CT should dig deeper to help disabled riders first

Community Transit should try again to find $60,000 for disabled riders.

Last week, the bus system, which serves most of Snohomish County, restored $3 million worth of the services cut in February. Those cuts were in reaction to the passage of Initiative 695, which canceled a vehicle license tax that provided about a third of the agency’s budget.

CT’s board of directors, composed of elected representatives from city councils and the Snohomish County Council, adopted a package of restorations that made very good sense overall. The plan followed the priorities laid down by a review process that allowed an impressive level of opportunity for public involvement. Both the agency’s management and the board showed good judgment in following the priorities developed by a service restoration committee of citizens and employees.

The restored service includes 85 percent of CT’s Saturday bus runs, which were dropped in February as part of the elimination of all weekend service. The plan also made some carefully targeted moves to provide help for commuters going to Boeing’s Everett plant and Seattle. That’s all for the good, especially when you consider that the Saturday service restoration helps large numbers of disabled riders who use either regular bus routes or the special door-to-door service called DART.

Still, at least 15 disabled individuals who lost service in February have no obvious prospects for relief. CT staff estimated that it would cost $57,000 to provide door-to-door service for disabled individuals whose homes were along regular routes that had to be abandoned in the service cuts. The analysis was prepared at the request of a disabilities-services advocate. Staff members recommended against the advocate’s request to move ahead on restoring the disabled riders’ service ahead of the regular bus service in their neighborhoods.

There’s a perfectly intelligent case to be made against the special treatment, especially in terms of fairness to all riders and sticking to a 1996 policy against such grandfathering of disabled services when route changes must be made. In fact, some disabled riders argue against the request for $57,000 in special restorations for them.

Hanging over the discussion is the difficult reality that the $3 million in service restorations is entirely because of special help from the Legislature. There’s no guarantee that the state aid will continue next year.

Even under such a stressful situation, however, the board of directors can extend itself to make a more compassionate choice. With an operating budget of around $50 million per year, the board could surely find a way to come up with the $57,000. The board – or someone on it – can insist upon stepping back and asking who has suffered most in the budget cuts. And then the board can decide to do just a little extra in hurrying service restorations for the disabled riders.

For good reasons, CT has substantial reservoirs of public support. Part of that is because area residents understand the social service aspect of transit service. It’s up to board members to take that understanding into a little extra account here, even as they seek to make the excellent case for additional state or local sources of money to restore service for everyone.

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