Thursday, February 25, 2010

Revised Service Change Proposals

Community Transit staff presented several proposed modifications to the June 2010 Service Change Proposal to the board of directors yesterday (Feb. 24). The modifications responded to input received from the public and questions from board members since the proposal was first announced in early January.

These modifications are now part of the service and fare change proposal that will go to the board on March 4 for final consideration and expected adoption. In some cases, there are several options for each modification – including a staff recommended option – which the board will discuss on March 4.

The proposed modifications do not cover all proposed changes that people objected to, but based on public comment they represent those that received the most objections.

North county Boeing service

One modification addresses some issues raised by commuters on Boeing Routes 207/227/247. Both Routes 207 and 247 had been proposed for elimination, and Route 227 would have started and ended at Smokey Point.

In response to concerns that there would not be enough parking in Smokey Point, the modification recommends keeping two roundtrips of Route 247 that would start and end at the Stanwood I Park & Ride lot near I-5. These trips would also serve Marysville residents by stopping at the Ash Avenue Park & Ride southbound and the 4th Avenue flyer stop northbound.

In addition, two roundtrips of Route 227 would begin and end at the Arlington Park & Ride, but would travel a more direct route on SR 530 and Smokey Point Blvd. Route 207 is still proposed for elimination.

Route 412 modification

The original proposal would eliminate the Silver Firs loop from this route on all Route 412 trips. The proposed modification would retain the loop on three roundtrips, yet to be determined. This would allow residents of the Silver Firs neighborhood opportunity to still catch this commuter bus without having to drive and park somewhere else.

Route 414 modification

The original proposal would eliminate Route 414 entirely (16 one-way trips). The proposed modification would retain two morning southbound trips, two afternoon northbound trips and two evening northbound trips. Exact times of those trips are yet to be determined. This modification allows Seattle commuters an option to get into Seattle later in the morning, or back from Seattle at non-peak times.

Route 424 modification

The original proposal would have Route 424 bypass the city of Snohomish, beginning and ending service in Monroe. The modification still has Route 424 bypassing Snohomish, but converts an eastbound out-of-service local bus into Route 275 to take people from Snohomish to Monroe in time to connect with the first morning Route 424 trip.

Because these four modifications cost service hours (and thus, dollars), staff has recommonded a fifth modification to save an equal number of service hours.

Route 101 modification

Seven weekday trips of Route 101 are proposed to be eliminated each weekday, providing 30-minute service rather than 20-minute service along Highway 99 for a three-hour period each weekday. The specific hours of this reduced frequency have yet to be determined. Swift service at this time of day remains at every 10 minutes.

Board members agreed to let these proposed modifications become part of the overall service change proposal they will discuss at their March 4 meeting. At that meeting, board members may raise other aspects of the proposal they would like to open for discussion.

The board meets at 3 p.m. March 4 at the Community Transit Board Room, 7100 Hardeson Road, Everett.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

No-fee ORCA deadline is February 28

ORCA (One Regional Card for All) is the electronic fare-payment system adopted by Community Transit, King County Metro, Sound Transit, Everett Transit, Pierce Transit, Kitsap Transit and the Washington State Ferries. ORCA cards allow customers to travel and transfer seamlessly between agencies without having to use different passes, tickets and transfers.

Marketing Promotions & Outreach staff from Community Transit have distributed ORCA cards to customers throughout Snohomish County since the smart card launched last year. Our goal has been to get as many people as possible hooked up with ORCA before the card fee kicks in. Beginning Monday, March 1 it will cost $5 to get a new card, but right now adult and youth ORCA cards are still free. Over the past few weeks we’ve hit the outreach circuit extra hard at senior centers, park & rides, bus stops and resource fairs, with a new promotion to help our customers make the switch to ORCA. We’ll be out and about through Friday to help as many people as we can.
There are lots of ways to get your hands on a free ORCA card before March 1 – since you're reading this online, your best bet is to pop over to and order a registered card that'll be mailed right to your door. Customers who want to go in person can visit the RideStore at Lynnwood Transit Center, Everett Station, or the newest retail location at Roger’s Market in Mountlake Terrace. Click here to see all your ORCA options.

Customers who are new to ORCA often ask us how it works or how it would benefit them. Frequent riders who used PugetPass before might not see much of a day-to-day difference, though there are some great online features that PugetPass didn't offer. You can register your ORCA card online so that your value is protected in case of loss or theft, and you can set up an auto-reload feature so you'll never run out of E-purse or forget to buy next month's pass.

The best benefit of switching to ORCA now is for customers who pay their fare with cash. Transfer policies changed in January with most agencies no longer issuing or accepting paper transfers for cash-paying customers. Now, ORCA is your transfer – when you pay by ORCA card you always get a 2-hour transfer (good from the time of your first card tap).

Monday, February 22, 2010

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen Rides Swift

U.S. Representative Rick Larsen visited Community Transit on Feb. 19 and took a ride on the agency’s new bus rapid transit line, Swift.

Larsen, who represents Washington’s 2nd Congressional District (most of Snohomish County north to the Canadian border), is a former Community Transit board member and has been a key transit supporter in Congress. He helped secure some of the federal funding that purchased Swift hybrid buses and that is keeping Swift in operation.

Swift is not only Washington’s first bus rapid transit line, it’s also a great example of how innovative transportation ideas can encourage more people to use transit,” said Larsen.

Swift runs every 10 minutes weekdays from 5 a.m. to 7 p.m., and every 20 minutes nights and on weekends. Swift serves 12 stops each direction between Everett Station and the Aurora Village Transit Center in Shoreline, providing a one-seat ride across the Everett city line and reducing bus travel time by as much as 30 percent.

Swift started service on Nov. 30, 2009 and has quickly become Community Transit’s highest ridership route. In January, Swift served an average of nearly 2,400 riders each weekday.

At Community Transit’s headquarters, Larsen met with employees and urged them to keep their morale up even as the agency is proposing service cuts and layoffs. Larsen was on the Community Transit board in 2000 when the agency lost a third of its funding after the state cut MVET support to transit agencies. At that time, Community Transit cut 23 percent of its service, including all weekend service.

Larsen said he is doing what he can to get federal funding to help the agency, and pointed out that because of the recession many other agencies across the country are faced with similar financial troubles.

Friday, February 19, 2010

How Do You Get to the Airport?

by Kristin Kinnamon (from California)

I used to pay $30 dollars to take an airport shuttle to SeaTac from Marysville. That was a long time ago. These days when I visit my parents in California, I get to SeaTac for under $5 on public transportation. My mom usually insists on picking me up from the airport in the Bay Area, but since she is recovering from surgery and isn’t allowed to drive for awhile, I had a chance to try transit on both ends.

I know some people in Snohomish County are waiting for light rail to come to Lynnwood and beyond before they feel that we truly have “mass transit” here. Meanwhile, people who are paying attention use the peak hour commuter service to Seattle offered by Community Transit and the all-day express service offered by Sound Transit to get where they want to go. I took Route 421 from Marysville and Link Light Rail to SeaTac and got there in less than two hours during the morning rush, only a little more time than I’d need to allow for driving myself.

My mom warned me it wouldn’t be so easy on her end. “We have a terrible transit system here,” said the woman who has not taken a bus in 50 years. “The bus doesn’t go anywhere people want to go.” I have heard that before.

As a transit person, I readily admit that buses do not and never can go everywhere that people want to go. But nowhere? Heck, my sister and I used to take one of those nowhere buses to high school. My mom also feared that the California bus drivers would be unfriendly and unwilling to answer questions.

Nevertheless, I went to the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority website to plan my California Transit Adventure: Route 10 shuttle from the airport to a transit center, then Rapid 522 down El Camino Real. It looked like I’d need to pay $2 fare for each bus, but the friendly driver on the first bus made sure I knew it was free before I put my money in the farebox.

For years I’ve seen the specially-painted Rapid 522 buses on El Camino Real - the Highway 99 of Santa Clara County. Like Swift, it is complemented with a local bus route serving the same corridor, Route 22. Both run every 15 minutes, but Rapid 522 stops at 75 percent fewer stops. That’s the only difference I could see besides the paint job. I was determined to try out the Rapid, which meant I let two local buses pass by while I waited in the sun. The second Route 22 driver assured me that the Rapid always caught up and passed him down the road. I told him I’d wave hello as we went by.

While waiting I talked to a substitute teacher who got rid of his car and now relies on transit to get to schools all around the area. Like Community Transit, VTA has had budget problems and they implemented service cuts in January. I asked whether he’d been impacted. He said most of his trips were the same – but now there was even less service after 6:30 p.m., which cut into his nightlife. Overall, though, he had few complaints and he really liked the Rapid, since it saved him lots of time.

I can’t complain either. The Rapid finally came, and it did indeed get me to my destination just ahead of the Route 22. The friendly Route 22 driver opened his door to explain that buses were off-schedule due to a plane crash that had taken out power at the end of the line.

I could have waited for a one more bus to get within ¼ mile of my parents house, or walked the final mile with my suitcase, but I called a neighbor for a ride instead. She was happy to help.

And so ended my California Transit Adventure – buses that got me where I wanted to go, more or less, friendly bus drivers, and proof that people who don’t take transit really shouldn’t comment on its characteristics. Right, mom?

Friday, February 12, 2010

The Fuss About Bus Plus

I like to call Community Transit’s map and schedule book the “best read book in Snohomish County.” Each year we print and distribute more than 300,000 books on our buses and in the communities we serve. If that sounds like a lot, consider that we had about 9.6 million riders on our buses in 2009. I did the math and concluded that our printing costs amounted to 2.2 cents per ride (and we have reduced printing costs 20 percent below that number for 2010).

Even so, printing map and schedule books is a significant expense for any transit agency. We try to order the right number based on ridership trends, past usage and the changing nature of how people get information. We know from surveys last spring that about a third of our riders now plan most of their bus trips online. But even those people like having a book to refer to (50 percent of online survey respondents have a book). Plus, many regular riders keep one Bus Plus at work and one at home (and one in my briefcase, too).

The books are sort of a “bible” for transit users, with information on fares, park & rides, rules, holiday schedules and what to do if you lose your umbrella on the bus (answer: call the RideStore – they’ve found hundreds!). Most importantly, they contain route maps and schedules – hard to plan a bus trip without that.

Community Transit’s Sales & Distribution supervisor called me last week in his semi-annual panic mode. “We’re running low on Bus Plus books!” he said. We are only one-third of the way through the six-month life of this edition, but we have gone through more than two-thirds of our commuter books. It reminded me of a song: “Where have all the Bus Plus gone?”

So, here’s a reminder of the “re” message we’ve been putting out for the past year: reduce, re-use and re-read Bus Plus.

Finally, did you know you can now print or save your own, customized Bus Plus pages right off our website? Just go to your favorite route schedule page (mine is here) and open the PDF at the top labeled “Print or save map and schedule.” Then, instead of carrying an entire book with you, you can just have the pages you use. That helps you – and Community Transit.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Ride the Bus During Black History Month

By Ken Harvey, Community Transit
The things we enjoy should never be taken for granted. Some price was paid; some work was done to make it available. It’s always good to remember that.

Last week marked a quiet anniversary of an important milestone in public transportation. It was a memorial for those of us who try not to take our bus rides for granted.

Every weekday thousands of people in Snohomish County and around the Puget Sound get on or off a bus. Until recently, I was one of them and loved it. Now I have to drive because of where I live.

I recall what it was like to be a bus, train and ferry commuter. I got to enjoy the luxury of letting someone else deal with the traffic until I got off. Most of the time there was a seat for me.

But I also remember growing up in the Mississippi of the 1960s. It was a different America then. And being able to step onboard and sit wherever I chose on a bus (or any other mode of public transportation) was something I couldn’t always count on or feel safe doing. So, the simple act of confidently stepping onboard a Community Transit bus in 2010 is something to appreciate.

February is Black History Month. It is a gentle reminder that our great transit system is an example where the promise of America is real today for so many of us. It’s a place where we can all ride and smile, with dignity, without apprehension, without fear.

You may recall it was 55 years ago that a diminutive 42-year-old black seamstress, named Rosa Parks, boarded a bus, sat down on the first row of the “Colored Section” (five rows back from the front door) and then refused to give up her bus seat to a white rider who wanted her seat. The refusal landed Mrs. Parks in jail.

She insisted later that she did not plan her fateful act: "I did not get on the bus to get arrested," she said. "All I was trying to do was get home after a hard day’s work."
The bus driver who called the police was the same one who had put her off a bus 12 years earlier for refusing to get off and reboard through the back door reserved for “colored” riders.
Her simple act of defiance led to a successful civil rights boycott of the transit system in Montgomery, Alabama, and became the launching point for a young Montgomery pastor named Martin Luther King, Jr. Those ripples spread and touched every corner of our nation, society and thinking.

Today, I know I can step onboard a Community Transit bus and find my seat in peace and dignity. I am welcomed onboard and not barred entry because of race or color, age or nationality, ability to walk or need for wheelchair or other mobility device. I know that I will be greeted by a friendly coach operator and may choose any seat and be surrounded by all kinds of people. And that if I give up my seat, it will be because I believe gentlemen should do so and senior riders should be shown additional respect.

Caring, friendly, “smile and ride” service should never to be taken for granted. Nor those invisible transit staff and managers who work behind the scenes to put that caring service into place and keep it going.

Please join me in riding the bus this month and being grateful.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Feb. 4 Public Hearing Summary

About 100 people attended the public hearing portion of the Community Transit Board of Directors meeting on Feb. 4 at the Future of Flight museum in Mukilteo.

Community Transit CEO Joyce Eleanor welcomed the audience and Planning Director Joy Munkers summarized the public comment on the proposed service cuts and fare increase to date. She added that additional comments that come in by the Feb. 8 deadline would be submitted to board members next week.

Acting Board Chair Dave Gossett, who is chair of the Snohomish County Council, set the groundrules for the hearing and got the testimony started. In all, more than 50 people testified about the proposed cuts and fare increase.

Among the testimony…

An ARC of Snohomish County employee said she would not be able to work on Sundays if the suspension of Sunday bus and DART paratransit service were approved. This sentiment was shared by a half dozen other DART riders who said that their ability to get around no Sundays to work, attend church or visit family would be lost under the proposal.

A Bothell resident said that the cuts to Routes 105 and 120 through residential neighborhoods would prevent many people from using transit. She said that while she understood the effects of the recession, she felt that less frequent buses were a better solution than cutting neighborhood service.

A Boeing employee from Snohomish said the cuts to early morning Boeing service would put many tired workers on the road. He also complained about the information given to riders about the service cuts, saying the messages were not very transparent.

Other Boeing workers and representatives also spoke against the plan. Their buses are full and they have done exactly what Community Transit has wanted – getting out of their cars and onto buses – so it didn’t make sense to now cancel their service. A couple of people said they had asked Community Transit for detailed cost breakdowns of the bus service and did not get timely nor useful answers.

A Mill Creek consultant said he has clients whose workers use transit and would be impacted by the cuts. He said the recession has created a tough problem for transit agencies – more demand for service and less revenue. He said Community Transit provides better service than other agencies in the surrounding area.

The Mayor of Snohomish and a city councilman both testified in favor of keeping Route 424 running through that city. They did not think the savings from bypassing the city to start service to Seattle in Monroe penciled out, given that the route would lose riders.

A rider from Arlington spoke against the plan to cut Route 441 to the eastside of King County. She said the buses are full and alternatives add 45 minutes or more. She asked if one trip could be kept in each direction.

Several other people also spoke in favor of keeping Route 441. They said not all passengers are Microsoft employees, so the private shuttle that company runs is not a viable alternative. One person said businesses on the eastside are growing and those employees could be encouraged to live in Snohomish County, where Community Transit taxes are paid, if there was good transit service.

The president and vice president of the Amalgamated Transit Union representing Community Transit drivers and other employees spoke against the proposal. They urged the board to consider other alternatives to cutting service, especially Sunday service.

A young resident from Everett said he doesn’t drive and uses the bus for work and all his travels. He urged the board to save Sunday service and cut frequencies, saying he is okay with waiting an hour for a bus.

The presidents of two chambers of commerce thanked Community Transit for their service to the county and commitment to the public input process. The Everett Chamber president said the proposal was a sound business plan.

A church pastor made a plea to save Sunday service, saying that members of his congregation were rallying around a church member who relies on DART to get her to church services. He said he was surprised there was not a greater showing from the faith community to protect bus service on Sundays.

A man said he is not a transit supporter because service is inconsistent, yet his son relies on the bus to get to UW.

Several people said they would pay higher fares or a surcharge to keep their service. One person said adult fares should be raised to $2 each ride, but youth fares should be reduced to $1 so people wouldn’t have to always carry coins.

Several people also mentioned other revenue possibilities. A couple of people discussed a bill making its way through the State Legislature that could possibly provide temporary funding to transit agencies. A member of the Transportation Choices Coalition said his organization is working to support transit service throughout the state. He said the state law that makes transit agencies reliant on the retail sales tax is not a good solution. He urged transit riders to look into ways they could help support more state transit funding.

The public hearing lasted about two and a half hours. Gossett gave instructions to board members to send any changes to the proposal to all board members for consideration, and that the bottom line was that $5 million in savings for 2010 needed to be found. A decision on the service change plan is anticipated at the March 4 board meeting.

After the hearing, at the board meeting, new board officers were chosen. They are:

Chair – Dave Gossett, Snohomish County Council Chair
Vice Chair – Joe Marine, Mayor of Mukilteo
Secretary – Mike Todd, Mayor of Mill Creek

Have you been or will you be heard?

Community Transit has received hundreds of formal comments on our 2010 Service & Fare Changes Proposal. Staff have photocopied and forwarded all comments to our board members (as a DVD, not paper), and a summary is now posted on our website.

It's important to realize that with such a volume of comments and questions, it is not possible during this input process to respond to every request for additional information. However, we have been updating the "frequently asked questions" on our website. We have also posted some of the materials prepared for today's hearing that answer "What are the alternatives?" (pdf) and "What are the staffing impacts?" (pdf)

If you are attending today's hearing at the Future of Flight, here's what to expect:
  • The hearing is first on the agenda. If you want to speak, please "take a number" (literally - this will help things flow)
  • To give everyone a chance to speak, you'll be limited to 3 minutes
  • If you have a question you want answered, see staff who will be set up outside the hearing room. The hearing itself is for board members to listen, not respond to public comment
  • Information displays will be set up outside the hearing room. Staff will be available there to answer questions and discuss the proposals
  • If you don't have time to wait for your chance to speak, you can have your comment videotaped for the board. The video station will be set up outside the hearing room
The public input process remains open through Feb. 8. Please submit formal comments to: