Relax, save money … commute with local transit service

By Laura Daniali | Jul 22, 2015

The following article is the last in an eight-part series produced by The Beacon on transportation in Snohomish County. The series focuses on the issues surrounding travel by plane, ferry, bus and cars or other means, as well as the local and state efforts to fix them. –Ed.

After standing on her feet for an eight-hour shift, Beverly Helmuth leaves her retail job in Mill Creek, boards a bus, and heads home to Edmonds.

After a long day, she said, “it’s nice to sit.”

Although she owns a car, Helmuth said riding the bus gives her a break, with about an hour to “relax and take a load off.”

She also prefers to take the bus to avoid dealing directly with traffic and save a bit of money.

As of December 2014, the Washington State Department of Transportation estimated the average cost of owning a car in Washington state to be about $11,392 per year – $9,660, cost of ownership, including car payment, insurance and maintenance; $1,688, fuel plus federal and state fuel taxes; and $44 for license tabs. This was based on a car that is driven about 12,000 miles per year, and gas at $3.52 per gallon.

So, while Helmuth does incur some of the costs of car ownership, she saves money on gas. Her bus fare is $2.25 one way, and depending on her schedule, she’ll make the trip three to four times a week – an annual cost of about $700 to $930.

Helmuth isn’t the only one trying to save money and avoid traffic.

Community Transit CEO Emmet Heath said ridership grew about 8 percent last year as traffic congestion got worse, and the Puget Sound Regional Council estimates that the population of Snohomish County will increase by about 240,000 people and employment by 130,000 jobs by 2040.

More and more people will be in Helmuth’s situation – drive alone or use public transportation. Many are already choosing transit, whether it’s bus, vanpool, light rail or commuter train.

“At this time, we have all our buses in service,” Heath said, “and people still keep asking for more.”

CT serves Edmonds, Mukilteo, Mill Creek, Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace, Bothell, Brier, Woodway, Marysville, Snohomish, Monroe, Lake Stevens, Stanwood, Granite Falls, Sultan, Arlington, Gold Bar, Index, Startup, Oso, Darrington, Silver Firs and Tulalip.

According to CT’s website,, about 33,500 riders use its service on an average weekday, and two-thirds of riders use local service within Snohomish County.

In a recent Beacon transportation survey of about 274 people, 66 percent said they regularly use public transportation, such as buses, carpools and ride shares, and 69 percent said they would use public transportation more often if options were more readily available.

About 45 percent of respondents also said their average daily commute is about 5 miles, 31 percent said 15 miles, 17 percent said 30 miles, and 8 percent said 40 miles or more.

In anticipation of even greater demand, the Community Transit Board of Directors voted for a November ballot measure that would increase its sales tax by 0.3 percent.

“If new funding is approved in November,” Heath said, “we can have more service on the road as early as March 2016.”

Approved funding would also include: more local bus trips throughout the day, and expanded service hours; a second Swift bus rapid transit line between Boeing/Paine Field and Canyon Park/Bothell; more commuter bus trips to downtown Seattle and the University of Washington; increased east-west connections within the county; more service to job, housing and educational centers throughout the county, including communities such as Arlington, Monroe and Stanwood; new routes, such as Marysville-to-McCollum Park via Lake Stevens, Snohomish and Silver Firs via Highway 9; reconfigured local bus service to connect with Sound Transit Link light rail when it reaches Mountlake Terrace, Lynnwood and, eventually, Everett; and more vanpools and expanded DART paratransit service.

Helmuth said she’s never had a problem finding a seat on the bus, but given the projected growth, she said, “I hope to be retired by then.”

If approved by voters, the State Department of Revenue estimates the sales tax increase would cost about $33 per year per adult, or an additional 3 cents on a $10 taxable purchase – with an overall gain of $25 million per year for CT projects.

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