Vote yes for more bus service

You might assume that the additional gas tax you started paying in July — 7 cents a gallon now, 4.9 cents a gallon next summer — is helping to support bus service in your community.

It’s a logical assumption, but aside from some limited funds from state and federal grants, Community Transit, like other transit agencies, gets about 70 percent of its funding from its cut of the sales tax. The rest comes from customer fares, grants and advertising.

So while the gas tax is paying for the $16.1 billion in desperately needed highway and other transportation projects in the state, including $670 million in Snohomish County, Community Transit and other transit agencies also need to make investments to expand their services as our population and job base grows.

With the sales tax as its main source of revenue, Community Transit is coming to the voters to seek an increase in that tax to help fund new routes and additional service county residents will need.

A measure on the Nov. 3 general election ballot seeks a three-tenths of a cent increase to the sales tax for its service area, which includes Snohomish County regions not served by Everett Transit. The increase would amount to 3 additional cents on a $10 taxable purchase, or about $33 more a year for the average adult.

This would be the first increase sought by Community Transit since 2001, after the Legislature drastically cut revenue received from the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax and left transit agencies to rely on sales tax revenue.

What the increase will provide is significant and will be noticed quickly by commuters.

With approval of the tax increase, Community Transit plans to:

Increase service on many existing routes as early as March of next year and expand service on other routes in September after gathering comments from riders and the community.

Add new routes, including a possible route along Highway 9 that would serve Marysville, Lake Stevens, Snohomish and McCollum Park, south of Silver Lake. Further expansion would follow after Community Transit orders new buses, such as its popular Double Talls, in 2017 and 2018.

Expand hours and service for its DART and paratransit services.

Add a second Swift Bus Rapid Transit line between the major employment centers of Everett’s Paine Field and Bothell’s Canyon Park, a route along Airport Road, 128th Street SE and Highway 527 that is dense with residential developments and businesses. Aided by $50 million in federal and state grants the second Swift bus line could be in operation by fall 2018.

Further into the future, a third Swift bus line could be added to serve Sound Transit’s Link light rail station in Lynwood when that is complete in 2023.

The need for additional transit services in Snohomish County is only going to increase. Between now and 2040, Snohomish County’s population is projected to grow from its current level of 750,000 to 955,000. Some projections put the county’s total population at 1.16 million. Likewise, employment is expected to increase during the same period by 130,000 new jobs. A second Swift bus line should ease commutes not only for bus riders but for other drivers on that route as more commuters take the bus.

Not that it had a choice in the matter, but relying on sales tax for revenue is not ideal, as Community Transit experienced during the recession when shoppers cut their spending and revenue from the sales tax dropped. The loss in revenue forced Community Transit to make difficult cuts to its service. But as the economy and revenues have rebounded, Community Transit has taken the opportunity to reexamine its routes and add service where and when it’s needed most.

Community Transit has planned carefully for the expansion that the sales tax increase would provide, and it deserves the support of voters.

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