CT restores Saturday bus runs

By WARREN CORNWALL

Herald Writer

Starting in mid-September, LuRee Sperry will once again be able to attend Saturday meetings of a group for people with hearing problems, courtesy of Community Transit.

Laura Jensen is not so fortunate.

Both are confined to wheelchairs, live on the outskirts of Everett, and have relied on the bus agency’s door-to-door service for the disabled.

But geography and a decision by CT’s board on Thursday meant Sperry regained previously canceled Saturday bus rides, while Jensen remains without the service she lost in February.

"I like it very much," Sperry, 84, said of the resumption of most Saturday bus service starting Sept. 18.

"I don’t have a social life anymore," lamented Jensen, 38, whose electric wheelchair is so unwieldy that without the special vans she has had to quit a computer class, support group and volunteer job.

Despite pleadings from an activist for the disabled, the CT board unanimously approved plans restoring 86 percent of Saturday service, and commuter runs for south and north Snohomish County, but not returning special Dial-a-Ride, or DART, service to Jensen and 115 others.

The bus service to be returned Sept. 18 was part of cuts made earlier in reaction to the 1999 passage of Initiative 695. The initiative canceled the car tax, a source of roughly a third of CT’s operating budget.

Board member Dave Earling welcomed the service revival as a victory achieved with extensive input from unions, workers and citizens, and a one-year financial aid package from the state.

With limited funding, he said, they could do little more.

"We understand and are sensitive to the fact that we didn’t restore all the service. But we’re going to need more money to do that," Earling said.

But Sarajane Siegfriedt, director of the Disability Resource Center in Everett, said she was disappointed CT’s staff hadn’t briefed board members, or earlier committees, about a plan to help more disabled people for a fraction of the $3 million package approved Thursday.

Siegfriedt lobbied the board to resume DART trips for people who live near bus routes wiped out in the early round of service cuts. Now, CT only offers the special service to people living within three-fourths of a mile of a regular bus route – as required by federal law.

For an additional $58,000 a year, the bus agency could have gone above the legal requirements and helped an estimated 116 former DART riders such as Jensen who are now completely without service, she said.

But Earling said that would require a change in the agency’s long-standing policy tying DART service to regular bus routes. A memo from agency staffers on Thursday warned board members that change could later force them to maintain other costly service for the disabled.

A policy shift like that was beyond the scope of the board’s considerations Thursday, Earling said.

"I’m not averse to doing it," he said. "But I hadn’t even thought about it."

Teresa "Flying Eagle" Baird, a long-time activist for transit for the disabled, backed the board’s decision, saying the pain of cuts needed to be spread equally among riders.

But the loss of a bus could be more devastating for someone in an wheelchair, said Siegfriedt.

"Some people need a little extra help at the outset," she said.

Earling cautioned all of the restored service could be lost within a year if CT doesn’t find another source of money. The $3 million comes from a one-time package approved by state lawmakers.

Transit officials are considering asking county voters to approve a three-tenths of a penny sales tax increase to replace money lost to I-695.

You can call Herald Writer Warren Cornwall at 425-339-3463 or send e-mail to

cornwall@heraldnet.com.

Coming back

Community Transit Bus service returning Sept. 18:

Most Saturday service – 86 percent. All weekend service was canceled in February.

A commuter route from Stanwood to Seattle gets three round-trips a day, after being cut to two.

Two commuter bus routes from south Snohomish County to Boeing’s Everett plant.

For more information, call Community Transit at 800-562-1375.

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