Community Transit Chief Executive Emmett Heath (left) and U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Washington, tour the Seaway Transit Center across from the main employee parking lot at the Boeing Co.’s Everett plant, in March of 2018. Heath is retiring after six years as chief executive and 10 years previously with the agency. (Noah Haglund / Herald file photo)

Community Transit Chief Executive Emmett Heath (left) and U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Washington, tour the Seaway Transit Center across from the main employee parking lot at the Boeing Co.’s Everett plant, in March of 2018. Heath is retiring after six years as chief executive and 10 years previously with the agency. (Noah Haglund / Herald file photo)

Editorial: Transit agency’s chief leaves it ready for future

Community Transit’s Emmett Heath retires after 16 years of service to riders, county residents.

By The Herald Editorial Board

It wasn’t a simple decision for Emmett Heath, who has led Community Transit as its chief executive since 2014, following ten years as its administration director, to pull the cord and get off at his stop.

As it was, Heath stayed on longer than he originally intended, having planned to retire from the countywide transit agency in the year’s first quarter. The coronavirus pandemic changed those plans, Heath said during a recent interview, and he remained to see Community Transit through a serious and lingering decline in ridership and the agency’s responses to the resulting financial challenges, its plans for the future, as well as the agency’s search for a new chief executive.

Community Transit’s board of directors, whose representatives include city and county elected officials, is expected to make a final choice Thursday among three candidates for the position, with announcement following soon after. The new chief executive will face a challenge as the agency, like others, looks to continue to serve the public during the pandemic and its economic effects, but she or he inherits an agency that has been well served by its board, its staff and particularly by Heath.

In the pandemic’s first surge in March and April, Community Transit’s ridership dropped about 70 percent, with much of that loss in riders coming from its commuter routes to Bothell, University of Washington and Seattle, and a smaller decline in local fixed routes. Those losses followed ridership numbers that at the end of 2019 totaled more than 11 million passenger trips for bus, DART paratransit and van pool service. Bus ridership, alone, had increased by 5 percent to 501,000 boardings in 2019, over the previous year.

As workers have returned to jobs, some of that ridership has returned. CT has seen boardings increase to about 62 percent of previous figures, Heath said, and its route service will make a gradual return, with adjustments coming with service potentially increasing between March and September of next year.

At the same time, the agency’s capital improvement plans — $280 million of investments over the coming six years — remain in place, much of it focused on expansion of the agency’s very successful Swift bus rapid transit lines and their future connections with Sound Transit’s Link light rail stations, including the Northgate Link station next year, and Lynnwood’s Link station in 2024.

Starting with its Swift Blue Line between Everett Station and the Aurora Village Transit Station, now marking its 11th year, the bus rapid transit system has since expanded with its Green Line between the Seaway Transit Station at Paine Field and Canyon Park park-and-ride in Bothell. Coming in 2024, a new Orange Line will connect Edmonds College, the Lynnwood Link stop, Alderwood Mall, Swamp Creeks park-and-ride, the Mill Creek Town Center and Everett’s McCollum Park park-and-ride.

“It’s no longer about a single Swift line, not about a blue line or a green line or an orange line or a gold line; it’s the build-out of a rapid transit network for the county,” Heath said, one that will continue to connect with Community Transit’s — and other transit services’ — local fixed routes so it’s easy for riders to get to and from rapid transit.

CT’s next chief executive will, as Heath has in recent years, likely be part of an ongoing conversation with its sister agency, Everett Transit, as the City of Everett weighs how to continue to provide bus service within Everett and other transit connections. Along with options that would keep the city agency within its control would be a merger or consolidation with Community Transit.

“What I’ve told the mayor from day one, if the city’s choice is to join our service area, we are ready, willing and able to serve the citizens of Everett,” Heath said.

When Community Transit’s board of directors asked Heath to push out his retirement date to guide it through the toughest parts of the pandemic, Heath didn’t balk at saying yes. Choosing a specific date was tougher.

“You like to see things through to completion, but you’re always starting new stuff,” Heath said as his Dec. 25 retirement approaches. “There is no way to retire from a position like mine where everything’s done.”

If the work isn’t done, Heath has left the bus in good shape for the next driver.

Talk to us

More in Opinion

Ian Terry / The Herald

Brian Henderson, of Renton, plugs in his Kia Soul EV electric vehicle at a charging station in Sultan on Wednesday, June 7. Henderson and a group of fellow electric car drivers made the trip from Everett's City Hall to Spokane's City Hall late last week in an effort to raise awareness about convenient charging locations along U.S. Highway 2.

Photo taken on 06072017
Editorial: Yes to gas tax hike, but this has to be the last

Transportation needs must be funded, but the gas tax is dwindling as a sustainable revenue source.

toon
Editorial cartoons for Monday, Jan. 25

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

Arlington Fire Chief Dave Kraski outside Station #46 downtown. (Arlington Times)
Editorial: Arlington voters should approve fire agency merger

Merger of its fire department with North County Fire will maintain those services affordably.

The U.S. Capitol building is prepared for the inauguration ceremonies for President-elect Joe Biden as the "Field of Flags" are placed on the ground on the National Mall on Monday, Jan. 18, 2021. in Washington, DC. Approximately 191,500 flags will cover part of the National Mall and will represent the American people who are unable to travel to Washington, for the inauguration. (Joe Raedle/Pool vias AP)
Editorial: The oath we must take after every election

We can’t address solutions to our challenges until we accept the election of those who represent us.

FILE - In this Feb. 26, 2009 file photo, a pressman pulls a copy of one of the final editions of the Rocky Mountain News off the press in the Washington Street Printing Plant of the Denver Newspaper Agency in Denver. A survey by Gallup and the Knight Foundation released on Sunday, Nov. 17, 2019, finds Democrats much more willing than Republicans to see government funding help local news sources. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)
Editorial: Restating our commitment to discourse and debate

To move beyond the last four years’ divisiveness, we need more discussion from varied viewpoints.

Amanda Gorman speaks at the inauguration. MUST CREDIT: Washington Post photo by Jonathan Newton
Comment: Why Amanda Gorman’s poem at inaugural soared

Forced to overcome a speech impediment, the young poet has excelled at performance of the spoken word.

Comment: How Senate can keep filibuster but break gridlock

A return to ‘regular order’ would move legislation forward that has bipartisan support in committees.

We have to confront white supremacy in our own communities

In June of last year, after the killing of George Floyd and… Continue reading

Suggested names for groups at the Capitol siege

To the lexicon of names for groups like a plague of Llocusts… Continue reading

Most Read