Community Transit should lower costs, not increase tax

Snohomish County and Community Transit officials have announced they want more tax authority from the Legislature to pay for more passenger train and bus service.

The new taxes they have in mind would increase the tax burden on working families and hit most Snohomish County residents especially hard. Most county residents already pay a 0.9 percent sales tax and a 0.3 percent Motor Vehicle Excise Tax, the tax based on the state’s estimate of your car’s value, to Sound Transit.

In addition, Snohomish County residents outside of Everett currently pay a 0.9 percent sales tax to Community Transit for local and commuter bus service.

Next year, Sound Transit officials want to raise the sales tax they collect from 0.9 percent to 1.4 percent to fund more passenger rail and buses within their tax district. They also want to raise the unpopular car value tax rate from 0.3 percent to 1.1 percent of a vehicle’s value (or $110 annually on a $10,000 vehicle) and increase the property tax burden on households.

Community Transit officials also say they want the ability to increase their share of the sales tax rate from 0.9 percent to 1.2 percent to pay for more buses. Both tax-increase proposals would go to a public vote.

New taxes don’t seem justified, in light of good news from Snohomish County’s transit agency. Community Transit officials are adding bus service without raising regressive taxes on working families. They plan to increase bus service by 17 percent this June, due to a rebounding economy and a recent windfall in sales tax revenues.

What Community Transit officials haven’t announced, however, is the embarrassingly high cost of running their agency compared to other transit systems in the state.

According to the state Department of Transportation, Community Transit is one of the most expensive transit agencies in the state for its size. It costs a whopping $9.10 per passenger trip on a typical Community Transit bus. Although the adult fare to ride the bus is $2, bus fares on average only cover $1.40 of each trip. Taxpayers subsidize the other $7.70.

Spokane’s transit agency serves about the same-size area as Community Transit, but with half the population. Yet even with fewer potential customers, Spokane Transit carries more people than Community Transit at a lower cost. Spokane Transit’s cost to move a passenger is just $3.98 per trip on local bus routes, less than half of Community Transit’s. In 2013, Spokane Transit provided the public 11.1 million bus trips for $44 million, compared to Community Transit’s 5.3 million trips for $48 million.

Snohomish County taxpayers also pay more to receive less. Spokane Transit provided 383,000 hours of local bus service last year — Community Transit provided 100,000 fewer hours, but spent $4 million more.

Another similar agency, Clark County’s C-TRAN, provided about the same number of trips as Community Transit in 2013 (5.4 million) for half of the cost, $26 million.

Costs at King County Metro, the largest county bus system in the state, are only $4.41 per trip, and Pierce Transit spends about $4.75 per trip.

Community Transit has already maxed out its taxing authority, imposing the highest sales tax they can under state law. Before transit officials lobby Olympia for more power to raise taxes, they should work to reduce the cost of providing bus service. The county’s transit agency is currently adding service, which is a good thing, but it could expand service even more with better budget management instead of raising regressive taxes.

Bob Pishue is director of Washington Policy Center’s Coles Center for Transportation.

Talk to us

More in Opinion

FILE - In this May 17, 2018, file photo attorneys walk up the steps of the Washington Supreme Court building, the Temple of Justice, in Olympia, Wash. The court on Thursday, Sept. 30, 2021, unanimously upheld the Washington's tax on big banks aimed at providing essential services and improving the state's regressive tax system. The 1.2% business and occupation surtax, a tax added on top of other taxes — was passed by the Legislature in 2019. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren, File)
Editorial: Ruling may not be last word on state redistricting

The state Supreme Court accepted the redistricting panel’s work, but limited the scope of its ruling.

toon
Editorial cartoons for Tuesday, Dec. 7

A sketchy look at the news of the day.… Continue reading

A Swift bus and an Everett Transit bus travel north on Rucker Avenue on Saturday in Everett. (Sue Misao / The Herald)
Editorial: Help pick a route for Everett’s transit future

A joint study will gather information on whether to combine Everett Transit and Community Transit.

Robert J. Sutherland (Washington State House Republicans)
Editorial: State House covid rules won’t exclude GOP lawmakers

A requirement for vaccination only means those unvaccinated will have to attend sessions remotely.

An artist's rendering shows features planned for the first floor of an expansion of the Imagine Children's Museum. The area will include a representation of the old bicycle tree in Snohomish and an outdoorsy Camp Imagine. (Imagine Children's Museum)
Editorial: GivingTuesday offers chance to build better future

Organizations, such as Imagine Children’s Museum, need our support as we look past the pandemic.

Harrop: Hold parents of school shooters responsible

Leaving firearms unsecured around mentally disturbed youths only invites the next massacre.

Comment: Bob Dole was partisan, but he knew how to govern

The Republican senator fought Democratic legislation but would also work diligently across the aisle.

Comment: Remembering Pearl Harbor often forgets Pacific’s past

The Dec. 7 attack followed years of colonialism by Japan and the U.S. in Hawai’i and the Philippines.

Comment: Fifth Amendment isn’t a blanket stay-out-of-jail card

Congress’ Jan. 6 committee is entitled to probe the validity of a Trump lawyer’s latest refusal to testify.

Most Read