buy an ORCA card will encourage more people to use transit.

At community fairs this summer, we've been asked a lot of questions about ORCA, and many people don't know how convenient it is for paying fares. Now we can point down the street and say, "You can get one there!"

Where did you get your first ORCA card?

We'd Like Your Answers to Four Questions About Service

take our online service priorities survey and enter a drawing for a $50 ORCA card
Help us understand our service priorities by taking our short online survey!
Community Transit is not cutting service, but we will be adding service hours with some system fixes this fall. To best meet the needs of the communities we serve, we need to get in front of (and talk to) our customers—  this is where our outreach comes into play.

This summer, in addition to our traditional appearances at community events where we can talk one-on-one with folks, we are also taking advantage of online surveys and polls to engage with riders and non-riders alike. This combination of outreach tactics help to get feedback from a larger pool of the population who care about Community Transit and what we do.

On July 1, we started posting polls on the Community Transit Facebook page, keeping the questions light, but related to
riding the bus, such as “Would you ride the bus on holidays?” So far, our most active poll to date asked, “Which do you consider the worst bus behavior?

Last week, we posted a Service Priorities Survey on our website. We are asking the same questions to visitors who come by our booth at various community events this summer. Would you take a few minutes to share your input to help us understand priorities for service? Each person who completes the survey (including their name and email address) will be entered into a monthly drawing to win a $50 ORCA card.

Monday, July 1, 2013

We Are Not Cutting Service (Despite No State Transportation Package)

Community Transit has no plans to cut service. Despite the failure of the Washington State Legislature to pass a transportation funding package, Snohomish County’s transit provider will not cut service.

The question keeps coming up, so I want to repeat, no matter what other local transit agencies may or may not be doing, Community Transit is not going to cut service.

That said, the statewide transportation funding package was an important key to our county’s future. The package contained some direct funding for transit, funding for several capital transit projects and a local option that would have allowed Community Transit to make its case for an increase in local transit funding. There were also some major roads projects in that package that could have also benefited transit.

For Community Transit, the local option was the centerpiece of this package. While initially introduced as a motor vehicle excise tax, then changed to an additional sales tax, this local option could have provided the level of funding needed to erase the service cuts made in 2010 and 2012.

The local option was not guaranteed funding, it was authorization to place a ballot measure before our voters to ask their support. From that perspective, we were only asking the Legislature to let us do the heavy lifting because passing a tax measure is no easy feat. But with the death of the statewide package, we do not even get to ask the question.

Community Transit gets the majority of its funding through a state-authorized 0.9 percent sales tax in our service district, which is most of Snohomish County with the exception of Everett and some sparsely populated areas. So, 9 cents of every $10 taxable purchase (groceries are exempt from sales tax) in our service area helps to pay for transit service. The local option in the recent legislation would have given authorization to seek up to 0.3 percent additional sales tax, or another 3 cents on a $10 purchase.

Because Community Transit took action during the recession both to raise its fares and reduce expenses, including a 37 percent cut in bus service and laying off one-third of its employees, the agency is in a financial position now where it is preparing to grow again. Remember that slogan "Promising tomorrow with responsibility today?"

Community Transit envisions no more cuts in the foreseeable future. Some additional service hours to help with bus connections and other “fixes” to our system for the next year or two, and maybe more after that. But with additional funding there could be much more growth.

Maybe next year...