By Don Shagam / For The Herald
Everett Transit is a social safety net for the community. Its singular function is to fulfill the city’s transportation needs.
It is unlike regional transit systems, such as King Count Metro and Community Transit, which dedicate a substantial portion of their operations to getting people out of their cars and into commuter buses and trains, carpools and ride share). Everett Transit welcomes those goals; however, their share of ridership is low.
Most customers ride ET buses and Paratransit vans because they have no other viable option. Reducing service further and eliminating Sunday and holiday service will have a profound effect on riders’ livelihoods. Many essential workers will be unable to reach their places of employment.
I retired from Everett Transit in January. I supervised, trained, resolved customers’ issues and served as liaison to the Emergency Operations Center. I was one of the union officers who initiated the successful initiative raising sales tax to sustain ET operations.
I have three suggestions to preserve Everett Transit.
1. Operate the system during the pandemic as if it were a FEMA-declared disaster and recovery. Implement temporary routes and schedules. Provide frequent service on the primary corridors (Broadway, Evergreen and Rucker, etc.) with less frequent feeders bringing riders to the corridors. For example, the route from Mukilteo Boulevard could end at Evergreen Way. Customers would transfer to get to downtown and Everett Station. This could reduce operational expense, limit service reduction and maintain Sunday service.
2. Raise the sales tax and eliminate fares. Fares account for only about a fifth of overall revenue. Public transportation in Everett is an essential service. Safety and efficiency would show an immediate improvement. A common safety and customer service issue, and a drag on operational efficiency, is fare collection. Disputes regularly hold up buses. Hopefully, more people may leave the car at home and choose the bus.
3. Withdraw from the ORCA fare system. This can be done with or without eliminating fare. Everett Transit’s contribution to the developing new operating system will be the monetary equivalent of the fare collection revenue maintained prior to the pandemic. Eliminating fares would render ORCA membership unnecessary. Prior to ORCA, ET reduced fares and eliminated transfers. It can be done again, but if fares collection remains, customer dissatisfaction and conduct issues will occur.
Everett Transit exists by the vote of its citizens. Should the mayor and city counsel propose the demise of Everett Transit, a get out the vote campaign will be a must. Riders eligible to vote must vote in large numbers. Without Everett Transit, during a local or citywide emergency, the Emergency Operations Center would be without buses and Paratransit vans for evacuation and sheltering.
Don Shagam, a retired Everett Transit project cordinator, lives in Lake Stevens.