Community Transit slashing bus service in Snohomish County

EVERETT — Bus riders in Snohomish County will face major cuts in their service beginning in June.

The Community Transit board of directors voted 9-0 Thursday to suspend all Sunday and holiday service and eliminate or shorten many weekday routes to offset plummeting tax revenue. The board also approved fare increases of 25 cents on all noncommuter routes.

Together, the measures will save $5 million this year and $11 million in 2011. *

Service on a few routes was added back in, and the board voted to set aside $50,000 that could go to churches or nonprofits.

Many riders strenuously objected over the past two months to the cuts. Particularly galling to some was the loss of all service on Sundays and holidays, with some riders saying Community Transit buses were the only way they could get to work or church.

Dial-a-Ride transit for the disabled, also known as DART, is run by Community Transit and its service would be eliminated on Sundays as well.

Jenny Anderson of Lynnwood, who is visually impaired, is a frequent DART rider and spoke at Thursday’s meeting, asking the board to reconsider eliminating Sunday service. She was skeptical whether the $50,000 would help riders such as herself.

“That wasn’t a very happy outcome, was it?” she said of the board’s vote.

This will be the second time Community Transit has suspended Sunday service in slightly more than 10 years. After Initiative 695 was approved in 1999, dramatically cutting the states car-tab fee, the agency had no Sunday service from February 2000 to February 2002.

This time, sales-tax income, Community Transit’s main source of operating revenue, has dropped 18 percent in the past two years, spokesman Tom Pearce said.

While some riders pleaded with Community Transit to cut more across the board and save service on Sunday, the agency said Sundays have an average of 8,400 boardings compared with 35,000 on weekdays. Supervisors and mechanics must work on Sundays and holidays, and closing the shop those days saves more than cutting trips here and there, officials say.

The same reasoning was used for shortening and eliminating some early morning routes, moving the earliest start time for drivers from 3 a.m. to 4:30 a.m. Some Boeing employees, especially in far north and east Snohomish County, vigorously opposed this plan.

On Thursday, the board voted to consider restoring a 5:06 a.m. bus on Route 277 in Gold Bar and two buses on Route 247 from downtown Stanwood. The proposal as approved would require people who ride these buses to catch them at later time at park-and-ride lots in Monroe and 4 1/2 miles outside Stanwood, near I-5. The board will revisit these routes next month.

The board voted to restore legs of some trips in Snohomish and Bothell and altered the only route that serves Brier to keep it from being cut. To make money available for these trips, the board voted to reduce the frequency of buses on Route 101 on Highway 99 in south Snohomish County from 20 minutes to 30 minutes most of the day. This would save about $500,000, said Sam Brodland, service planning and scheduling supervisor for Community Transit. The trips added back in cost roughly $327,000, he said, potentially providing a little room to restore more service.

The agency’s new $29.6 million Swift bus rapid transit system, which started in November, serves the Highway 99 corridor. The agency can’t cut the Swift program — though like other buses it won’t run on Sunday — because it is primarily funded with federal dollars, officials say.

Community Transits drivers’ union, the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 1576, also opposed the cuts. Community Transit estimates the cuts will require 55 layoffs among Community Transit’s 375 drivers.

Board member Ted Hikel, a Lynnwood city councilman, spoke just before the board took its vote on the reductions. The board is made up of elected officials from around the county.

“I’ve been an elected official for 18 years and this is the hardest vote I’ve ever had to take,” he said.

Bill Sheets: 425-339-3439, sheets@heraldnet.com.

* This story was corrected since it was first posted online to accurately state Community Transit’s budget shortfall.

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