May 31 is the last major holiday that receives Community Transit bus service for awhile.
This spring the Board of Directors made the decision to suspend bus service on Sundays and six major holidays to plug half of the agency’s $11 budget hole. The other half is addressed through cuts to early morning and late night service, route eliminations and new routing and schedules.
The cuts take effect June 13.
As explained in an earlier blog (“What happens when Sunday bus service goes away?”), by shutting operations completely on one day, the agency saves more money and impacts fewer riders than by cutting more routes and trips every day of the week.
In 2009, average Sunday boardings on Community Transit service was about 8,400 riders, while we had just under 7,000 riders on holidays. The average ridership each weekday was nearly 38,000.
Obviously, some people still work on holidays. People also have important things to do on those days. But demand for bus service on holidays is lower than on any other days of the year.
Operational costs on holidays are also higher. Just like any other company, people who work at Community Transit on holidays get holiday pay. That’s different than Sundays. For our line of work, Sunday is just another day you might be scheduled to work, so the pay is no different than other non-holidays.
By suspending bus service on Sundays and six major holidays, the agency will save about $2.5 million this year and about $5 million next year. (By the way, the six major holidays are: New Year’s Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Thanksgiving Day and Christmas.)
While the economy may not be recovered by the end of 2011, if new funding becomes available to Community Transit, Sunday and holiday service could be restored by then.
Our agency has been meeting with federal elected officials and their staff to request funding through various bills in Congress. There has been some talk about allowing more flexibility in the federal money we receive so that funding alloted for capital needs (bus purchases, etc.) can go to operations. But these days we simply need more money. Taking away from our capital reserves just pushes the problem out a couple years to when we won’t be able to afford to replace our buses. Community Transit has already delayed a scheduled bus purchase two years during this financial crisis. Older buses cost more to operate and are more prone to mechanical problems, even with our first-rate maintenance team.
In Olympia, the Legislature’s Joint Transportation Committee is studying the issue of transit funding this summer and fall. They plan to present a recommendation to the 2011 Legislature. That is another forum we will monitor and participate in to help ensure that state lawmakers understand the needs of local transit agencies like ours.