Buses cross routes at the Lynnwood Transit Center in the shadow of light rail station construction Friday afternoon. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Buses cross routes at the Lynnwood Transit Center in the shadow of light rail station construction Friday afternoon. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Community Transit plan: more frequent buses, new routes, ‘clean’ fuel

The Snohomish County agency’s six-year outlook is bullish on growth despite lingering effects of the pandemic.

Community Transit’s future includes more frequent buses, new local routes centered around light rail, trials with on-demand rides and evaluation of zero-emission vehicles.

The Snohomish County public transportation agency is accepting public comment on its annual transit development plan through early August. The six-year outlook is based on the past year’s service, which saw “slow, steady” gains in ridership across its system, director of planning and development Roland Behee said.

Ridership decreased during the early months of the pandemic, but has begun to rebound.

Sales tax revenue totaled $184 million last year, exceeding projections. It’s expected to increase annually over the next six years, planning manager Thomas Tumola told the board at its meeting July 7. But fare revenue is still under budget.

High inflation and projections of a recession were part of “extensive” financial modeling, Tumola said. The agency’s financial outlook includes “strong” operating reserves, innovation, a robust capital program and continued “excellent” service.

“It’s very unusual market conditions, things we probably haven’t seen in 40-plus years,” Tumola said.

Snohomish County’s population is projected to add 308,000 people by 2044. Preparations are visible across the region with housing construction from Arlington to Lynnwood.

“You see it as you look around Snohomish County, the county continues to very rapidly develop,” Behee said. “We know that always drives an increase in travel demand.”

A reliable and robust transit system can help all of those people get around equitably, responsibly and sustainably, he said.

Community Transit staff expect ridership to jump by 2024 when Sound Transit begins light rail service to Mountlake Terrace and Lynnwood. By then the system will reach SeaTac International Airport and Bellevue, Mercer Island and Redmond.

With light rail serving the I-5 corridor, Community Transit buses won’t go into Seattle. Instead, those buses and drivers will get redeployed throughout the county.

The agency plans to add around 140,000 service hours by 2027.

Bus rapid transit accounts for a lot of that growth. The new Swift Orange line between Lynnwood and Mill Creek opens in 2024, Swift Blue expands to the 185th Street light rail station in Shoreline around then, and the Swift Gold line between Arlington and Everett begins in 2027.

During the pandemic, Swift ridership didn’t decline as dramatically as its commuter routes and saw “remarkable” retention of passengers, Behee said. It’s one reason why the agency is bullish on growth despite lingering questions about how work-from-home policies will affect traffic and transit demand.

“It’s people who have either always been dependent on transit or have more recently found transit as an option and come to depend on it,” Behee said.

Local routes in the Lynnwood area, along the Highway 527 corridor and in north Snohomish County, could be restructured to better link with Swift lines.

Other changes include an express service network connecting to the light rail stations in Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace and Bellevue in 2024.

Community Transit, already struggling with its staffing levels, will need to hire dozens of drivers and expand its fleet to 312 buses.

Future buses could be zero-emissions systems.

Staff are evaluating the two leading options: battery electric and hydrogen fuel cell. They have met with other agencies using them, including SunLine Transit in Palm Springs, King County Metro, Link Transit in Wenatchee and Everett Transit.

It’s too early to say if one is the leading contender, Behee said. The agency also is reviewing how to implement the fueling, maintenance and driving plans.

“It’s not just a matter of buying new buses, that’s what everybody sees,” Behee said. “It’s fundamental change for our service.”

Staff are likely to have a recommendation to the board in spring.

Later this year, the agency’s first on-demand microtransit pilot will begin in Lynnwood. It is focused in the Alderwood mall area. Others could be announced soon.

Public comment on the transit development plan is welcomed through Thursday Aug. 4. It can be submitted online to PlanUpdate@commtrans.org, 425-353-7433 (RIDE), facebook.com/communitytransit or @MyCommTrans on Twitter with #CTTDP, or mailed to Community Transit; Attn: Transit Development Plan; 2312 W Casino Road; Everett, WA; 98204.

A public hearing on the plan is set for 3 p.m. Aug. 4.

Have a question? Call 425-339-3037 or email streetsmarts@heraldnet.com. Please include your first and last name and city of residence.

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