EVERETT — A long floated merger proposal between Everett Transit and Community Transit is gaining new legs as Everett looks to bridge a budget deficit.
On Wednesday night, Community Transit presented to councilmembers what joining the two systems could potentially bring to Everett — additional Swift Bus Rapid Transit routes, more frequent arrivals of buses, and service more hours of the day.
“Everett Transit provides a quality service, they just don’t provide enough of it and it’s not cost-effective,” Emmett Heath, CEO of Community Transit, said after the presentation. “There is an inefficiency in operating to two systems.”
The city asked Community Transit to present to the council as Everett tries to bridge a budget deficit that is projected to grow to $22.5 million by 2024 if no changes are made. The Everett City Council is considering merging certain services — fire, parks, library or transit — with existing regional systems to cut expenses.
Everett is the only city in the county that’s not part of the Community Transit system which serves jurisdictions throughout Snohomish County.
“We believe a unified transportation system would provide an expanded and improved customer experience,” Heath told councilmembers. “We believe it would be operationally efficient. We believe it would be financially sustainable and resilient.”
Ultimately Everett voters would have final say on joining the regional system. The earliest a measure could get on the ballot is fall 2021, Heath said.
The price of entry would require increasing the sales tax. Currently Everett Transit gets six-tenths of 1% from sales in the city and Community Transit receives 1.2% from sales within the service district. Sales tax is the primary funding for both systems.
In the past two years, both agencies have raised fares. This year, facing a budget shortfall, Everett Transit cut bus service by 7% while Community Transit continues to expand.
Community Transit is able, willing and capable of serving Everett, Heath said.
During the meeting, Community Transit planner Roland Behee presented several potential new Swift lines in Everett, including one connecting Everett’s waterfront with downtown and the new Riverfront development via Everett Station. The bus rapid transit routes are the agency’s most popular lines.
“Swift would be a powerful catalyst for the city’s vision for economic development and housing in these important areas,” Behee said. “Everett would be the center of a countywide Swift network.”
Behee also said a unified system would improve customer journeys across city boundaries. Swift lines make stops in Everett due to a cost-sharing agreement between the two agencies. Other Community Transit buses make limited stops in the city.
“Destinations inside and outside the city would be more convenient,” Behee said. “With a unified transit system together we could build a world-class transit system.”
Some councilmembers worry a merger could jeopardize local bus routes.
Community Transit’s vision for local service, Heath said, is providing many routes that have buses coming every 15 minutes with stops a 5-minute walk for a majority of residents. About 70% of all boardings on the agency’s routes are on local routes, and that will just grow as the agency integrates with light rail service in the coming years, Heath said.
Steve Oss, the president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 883 that represents Everett Transit drivers, has been a vocal opponent of a joint system.
“If we doubled our revenues through sales tax for Everett Transit we could put a whole lot of transit out there,” Oss said.
“And it would be here in Everett. We wouldn’t be thinking how much of that new revenue money is going out into the county.”
The council made no decision Wednesday night. City staff plans to bring back several options in coming months.
This story has been updated to correctly reflect where Community Transit buses stop in Everett.