Friday, March 17, 2017

Swift Green Line is still on schedule – for now

Within the next two months, construction will begin on the Seaway Transit Center. This facility will be a central hub for Paine Field-area transit service and will serve as the northern terminal for the Swift Green Line. This is a state-funded project and all finances are “in the bank.”

This week’s news that President Trump’s proposed 2018 “skinny” budget does not include many transportation projects already in the pipeline was not a surprise at Community Transit. While the bulk of funding to build the Swift Green Line will come from the federal government, Snohomish County’s second bus rapid transit project is very much moving forward. Presidential budgets are starting points for funding discussions, but it is Congress that writes and approves the federal budget.

Last year, President Obama included Swift II (later renamed the Swift Green Line) in his 2017 budget proposal. Community Transit received a favorable ranking in the Federal Transit Administration’s Small Starts grant program for the project; it just needed funding. Because of the close presidential election, Congress never approved a 2017 budget.

Instead, the federal government has been kept afloat by Continuing Resolutions, which allow regular spending at 2016 levels, but do not include new projects. Not only are the Swift Green Line and Lynnwood Link light rail among these, but there are many transportation and infrastructure projects nationwide that were vetted through their respective federal agencies in this funding limbo.

Community Transit hopes to get a $48 million Small Starts grant approved as part of a 2017 budget or through a 2017 appropriations bill. Just this week, Community Transit staff and board members were in Washington, D.C. pushing for that. They were told by all five of our elected officials – Sens. Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray, and Reps. Suzan DelBene, Pramila Jayapal and Rick Larsen – that they strongly support our Swift Green Line project and were hoping to get such bills done fairly soon.

Community Transit Board members and staff met with Sen. Maria Cantwell
on March 14 to discuss federal transit funding and the Swift Green Line project.
Budget approval will allow for new Swift buses to be ordered and stations to be constructed starting later this year. This would keep us on schedule to open the Swift Green Line in early 2019, about two years from now.

Meanwhile, Community Transit has received a “Letter of No Prejudice” from the FTA, which gives us authorization to spend money now, to be reimbursed later when the grant is approved. With this letter, we are able to start work on one part of the project that is federally funded – road improvements to the I-5 bridge at 128th Street in south Everett.

This summer, we expect to start work creating one new lane approaching the I-5 bridge from both directions that will allow cars to enter I-5 more easily and buses to get across the bridge more swiftly.

There are very real concerns about federal funding for public transportation, and how the Swift Green Line project could be impacted. For now, we’re optimistic that a 2017 funding package will include projects that already have FTA’s approval and there will be no delay for the next Swift.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

I Drive It: Meet Donald, Community Transit Coach Operator

When your job goes from handling small pieces of machinery to handling machinery that is nearly 50,000 lbs, that's a big change! After years of trouble shooting photoelectric sensors as an electric bench technician, we are happy that Donald decided to stretch his legs and give driving the bus a go. In almost 12 years (and getting close to his Million Mile Driver Award goal), Donald has expanded not only his view out the window, but his view inside the window as well.

It was the excitement at the responsibility of driving a large passenger vehicle that initially inspired Donald to drive for us. While he had driven a semi-trailer truck before, the thought of a vehicle with space inside and people as its precious cargo was a little intimidating. Our nine-week comprehensive training program soon set his mind at ease. "I appreciated how in-depth the training program was. Our training department is really top-of-the-line. I was given such a sense of confidence because I didn't have to worry too much about what might happen on the road. As long as I followed my training, I was fully prepared."

Along with confidence came the connection with passengers inside the bus. "Right away I started understanding service is about people helping people. I like that part. The people I serve is life; it's why I'm here. One morning I was driving the 116 from Silver Firs and a woman up front was acting a bit edgy like she was running late. She said to me, 'I know you don't care, but I really need to catch the 113 at Ash Way. I don't want to miss my bus.' That really affected me. In her experience drivers are robots, just driving the bus. I looked at her and said, 'Don't worry, you'll catch your bus. And by the way, I really do care.' Her whole demeanor changed and she relaxed."

Donald said this commitment to service makes him proud to work for Community Transit. "Because the company as a whole values service, it really sets us apart from other agencies. The higher-ups respect and listen to all employees. This helps the demeanor of the drivers and creates a wonderful camaraderie here."

What do you value in a workplace? Do you feel valued by your workplace in return? If making a difference in people's lives is important to you, we're hiring Coach Operators:

Friday, March 3, 2017

Stabbing Victim Reunited with Life Saving Transit Deputy

Fotiki Fofana and Deputy Cline
Fotiki Fofana nearly lost his life on January 31 when he was stabbed multiple times in the neck at Everett Station. After several surgeries and a stay in Intensive Care, Fofana is now home and recovering. He wanted the chance to meet and thank the man that he believes saved his life.

That day came on Tuesday, February 28, as Snohomish County Sheriff’s Deputy Jeff Cline visited Fofana and his family. As soon as the door opened, Fofana exclaimed, “My hero! My hero!”

It was a fairly typical Tuesday morning in January for the Community Transit Police Unit. Deputy Cline was headed to Everett Station for a check of the area when routine turned into chaos.

While stopped at the traffic light near Everett Station, Deputy Cline saw a man running from the bus bays bleeding heavily from his neck. Within seconds Deputy Cline was out of his patrol car and applying pressure to the multiple stabs wounds.

While providing aid, Cline called for medical help. A witness at the scene pointed out the attacker coming towards them. Deputy Cline had no back up, but was able keep the suspect away with verbal commands. The suspect took off in the other direction and Deputy Cline called to other officers the suspect’s description and direction of travel. Sergeant Don Hart of the Transit Police Unit was nearby and was one of the first officers to respond and arrest the suspect.

Fofana has a long road of recovery ahead but was thankful for Deputy Cline being in the right place at the right time and knowing how to save his life.

Just this week the suspect was officially charged with attempted murder by the prosecutor’s office. The suspect and Fofana did not know each other and the attack was unprovoked. 

The Transit Police Unit is a division of the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office working under contract for Community Transit.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Talking Shop: Community Transit's Mechanic Apprentice Program

Community Transit prides itself on investing in our exceptional Mechanics. We place a high value on education, both on-the-job continuing education and company-funded formal education. It's how we ensure we not only have an incredibly talented team to maintain our ever-growing fleet of vehicles, but we have a team that feels valued, confident, inspired. One way we grow these relationships with our employees is through our Apprentice Program.

Our Apprentice Program began as a way for our Vehicle Service Attendants and Vehicle Service Workers to gain the experience necessary to become a skilled journey-level mechanic. By growing our own mechanics through years of extensive training, we are privileged to have a team that is truly the best of the best. Most of our graduates from the program are still part of our maintenance family. We are proud to note there is an exceptional commitment to our agency that comes from growing up here. We all take care of each other.

Not all of our apprentices, though, come from in-house. We also partner with several technical colleges in the area to source dynamic candidates who are eager to learn. Our four-year Apprentice Program takes place over four years/8,000 hours. Students receive paid on-the-job learning at 60% of our regular mechanic salary, increasing every six months during the four-year program to receive 100% of salary at graduation. During this program, Community Transit pays for six hours in the shop and two hours at school for each weekday as they work towards their Diesel Technology Certificate. Our two-year Apprentice Program is offered when a student comes to us after receiving the certificate and works full-time in our shop for two more years.

Program participants spend each day partnered with a qualified Journey Mechanic to learn the ins and outs of all of our systems, including engines, transmissions, and brakes. This on-the-job learning not only ensures our apprentices learn everything their job will require of them, they also feel part of a family who believes in making a difference. Our Mechanics learn the importance of trusting the team that precedes them and trust for those who follow. This helps our new hires feel confident, no small task when working with complicated vehicles like ours. The programs also provide additional classroom learning for safety aspects and for detailed instruction on our specific equipment. Our apprentices are evaluated every quarter on their attentiveness, preparedness, safety, and quality of work.

While we require our apprentices to get a Diesel Technology Certificate, Community Transit recognizes the value in investing in additional education. We pay for additional coursework so they can get an associates degree. A well-rounded education provides our Mechanics with the potential to move up to leadership positions should they desire. Leadership positions include supervisory roles where individuals organize and set priorities for the teams: Shop Lead, Journey Mechanic Lead, Body Shop Lead, and Component Rebuild Lead.

Want to be part of a team that values it's employees? We're hiring!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

I Drive It: Meet Jaswinder, Community Transit Coach Operator

Ever wonder where that friendly face behind the wheel came from? Or what inspired that smile to drive a 30-, 40-, or even 60-foot vehicle? We all know that everyone has a story, but with over 300 Coach Operators employed by Community Transit, the stories here are rich and varied and often surprising. Their unique backgrounds all share a common theme: they want to make a difference in their communities. They are the face of our agency, the people who get you to work, to school, to errands, and back home again. Meet Jaswinder, Community Transit Coach Operator.

Jaswinder's path to us was a long and winding one. Originally from India, Jaswinder lived for 15 years in Vancouver, Canada, and 15 years in California prior to joining a Community Transit training class in 2006. Before he learned everything there is to know about driving a large bus, he knew everything there is to know about cheesemaking. Yes, that's right! Jaswinder worked at a large cheese plant near Modesto, California, where he ensured ingredients were accurately measured, supervised the pasteurization process, and monitored pH and acidity levels. While he enjoyed working at Hilmar Cheese, he was intrigued with the prospect of a great job at Community Transit when he met one of our drivers. Having worked as a taxi driver and dispatcher in Vancouver, he was inspired to pursue a new career behind the wheel. "I like driving. I especially like the freedom of driving. And the people. I have met people from all over the world."

The freedom of driving for a living is still enticing for Jaswinder. He's usually on the extra board, which means he jumps in to cover for any coworkers who have to miss their shift. "I get to do all of the routes, which means the scenery is always changing. I like that." Jas likes the flexible schedule, too. "When you are a new driver, the schedule can be a little bit challenging the first couple of years. But as you work here for awhile and get more seniority, there's a lot of flexibility in the schedule. You can create a schedule that works for you, which is especially good if you have kids."

While there's nothing like the freedom of being out on the road during work hours, Jas, like so many of our drivers, talk about how connecting with customers can really make the day. "One time at a layover at the Lynnwood Transit Center, a lost and disoriented elderly gentleman got on my bus by mistake. He was supposed to meet his daughter at Smokey Point. I was able to get his daughter's number and contact her to let her know her father was okay. Then I put the gentleman on a different bus that would take him to her."

It's that one-on-one interaction with customers that can change someone's day. "We're better than Trip Planner because we can help midway through a trip. We try to educate riders, too, on how transfers work and encourage them to get an ORCA card." Jaswinder can usually tell when people on his routes are a bit confused and can use a helping hand, "People who are visiting the Boeing Museum or the Seattle Premium Outlets will sometimes have questions. I'm happy to answer them." This commitment to customer service makes a difference to both riders and drivers. In eleven years, Jaswinder says he's never had any issues with disrespectful riders, "As long as you are respectful of them, they are respectful of you. I've always had good interactions with customers. It makes me proud to work here."

Does the freedom of being behind the wheel intrigue you, too? We're hiring!

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Couples Find Love in Transit

It’s no secret that cupid has struck at Community Transit a time or two. In honor of Valentine’s Day we tell the stories of two couples who found love in transit.

Mike and Virginia

He’s a coach operator of 16 years and she has worked in admin for 10. Mike Meads and Virginia Ponce de Leon met on Facebook through a mutual co-worker (go figure) in June of 2014.  He liked her posts, she liked his posts. 

Next thing you know, they started messaging on Facebook and found out they had lots in common.
They hit it off right away on their first date, which was lunch at La Palmera on Evergreen (an employee favorite). Since they’ve been together, Virginia says she tries to sign up for coach operator appreciation on his sign-on time so she can give her favorite coach operator a big hug and kiss before he hits the road. 

A double order of congratulations is in order as they just got engaged on February 4, 2017 and are expecting their first child together this coming July, a little girl.

Paolo and Ronda

Paolo has been driving for Community Transit for the past 11 years. Ronda has been a coach operator for 7
years. Soon after Ronda started driving for Community Transit she would get paired together with Paolo to share a van back to base from their routes. They talked a lot on their rides together. Ronda says they talked about relationships and life most of the time.

They found that they liked many of the same activities and had a lot in common. They decided to start hanging out together and as Ronda says one thing led to another. Now they have been very happily married for 7 years in September.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Keeping your house clean a chore? How about cleaning 1,600 bus stops?

Community Transit has more than 1,600 bus stops along our routes, and all of them need to be kept clean. We have a team of cleaning crusaders, if you will, whose job it is to do just that – clean up our bus stops. And with that many bus stops spread across Snohomish County it is one pretty dirty job.

Coffee cups, candy bar wrappers, chewed pieces of gum, sometimes even graffiti – these are just a few of the things our cleaning crews see on a weekly basis at Community Transit bus stops.
Community Transit contracts with local vendors to clean approximately 610 bus stop locations, including 18 park & rides/transit centers, 17 comfort stations (driver restrooms) and 32 Swift stations throughout the county. The busiest routes, including Swift on Highway 99, and routes on the Bothell-Everett Highway and Mukilteo Speedway are serviced twice a week. The stops with less traffic are cleaned once a week. The remaining 900 plus stop locations do not have trash receptacles or shelters that require weekly maintenance.

To our team, cleaning our stops is more than simply emptying garbage cans. Community Transit maintains the stops at a very high level. Our crews wipe and clean shelter screens, sweep bus stop platforms and report any damage. They also power wash when necessary.

Safety and security are top priorities for Community Transit and cleanliness goes hand in hand with those priorities. Proactively maintaining a space like a shelter or bus stop and keeping it clean and useable tells criminals that this is probably not a safe place for them to conduct their business because the space is actively maintained.

In addition to contracted vendors, Community Transit’s in-house maintenance team assists in the upkeep and performs monthly inspections of all of our stops. This same crew will provide special “call outs” if extra cleaning is in order. Special call outs consist of graffiti removal, damage, or other large messes which are all taken care of within 24 hours of being reported.

As a rider, how can you help make sure our transit facilities remain clean and clear of gum, wrappers, garbage and graffiti? If you see any stops on our routes or buses that need attention please contact customer service at (425) 353-RIDE (7433) or

Here’s to a clean and healthy 2017! 

Friday, January 6, 2017

Holiday Service Levels - More Art Than Science

Over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house we went. The holidays are over and we have flipped the page to 2017. January is a great time for looking to the future and also time to reflect on how things went the past year.

This past holiday shopping season saw record-breaking sales for retailers, which had Community Transit buses working hard to meet the demand of riders heading to work, shopping, school, or just to grandma’s house.

Our data gurus tell us that Sundays are typically the lowest ridership day of the week and our planning gurus tell us that lower demand calls for us to have a Sunday service schedule on major holidays such as New Year’s, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Historically, those holidays have lower ridership than a typical Sunday. Did you ride on any of these holidays in 2016?

For example, on Thanksgiving 2016 we had 4,423 boardings which, is about half of a typical Sunday and much less than a typical Thursday (which is about 35,000 boardings). While this is a small ridership number compared to non-holidays, it shows that we were able to meet transportation demand for more than 4,000 people who had to find alternative solutions when we had no holiday service.

Why do people ride the bus on Thanksgiving? Families and friends like to be together on this day and share a meal or a football game, so that’s one reason. We can also assume that a lot of these riders were heading into work for the Black Friday sales that start Thanksgiving night, or to be the first shoppers to get the hot deals. Were you working or hitting the sales on Thanksgiving?

Christmas Day had only 3,687 boardings, living up to its reputation as our lowest ridership day of the year. Christmas this year also landed on a Sunday which called for a Monday, December 26, “observed holiday.” Based on historical ridership trends, we ran a Sunday service schedule with no commuter service that day. So we want to know, were you going over the river and through the woods or did you hit the salt mines on December 25 and 26?

New Year’s presented a planning quandary. The holiday was on a Sunday, but the “observed holiday” on Monday, January 2, had our planners coming together for an action plan. We originally planned only a Sunday schedule that day, which means no commuter service. But we thought some businesses or go-getter types would want to kick off 2017 right away. The action plan was put into place to add three commuter routes to meet the possible demand of people heading out of Snohomish County into Seattle. Routes 402, 413, and 421 were supplemented to the Sound Transit Route 512 service for those riders headed back to work right away. This was the first time Community Transit added extra commuter service on a major holiday. Turns out we had more than 11,000 boardings on January 2, which tells us there was definitely a demand. 

Just when we thought the holidays were over we jump right into 2017’s first holiday -- Martin Luther King, Jr. Day on Jan. 16. Because many businesses remain open on several "minor" holidays like this one, we run regular local service but a reduced commuter schedule. Let us know how you use Community Transit on the holidays!  Happy New Year!