Community Transit says it must cut bus service 20 percent next year
Sales tax declines hurt agency and will affect routes, force layoffs
The transit agency has announced plans to cut bus service by 20 percent starting February. Layoffs also are planned. It's not clear which routes will be affected but people should prepare for fewer trips and longer waits.
"It's likely we'll go from 15 minutes to 30 or 20," said Joyce Eleanor, Community Transit chief executive officer. "In some areas it could be an hour; in some areas it could be two hours."
Amber Rosenberg, 22, rides a packed Community Transit bus every weekday from her Lake Stevens home to Everett Community College.
"If they make more cuts, we'll be in trouble," she said. "I already have to catch the bus at 7:12 in the morning to make it to my 9 o'clock class."
Community Transit relies heavily on sales tax revenue, which has been declining since 2007. The agency collects a voter-approved 0.9 percent tax on retail sales in Snohomish County, the maximum allowed by the state. In 2007, sales tax brought in $76.6 million. This year, only $62.7 million is expected. Service cuts will save between $10 million and $15 million.
Sales tax revenue accounts for a big chunk of Community Transit's budget. About 18 percent comes from rider fares and 10 percent or 12 percent from grants.
Swift buses wouldn't be affected by the 2012 cuts because they are funded through a state grant good for two more years.
The new double-decker buses rolled out this week are paid for with federal and state money. The fleet of 23 cost $19 million. The agency covered 11 percent of the cost, said Martin Munguia, a spokesman for Community Transit. The grants couldn't be used for bus service, only for buses and other projects such as park-and-ride lots.
"The double-decker buses will save us money because they hold more people in one bus," he said. "The largest costs for our service are the drivers and the fuel, so carrying more people on fewer buses saves substantial money."
The proposed cuts will amount to a service reduction of about 80,000 hours in 2012. The agency already took away that amount in 2010, eliminating holiday and Sunday service. About 80 workers were laid off last year and 20 more this year. More layoffs are expected this year.
Community Transit employs 617 people, more than half of them bus drivers. The agency's budget for this year is almost $109 million. In comparison, the 2007 budget was $95 million. The agency borrowed some money against its capital reserves this year to pay for some projects, Munguia said.
Rising fuel costs also are reflected in the budget.
"Every time fuel goes up $1 (a gallon), it's $1 million for us," he said.
No significant cuts are planned anytime soon at either of the other two public transportation agencies that serve Snohomish County, Sound Transit and Everett Transit, officials said.
"We're like everyone else, we're still behind where we were in 2008 (in tax revenue) but we've seen several months of measured improvement," Everett Transit director Tom Hingson said. "We're hanging in there."
Everett Transit tries to make any major changes in late summer to give riders a chance to adjust before the school year begins, Hingson said. With no changes planned for August 2011, the soonest anything significant would happen would be August 2012, he said.
"We'll be watching closely, things do change," Hingson said.
Sound Transit spokesman Bruce Gray gave a similar answer.
"We're in the early stages of service and budget planning for 2012, but at this point we don't foresee any reductions in overall service level," he said. "We'll be keeping a close eye on the bottom line moving forward, though."
Community Transit is looking at three strategies to make the service cuts. Two of them will focus on making service less frequent and the third proposes "a complete restructuring of bus service in Snohomish County." At least one of the scenarios would restore basic Sunday service but make deeper cuts the rest of the week, Eleanor said.
The agency plans to release details on the proposals in June, and people will have their say at a series of public meetings scheduled that month.
"It's very unfortunate that these cuts must be made," Eleanor said. "But in order to be in a position to provide transit service far into the future, Community Transit must face the economic realities and begin to make changes."
Katya Yefimova: 425-339-3452, firstname.lastname@example.org
Have your say
Details on proposed cuts to Community Transit bus service will be available in June. The transit agency will accept public comments at the following open house meetings:
June 6: 6 to 8:30 p.m. at Mountlake Terrace Library, 23300 58th Ave. W.
June 7: 2 to 4 p.m. Edmonds Community College, Snohomish Hall, Room 0304, 20000 68th Ave. W., Lynnwood.
June 15: 6 to 8 p.m. at Monroe High School Performing Arts Center, 17001 Tester Road, Monroe.
June 22: 10 a.m. to noon at the Everett Station, Weyerhaeuser Room, 3201 Smith Ave., Everett
June 23: 5 to 8 p.m. city of Arlington Community Room, Hadley Hall, 18513 59th Ave. NE, Arlington.
A public hearing is planned from 5 to 8:30 p.m. July 7 at Rosehill Community Center, 304 Lincoln Ave., Mukilteo.
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