By Bill Sheets Herald Writer
EVERETT — Community Transit bus riders could face higher fares, fewer choices or both later this year.
Faced with a $5 million budget deficit for the year, Community Transit is considering raising fares 25 cents on all local routes and eliminating all service on Sundays and holidays beginning in June.
The county’s largest transit agency also is looking at shortening or reducing stops on almost every one of its 64 routes and cutting early morning and late night service.
Community Transit staff presented the plan to its board of directors on Thursday. Six public hearings are scheduled for January and February, and the board is expected to consider the changes March 4, spokesman Martin Munguia said.
If approved, the fare increases would take effect June 1 and the service cuts June 13.
“This is an unavoidable situation and we’ve held off as long as we could, but like most other businesses we’ve been hard hit by the economy and it’s now impacting our customers,” said Joyce Eleanor, Community Transit’s chief executive officer.
The nine-member board of directors, made up of elected officials from around the county, directed the agency’s staff to find ways to fill the projected $5 million hole in the agency’s $112.2 million budget for 2010, Munguia said. The cuts are expected to save $11 million in 2011.
Sales tax revenues, which fuel the agency’s operations, were down 18 percent in 2009 compared to 2007 and are expected to continue that trend, Munguia said. This amounts to about $1.5 million a month, he said.
“We have to find a way to have the money. Some kind of cuts will have to be made,” said Dave Gossett, the Snohomish County Council chairman who also serves as chairman of the Community Transit board.
The fare increase would raise prices on local routes for adults from $1.50 to $1.75, youth fares from $1 to $1.25 and senior fares from 50 cents to 75. Fare increases would not affect Community Transit’s 31 commuter routes or vanpools.
The fare hikes also would affect Dial-a-Ride Transit, or DART, which is administered by Community Transit. These rates would rise from $1.50 to $1.75 for all riders.
The service cuts were proposed because they’re considered less onerous than other alternatives, Munguia said.
“What we really wanted to do was to preserve the core weekday service,” he said.
About 35,000 rides are taken on Community Transit buses on an average weekday, he said. On Sunday, the lowest ridership day of the week, the figure is 8,700. For holidays, it is 6,700.
Service on Sundays and holidays would be the first of the cuts to be restored when revenues improve, Eleanor said.
The early morning service cuts would primarily affect Boeing employees, Munguia said. Community Transit-organized vanpools could be a good option for many of these commuters, he said.
Fare increases are expected to generate about $250,000, Munguia said. Sunday and holiday cuts are expected to save about $2.5 million, shortening and straightening routes more than $2 million, with the early morning and late night cuts filling in the rest.
Gossett said public comments will figure into the decision, but cuts will have to be made one way or the other.
“Any decision not to do part (of the proposed cuts) means we have to cut something else,” he said. “I would anticipate that it would be changed somehow, that it would be tweaked, but it would be the same bottom line.”
Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Public hearings scheduled
Community Transit plans a series of public hearings on proposed service cuts and fare increases.
5:30 to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Snohomish County South County PUD office, 21018 Highway 99, Edmonds.
6:30 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Marysville Library, 6120 Grove St., Marysville.
10 a.m. to noon Jan. 19, Everett Station, Weyerhaeuser Room, fourth floor, 3201 Smith Ave., Everett. The meeting will focus on impacts to DART paratransit customers.
5:30 to 7 p.m. Jan. 20, Monroe School District Administration Building, 200 E. Fremont St., Monroe.
6:30 to 8 p.m. Jan. 26, Mountlake Terrace Library, 23300 58th Ave. W., Mountlake Terrace.
3 p.m. Feb. 4, Community Transit Board Room, 7100 Hardeson Road, Everett.