Transit cuts grind our gears

By Rebecca Carr | Mar 10, 2010

We read of Community Transit's drastic budget cuts last week with dismay. To close what it says is an $11 million shortfall, the agency announced it will raise local and paratransit fares by 25 cents per trip and eliminate Sunday and holiday service entirely, effective June 13.

While we understand the need to cut costs, this is a step in the wrong direction. Many people rely on transit entirely to get to work and be productive members of the community. For some, including many seniors, transit is their only way to get out and into their communities.

Sunday is one of retail's busiest consumer spending days. That sales tax income CT complains has been gutted with the economic downturn? Watch what happens when people can't get to the malls and other stores or (for those for whom driving is even an option) aren't willing to fight the increased traffic on the roads to get out and shop.

We can support a fare increase - after all, riders should expect to pay for the valuable service. We even support hiking the commuter rates.

But we can't get on board with eliminating Sunday and holiday services, preventing non-drivers from getting to work, church, volunteer gigs or visiting loved ones.

And the buses on the roads benefit all of us, not just those aboard. Sure we get frustrated when we see nearly empty rigs rolling down the street. But imagine many of those riders in separate vehicles clogging up traffic even more.

The gas price gouging of 2007-2008 brought with it record ridership levels. Community Transit itself heavily promoted bus transportation, and many took it up on its pitch and began commuting by bus. Those numbers didn't drop much when the gas prices dropped, as commuters realized bus travel is doable.

Why make it inconvenient - if not impossible - now and wipe out all of that momentum?

We also take issue with how CT spends its dollars. Many of those empty or nearly empty buses that motorists grit their teeth at as they follow the exhaust fumes are the Swift buses along Highway 99.

Wouldn't it make more sense to pare back some of that heavy service along the highway for now, and at least run buses hourly on Sundays and holidays?  Ten- and 20-minute waits are a luxury - minimal hourly service is a necessity if we want to keep our economic engine running in the right direction.

Especially disconcerting is CT's recent logo change. The tens of thousands spent on re-painting the buses and replacing stationery, business cards, schedules and those fancy new bus stop signs all over the county would have been better spent on retaining bus runs. We're pretty sure most bus riders are more concerned with whether a bus will arrive than what the signage looks like.

And those dollars are in addition to what it cost to roll out - and heavily market - the Swift bus service.

Payroll looks bloated to us as well, even for a government agency. While we never advocate balancing budgets on the backs of employees - including the mandatory unpaid furloughs Snohomish County staff is currently suffering - the top 10 positions of the 132 listed at Community Transit pay a combined total of between $85,293 and $126,228 monthly, according to CT's own web site.

To its credit, CT allotted $50,000 to pay for vanpools for community organizations. Nice, but a hollow victory that does nothing for those who can't drive themselves to work.

Rep. Marko Liias, (D-Edmonds), introduced a bill amendment (to SB 6774) that would allow CT and other organizations to ask the voters for a fee added onto vehicle registrations. According to CT spokesman Martin Manguia, a $20 per vehicle fee would generate up to $7 million in revenue.

We support asking the voters, but if CT wants our tax dollars, we want to see sound financial planning.

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