Tuesday, November 24, 2015

What Will We Do if The Big One Hits? We're Getting Ready, Just in Case.

By Steven Winecoff, Manager of Transportation Administration

On Thursday, November 12 at 8:45 a.m., a simulated 9.0 earthquake occurred off the Pacific coast, causing major damage throughout the Puget Sound region.

At Community Transit, dispatchers and managers scrambled to contact drivers in the field to ensure that buses and passengers were safe and accounted for. Communication channels were spotty.

At the same time, all our employees were evacuated from their buildings and few were allowed back in due to lengthy inspection times and areas of clear structural damage.

Many workers, at our base and on the road, were anxious to get home to check on their families, as cell phone and Internet communication channels were overwhelmed.

Using real system data, such as how many buses were on the road at that time, and possible events, such as dispatch centers being inoperable, 29 Community Transit employees from various departments participated in a five-hour tabletop emergency response exercise that day to respond as they would if this event really happened.

Our objective was to assess Community Transit’s response and readiness. This is not just about planning for a possible earthquake, but helping us plan for “All Hazards” types of events so we can be better prepared in the event of any emergency. Our next step is an agency-wide debrief to discuss action items that arose from this tabletop event. 

The exercise also helped to prepare our agency for the “Cascadia Rising” Earthquake & Tsunami Functional Exercise that will take place in June 2016. This drill is being planned by FEMA and other state and regional partners. It is one more in a series of preparedness exercises our agency, and our partners, undertake to ensure the safety and security of our passengers and employees.

Read more about the possibility of “The Really Big One” in New Yorker magazine. For more information on personal preparedness please visit www.snohomishcountywa.gov or www.fema.gov.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

A Note of Thanks to our Veterans

How important it is for us to recognize and celebrate our heroes and she-roes!” - Maya Angelou

Every year, on November 11, Americans have the opportunity to honor the bravery and service of all U.S. veterans.

At Community Transit, we are honored to work alongside 92 veterans every day. They represent the five armed service branches (Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Marine Corps and Navy) and are found throughout the agency in our Transportation, Maintenance, Sales & Distribution and Capitol Planning areas.

For the past three years, we've posted the names of our veterans throughout the agency and given them pins to wear for the day to recognize their service. (Pictured to the left is the pin veterans will be wearing for Veterans Day 2015.)

Community Transit thanks all the veterans in our lives, including those who drive, maintain and support our transit service! Please join us in thanking our veterans for their service and sacrifice.

Want to send an eCard to the veterans in your life? Click here to send a thank you eCard to your favorite veteran (courtesy of GovLoop).

How will you be honoring your favorite veteran on Veterans Day?

Friday, October 30, 2015

A Day in the Life at the Lost and Found: Phones, Umbrellas, and a Bag O’Pot

Many people run to catch their bus, but some also dash off the bus to get where they need to go. In that bustle, they sometimes leave stuff behind. At Community Transit, we average about 650 lost and found items per month. That’s up to 8,000 items a year.

Most items left behind on our buses are what you’d expect to find: cell phones, travel umbrellas, prescription glasses, IDs. But, we also get stuff you’ve got to wonder how someone could forget: bicycles, laptops, dentures, even a playpen! 

When you operate public transit in a state where marijuana is legalized, it’s not surprising when a bag of pot appears in the daily drop off. 

In fact, our staff estimates that small amounts of marijuana make an appearance at the Lost and Found about four times per month.

So, what do we do with the pot?

According to Matt, Sales and Distribution Supervisor at the Lynnwood Transit Center RideStore, home to our Lost and Found, standard procedure is to call the Snohomish County Sheriff’s deputies to come and retrieve it. We don’t want to be in possession of lost drugs or weapons.

“In most instances, what we receive is a small amount,” said Matt. “If it happens that the person who left their item on the bus shows up to claim it before the sheriffs arrive, we release the item to the person (after they properly identify it).”

If the sheriff arrives before the owner and takes possession of the marijuana, a tag marked with the case number and sheriff’s office contact info is attached to the container the marijuana was in so the owner can take steps to retrieve the item. When a claimant is told they need to go to the sheriff’s office to get their weed, “we usually get a very calm response,” said Matt.

Reunited And It Feel So Good

For just about every lost item is an owner eager for its return. About 35 percent of items in the Lost and Found are reunited with their owners. If you’ve left an item on one of our buses, here’s what you should know to get your item back:
  • If you left your item on a Community Transit or Snohomish County Sound Transit bus, contact the RideStore to see if your item has been found. Call (425) 348-2350 or email ridestore@commtrans.org
  • Lost and found items can be picked up at the RideStore the next business day after 12:00 p.m.
  • When you call, be prepared to identify your item (color, stickers, brand name, etc.).
  • If you lost an item at Everett Station, check with the station’s Customer Service Center.
  • If you lost an item on the Sounder Train, call (888) 889-6398. Select the “Sounder” option and then select “Lost & Found.”

Clockwise left: 30 crates organize found items; bulkier found items take up
the other side of lost and found; a gas-powered pruner was left behind; 
staff examine and log items in all bags that come in; an average dropoff
of found items from a weekend.
Time’s a Tickin’ When Things Go Missin’

If an item has a phone number, we do our best to contact the owner. Otherwise, we wait for a call. Wallets, purses and medications are always given special consideration for quick return to the owner. Other items fall under these hold criteria:
  • Lost items are held in Lost in Found for 30 days, then they are destroyed or donated.
  • Bikes are held offsite for a total of 10 days before being turned over to the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Property Room. When claiming a bike, you’ll need to set-up a time for pick-up. Appointments are available weekdays between 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. by calling (425) 348-2350.
“At the end of the day, we prefer to reunite people with their property,” said Matt.

To that end, our RideStore staff has two pieces of advice for our riders:
  1. Check your seat before getting off the bus and make sure you have all your belongings.
  2. If you think you’ve lost something on one of our buses, give us a call!

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Buses will Bypass Heavy Traffic on SB I-5

Beginning this week, Community Transit and Sound Transit buses will use transit-only ramps to bypass heavy traffic on southbound I-5.

Buses will use the ramps at the Mountlake Terrace Freeway Station (MLTFS) and at Northgate to bypass traffic when there is major congestion. Buses will only use the ramps when traffic in the HOV lane is moving significantly below posted speeds and the driver believes the bus can gain a travel time advantage over staying in the HOV lane.

Each of these bypasses is about two-thirds of a mile long, so if both are used, that is nearly 1.5 miles of traffic the buses will be able to avoid on the southbound commute.

The goal is to help keep buses on schedule, which is especially difficult on the southbound morning commute.

At Mountlake Terrace, this means that not every bus that comes through the freeway station will stop for customers. Signs are being posted to notify waiting riders that not all buses will stop.

In the near future, southbound buses will also use the HOV ramp at the Lynnwood Transit Center to bypass heavy traffic. Community Transit is working with the Washington State Department of Transportation on new signage that will allow transit to go straight on those ramps, after stopping, of course.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

I-405 Bus Shoulder Driving May Start Thursday, October 8

On the heels of the new express toll lanes opening on a 17-mile stretch of I-405, commuters can expect to see Community Transit and Sound Transit buses driving on the southbound I-405 right hand shoulder starting tomorrow, October 8.

The Transit Only right-hand shoulder lane is part of the I-405 Express Toll Lanes project and the result of a partnership between Community Transit, King County Metro Transit, Sound Transit and the Washington State Department of Transportation.

The 13-foot wide Transit Only shoulder lane is located on two specific stretches of southbound I-405:
  • Between Highway 527 (Canyon Park exit) and NE 195th Street; and
  • Between Highway 522 and NE 160th Street
Here is a preview of what the bus shoulder driving will look like-- this is actual footage of our drivers in training yesterday afternoon:


Bus shoulder operations are common in other states such as Minnesota and Ohio. Community Transit has entered into an agreement with WSDOT for I-405 shoulder operations in  2010. Community Transit operates Sound Transit express buses in Snohomish County.

Rules of the Road

Just as there are rules for using the express lanes, so too are there rules for buses driving on the shoulder:
  • Buses will use the shoulder lane only during the weekday morning commute (6-9 a.m.)
  • Buses will use the shoulder lane only when regular traffic is running substantially slower than posted speeds.
  • Buses will flash their hazard lights when operating on the shoulder to alert other vehicles.
  • When traffic is running at or close to posted speeds, buses will use the right-hand general purpose traffic lane.
  • If there is a stalled vehicle or another obstruction blocking the shoulder lane, buses will use the right-hand general purpose lane.
For more information about I-405 shoulder lane operations, visit  www.wsdot.wa.gov/Tolling/405/BusShoulderLanes.htm.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Session in Review: How Community Transit Fared with the 2015 Legislature

The historically long (176 days) 2015 Washington State Legislative Session is now best remembered in transit circles for the transportation revenue package passed in early July. That legislation gave Community Transit authority to seek local sales tax funding for increased transit service, which will be decided by voters on November 3.

Here is a recap of legislation affecting Community Transit.

Funding for Community Transit 

16-year New Transportation Revenue Package 
• Local option authority – As discussed above, this granted Community Transit authority to seek up to 0.3 percent sales tax increase for transit. The Community Transit Board approved a ballot measure for the full 0.3 percent to fund more bus trips on all routes, a second Swift line and a list of other improvements. Measure will be on November 3 general election ballot.
• $10 million in flexible spending for second line of Swift. This funding, which is designated to be received in future biennia, can be used for Swift capital infrastructure (buses and stations) or operations.

2015-17 Transportation Budget Regional Mobility Grants 
• Seaway Transit Center, $3 million in 2015-17 and $3.8 million in 2017-19
This transit center, located across the street from Boeing-Everett’s main gate, will serve as the northern terminal for the second Swift line, as well as a hub for all Paine Field area buses, including Community Everett and Metro Transit. Design is underway and project can be completed in 2017.
• Mukilteo Park & Ride, $3.48 million in 2015-17
This commuter park & ride will be located on Bernie Webber Drive on the west side of Paine Field, about a block off the Mukilteo Speedway. It will be primarily used for local residents catching routes to Seattle and UW. This project is awaiting final local matching funds.

Statewide Transit Funding from New Transportation Revenue Package 

Gas tax revenue, the primary revenue source for this legislation, cannot be used for any transit projects. These projects are funded through other sources defined in the legislation. Community Transit may compete for some of these grants, but funding is not guaranteed.

• Special Needs Transportation Grants increased from $25 million per biennium to $60 million
• Rural Mobility Grants increased from $17 million per biennium to $30 million
• Regional Mobility Grants increased from $40 million per biennium to $75.25 million
• Vanpool Grants increased from $6 million per biennium to $9.9 million
• Transit Agency Coordination (HB 1842), $5 million over 16 years
• Transit project earmarks, $111 million over 16 years (includes above $10 million for Swift)

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Community Transit Ballot Measure -- What Does It Mean?

On July 16, the Community Transit Board of Directors voted to place a measure on the Nov. 3 general election ballot seeking an additional 0.3 percent sales tax for increased transit services.

The board resolution is not the final step. Technically, any candidate or jurisdiction in Snohomish County has until Aug. 4 to get on the November ballot. After that time, the County Auditor will release the official ballot. That should be just a formality for our measure.

A view of Mt. Rainier taken from the top deck of one of our
Double Talls serving Rte 402, traveling southbound on I-5.  
What does this mean? Who gets to vote?
The state has set sales tax as Community Transit’s only local means of funding, other than fares. Currently, Community Transit’s sales tax level is 0.9 percent, which is 9 cents on a $10 purchase. The new measure would add 3 cents to that same $10 purchase.

Community Transit’s sales tax is only collected in our service district, or public transportation benefit area (PTBA). Every city in Snohomish County, except Everett in in our PTBA (see map), as are many areas of the unincorporated county

Only people who live in the PTBA are eligible to vote on this measure, but anyone who shops in the PTBA pays taxes toward Community Transit. So, all those Skagit or King County residents who shop at the Seattle Premium Outlet Mall or Alderwood Mall help to support Community Transit.

That’s why we say “Buy Local for Transit!”

Why is new funding needed?
Remember when we cut service in 2010? People asked why we were the only local agency cutting service at that time. The reality is we made the tough, but fiscally responsible decision to balance our budget when revenues fell dramatically below our expenses.

The result is that we emerged from the recession early and began adding service when other transit agencies and local cities are still considering cuts.

Current service levels do not meet the demand for transit now. Ask any commuter who has to stand for 80 minutes to Seattle, or has a bus pass them by because it is already full. Or talk to the person who misses a connection and has to wait nearly an hour for the next bus.

New funding is needed so Community Transit can meet current and future transit demand in Snohomish County.

In the past two years, job growth has picked up and more people have moved to our county, and the region. The Mill Creek-Bothell area is one of the fastest growing areas in the country right now. And, forecasts for future growth are staggering: 240,000 more people and 130,000 more jobs are expected in Snohomish County by 2040, according to the Puget Sound Regional Council.

If new funding is approved, Community Transit will provide:
  • More local bus trips throughout the day, as well as expanded service hours every day of the week.
  • A second Swift bus rapid transit line between the state’s largest manufacturing job center at Boeing/Paine Field and Canyon Park/Bothell, Snohomish County’s high-tech job center.
  • More commuter bus trips to downtown Seattle and the University of Washington.
  • Increased east-west connections within the county.
  • More bus service to job, housing and educational centers throughout the county, including communities such as Arlington, Monroe and Stanwood.
  • New routes, such as Marysville-to-McCollum Park via Lake Stevens, Snohomish and Silver Firs via Highway 9.
  • Reconfigured local bus service to connect with Sound Transit Link light rail when it reaches Mountlake Terrace, Lynnwood and, eventually, Everett.
  • More vanpools and expanded DART paratransit service.

The additional sales tax would generate about $25 million a year for more transit service. In addition, Community Transit could bring in up to $50 million in federal and state funding to complete the second Swift line, and possibly more grant funding for a third Swift line to link up with light rail by 2023.

A new web page is being set up to answer questions about the ballot measure. Go ahead and start asking questions here, now.