Everett council asks for transit merger steering committee

Survey results show strong support for growth options, which prompted the City Council to act.

Everett is poised to inch closer toward a merger of its bus system with Community Transit.

After a final report about the city’s Rethink Transit outreach and survey on the future of Everett’s bus and paratransit service June 9, the Everett City Council asked staff to form a steering committee that will evaluate what consolidation could look like.

“I think we need to get that going yesterday,” Council President Brenda Stonecipher said.

Eventually, voters could decide on Everett Transit’s future, either through a sales tax increase to keep it in city hands or a merger with another agency, which would dissolve the city department.

Everett Transit Director Tom Hingson updated council members on survey results that showed “growth is desired and growth is needed.” The questionnaire, conducted online between March 8 and April 5, explained three options for the city’s transit network: stay as is and likely continue cutting service over time, grow through a sales tax increase to 0.9%, or grow through a merger (likely a larger sales tax increase to 1.2%).

“The survey results indicate support for improved transit in Everett,” Hingson said. “The results do not, however, show there is a clear sense of how people want to see that occur.”

Initially, Hingson proposed a timeline with the council seeking voter approval for one of two growth options in 2024. He recommended waiting until early next year after the City Council is installed because at least three members will be new, before forming a steering committee or making other decisions.

But Stonecipher said the majority of the current council has spent years hearing about and discussing Everett Transit’s future, which put it in the best position to act quickly.

For years, Everett Transit has operated with expenses outpacing revenue growth, which resulted in service and staff cuts, including 25% of employees last year during the pandemic.

That happened at the same time population steadily grew in Everett and across Snohomish County. The city is bracing for an estimated 60,000 new residents in the coming two decades, during which light rail is expected to arrive in Everett. Those changes are converging on urgent decision-making about housing and transportation, Councilmember Paul Roberts said.

An infusion of $8.8 million in recent federal Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act dollars, with more expected, gives city leaders time at a critical point to decide what to ask voters.

“We’ve been, you know, kind of humming along and wringing our hands hoping that something will change, and it’s not changing,” Stonecipher said. “Nothing is going to change between now and January when we seat a new council.”

Survey results showed a “dissatisfaction with the current state” of transit in Everett, Hingson said. They also conveyed some opposition to raising taxes and a preference to raise fares and concerns about the city losing control through a merger.

Everett Transit staff also noticed misconceptions about Community Transit, which is a public agency, and that neighborhood service would decrease if a merger happened.

“The sooner we make this decision, the better choices we can make regarding future capital projects such as base expansion, vehicle replacement and replacement of our service facilities to support an all-electric fleet,” Hingson said.

Community Transit has not invested in electric buses and instead uses diesel or hybrid vehicles. Everett Transit, however, has been replacing its old gas buses with new battery-electric coaches, including a nearly $9.3 million contract in March to buy nine more — doubling its electric fleet.

Everett Transit is anticipating a “modest” service increase this fall, and possibly another bump in March next year.

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