Community Transit seeks 25 percent more riders without adding more service6-year plan calls for increased ridership
Community Transit’s 2013 budget is the first in five years that does not cut service nor employees. As the agency enters a period of stability after the recession, it is looking to increase ridership even though there is no funding to add more service.
A new draft six-year Transit Development Plan for 2013-18 forecasts no significant new service growth for the Snohomish County public transit agency, due to slow economic growth. Community Transit has, however, set a goal to increase ridership by 25 percent – to 12 million riders by 2017, according to an agency spokesperson.
“Our future growth is not based solely on how much service we can provide, but how wisely we use the resources we have available,” said Community Transit CEO Joyce Eleanor. “Any new funding for service will be directed in the most productive way possible.”
Between 2010 and 2012, Community Transit cut 37 percent of its bus service as it saw sales tax revenues plummet from the recession. Still, average weekday ridership dropped only 4 percent after the cuts.
Monthly ridership is down only 12 percent when figuring in weekends, as the agency no longer operates on Sundays and Saturday service has been significantly reduced.
Community Transit maintained most of its ridership by strategically cutting unproductive service – early and late-night buses, mid-day trips and low-ridership routes, said Martin Munguia, Community Transit spokesperson. As a result, productivity on the service that remains has skyrocketed:
• Local bus service within Snohomish County has seen a 31 percent increase in boardings per hour.
• Swift bus rapid transit service along Highway 99 between Everett and Shoreline has seen a 59 percent increase in boardings per hour.
• Commuter service to Seattle and UW has seen a 70 percent increase in boardings per hour.
Swift has become the agency’s highest ridership route, frequently drawing more than 100,000 riders a month. In 2012, one of every seven Community Transit passengers rode a Swift bus.
“To meet our goal of 12 million riders, we will need to continue to increase productivity,” Eleanor said. “We can do this by understanding ridership patterns and providing capacity where there is highest demand.”
Increasing productivity by 25 percent may seem like a tall order, but it is not without precedent, Munguia said. After the 2012 service cuts, the agency is operating the same number of service hours as in the year 2000, when ridership was 7.2 million boardings.
In 2012, ridership was estimated at 9.2 million boardings, meaning that Community Transit carried 27 percent more riders than it did in 2000 with the same level of service.
One reason for the higher productivity is the way service is designed, Munguia said. Another reason is the introduction of 23 Double Tall buses to Seattle commuter service in 2011, he said.
These double-decker buses replaced 60-foot articulated buses, but added 30 percent passenger capacity at roughly the same operating cost. It is not unusual for evening trips on a Double Tall to carry more than 100 passengers.
Community Transit submitted a state Regional Mobility Grant request to buy 17 more Double Tall replacement buses. That project was ranked fifth out of 27 requests by the Washington State Department of Transportation last month, but must still be approved by the Legislature to get funding.
If approved, Community Transit will be able to use state dollars to match federal formula funding to buy the new double-deckers at no cost to the agency and provide more capacity on its popular Seattle routes.
A similar mix of state and federal grant funding is resulting in 30 additional Seattle and UW trips beginning service in February. Those trips are being added on routes at specific morning and evening times when buses are currently full.
With the grants, Munguia said, both the extra Double Tall buses and additional commuter trips can increase ridership at no cost to Community Transit.
Community Transit relies on sales tax revenue and fares to fund service. Sales tax revenue is expected to grow only marginally over the next few years, and the agency would need state authority to seek any new revenue from the public.
Meanwhile, the agency plans to raise fares every other year to help keep pace with inflation. The next scheduled fare increase takes effect on Feb. 1, 2013.
The Transit Development Plan is required by the state to document agency financial forecasts and service plans in the near-term future. Because impacts of the recession greatly changed the outlook of Community Transit’s future planning, annual updates to the report have been produced each of the last three years.
The draft plan was presented to the agency’s Board of Directors today and is available on the agency’s website, www.communitytransit.org/futureplans.
A public comment period runs through Feb. 8, with a public hearing taking place before the Board of Directors at 3 p.m. on Feb. 7 in the Community Transit Board Room, 7100 Hardeson Road, Everett (accessible by Everett Transit Route 8).
Comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed to Community Transit, 7100 Hardeson Road, Everett 98203, or call 425-353-7433.
-Edited by Beacon staff