Friday, May 28, 2010

Holiday Bus Ridership

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.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Bike to Work Day Bike-pool from Marysville

Bike to Work Day is this Friday, May 21. I'll admit the weather isn't that inspiring just now, but the company on Bike to Work Day always is. It's great fun to  be on two wheels with other cyclists, and to stop by the Celebration Stations set up throughout the Puget Sound.

Many people are intimidated about riding Highway 529 between Marysville and Everett. That's why I'm forming a "bike-pool" to ride across the flats this Friday. We'll meet at the Marysville Celebration Station at Comeford Park (State Avenue & 6th Street) starting at 6:15 a.m. (time to get snacks and coffee) and leave for downtown Everett at 6:30 a.m. sharp.

We'll ride to Everett via Hwy 529, W. Marine Drive, Alverson and Grand Avenue. I'll be joining the Everett Celebration Ride at the Snohomish County Campus, departing there at 7:30 a.m.

Or, just stay (or ride to) Marysville for the Marysville Celebration Ride at 7:30 a.m. from the library on Grove Street. Either  way, you'll bike with a mayor and probably a police escort. That and the other cyclists will make up for any wind or raindrops we might encounter.

Getting the word out about service change

We’re just three weeks away from one of the biggest service changes in Community Transit history.

Actually, in 2000 the agency cut 23 percent of its service after the state withdrew all its car tab funding for transit agencies. Over the next few years, once voters approved a sales tax increase to support Community Transit, service was brought back and reconfigured, leading to four consecutive years of record ridership from 2005-2008.

On June 13, there will be no Community Transit service, the first Sunday of our “Sunday and major holiday” service suspension.

On June 14, nearly every Community Transit route will see some trips eliminated, sections of the route cut, or both. Eight routes will be eliminated entirely, including Route 441 from Lynnwood to Redmond, our only service to the Eastside.

Since the Board of Directors approved the service change in March, then revised it slightly in April, details of each route change have been posted on Community Transit’s website.

Earlier this month, post-June 13 route schedules and route maps were added, the first time we’ve ever put that information online before Bus Plus schedule books were published. We put that information online as soon as the Bus Plus book went to the printer, and that’s something we’ll likely do in future service changes.

Beginning May 2, Community Transit staff have been riding buses, standing at park & ride lots and transit centers and talking to bus riders about the service change.

We’ve directed people to the website as the best source for updated information, and once Bus Plus books are available in early June we’ll use that as a tool to help riders find the information they need to plan their trips for after June 13.

As we talk to riders, we’re learning several things:
  • Many riders are aware of the service change, even if they disagree with it.
  • Many riders have gone online and figured out how they will get around once service changes.
  • A good portion of riders have heard something, but have not looked into the details enough to see if their route or trip is affected. We’ve helped some of these people get that information, if they have time, but as riders are often in a hurry they often say they’ll look into it later.
  • A good number of people remain unaware that service is being cut.

Our goal in this education effort is to make people aware of the changes coming and give them the tools to rearrange their trips, if needed. Above all, we want to reduce the number of people who are confused when June 13 and 14 come around, even though we know there will be some confusion.

Between now and then we will continue to meet riders where they gather, on buses and at transit facilities and bus stops. And we’ll push our education through our website, our electronic alert system, this blog, Facebook and other communication avenues.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Safe Driving is Key

Safe driving is a job requirement at Community Transit. For some it’s also a family legacy.

Earlier this year, Carl Huth, Jr. earned a National Safety Council Two Million Mile Driver award. His late father, Carl Huth, Sr., was honored as one of Community Transit’s original Million Mile Drivers in 2001. Carl, Jr. has worked for Community Transit for 25 years and has never had a preventable accident in that time.

Diane Sassé watched her mom, Elaine Vail, earn both a Million Mile Driver and Two Million Mile Driver awards. Now, after 14 years of driving for Community Transit, Diane has continued the family tradition by reaching her own Million Mile mark.

Elaine attended her daughter’s awards ceremony. “This is big,” she told Diane, who took the award in stride.

It takes drivers approximately 12½ years without a preventable accident to become Million Mile Drivers. Community Transit bus drivers are paid to drive in the traffic that most of us dread. While individual drivers may get to cruise along on freeways with limited stops and few interactions with pedestrians and bicycles, those crash risk factors are the very heart of transit operations.

It takes a good attitude and careful attention to drive safely in those conditions.
Carl credits his accident-free record with consistency: “You do the right thing over and over again.” When he does make a driving mistake, he consciously thinks through what he should have done so he doesn’t make the mistake again. He also forgives other drivers their mistakes. “I never get angry,” he says.

Diane said she never takes for granted that she’s driving a bus and should therefore be visible to other drivers. “I call it the ‘Stealth Bus,’ ” she said of all the times she’s almost been hit. Like Carl, she prefers to laugh rather than get mad when other drivers do crazy things.
“I get from Point A to Point B and that’s what matters,” she said.

Community Transit has 68 active employees who are Million Mile Drivers, including six Two Million Mile Drivers.

Q: How old do you have to be to be a Community Transit bus driver?
A: Driver must have 5 years of safe driving in the United States. This means drivers are at least 21 when they are hired.
Q: How much training do bus drivers get?
A: Community Transit provides a training program that is nearly nine weeks long to all new coach operators, no matter what other driving experience they may have. Many Community Transit drivers have started their careers driving trucks, school buses or military vehicles.
In addition to safe driving and bus handling, Community Transit training includes customer service and learning the bus routes throughout Snohomish County.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Bike to Work Blog: Sunny Inspiration

Hopefully, the sun is inspiring people to consider joining in next Friday on Bike to Work Day. Plan your weekend around a little tire-pumping and route checking so you can join thousands of us on two wheels on May 21.

If you need more than sun to inspire you, here are some great blogs for bike commuters:
Bicycle Alliance
Ken Kifer's Bicycle Pages
Paul Dorn's Blog

Friday, May 7, 2010

What happens when Sunday bus service goes away?

A central component to Community Transit’s June 2010 service change plan is the suspension of all Sunday and major holiday service. This means no local buses, no Swift and no DART paratransit service beginning June 13.

The idea behind this is that, 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. One way to look at it is that the Sunday/holiday suspension cuts 28,000 hours of service for the year; if the base remained open on these days it would take 48,000 hours of cuts to get the same dollar savings.

While Sundays and holidays have lower ridership than other days, there will still be many people impacted by this move. In particular, people who use the bus or DART to get to church or work on Sundays are going to be impacted more than those who might use the bus for discretionary travel.

To help lessen the impact of the loss of Sunday service, Community Transit is working closely with SNOTRAC, the Snohomish County Transportation Coalition, and Volunteers of America (which runs the county’s 2-1-1 social services hotline) to provide resources for those who need transportation on Sundays.

Community Transit is assisting SNOTRAC with an effort to contact churches in the service area to see if the churches are willing to provide transportation assistance to their members, and possibly people who attend nearby churches. This transportation might be through a church van or a coordinated effort by church members. If many churches can take care of the need for their own members, great; if they can also handle some of the need for other churchgoers, that is even better.

Community Transit also is contacting local employers to let them know of the loss of Sunday service and asking if they will help coordinate transportation for their employees.

VOA will use any information that churches or employers provide to add to their list of Sunday transportation resources. The way the 2-1-1 Hotline works is people who need transportation call 2-1-1, say where they are and where they need to go and VOA tells them if there is an existing transportation option that can help them. In some cases there will be; in other cases there won’t be. The unfortunate thing about the loss of Sunday bus service is that there will be people who either cannot get around or will have to scramble to find a ride themselves. A great resource for these people is Rideshareonline, which allows people to find carpools or vanpools in their area.

Community Transit also is in the process of granting 12 vehicles to local nonprofit agencies through the Van GO program. This program awards surplus agency vehicles, including some with wheelchair lifts, to groups that will use them to provide transportation in the community. This year there is an emphasis on groups that could help provide transportation on Sundays.

We received 34 Van GO applications by the April 30 deadline, and the vehicles will be awarded at the June 3 Community Transit Board of Directors meetings. Van GO winners will be included in the 2-1-1 database.

Finally, for those DART-eligible riders who have no other option, Community Transit is using $50,000 to bolster the “Pay Your Pal” program. This is a program in which a customer finds someone (friend, neighbor, family member) to give them a ride, and SNOTRAC reimburses that driver the federal mileage rate. This way the driver is not simply volunteering, and may have an incentive to provide the ride.

DART-eligible riders who contact the 2-1-1 Hotline will be referred to this service if no other option exists for Sunday transportation. Again, because even “Pay You Pal” depends on a driver willing to provide a ride, it is not a guarantee.

Community Transit is seeking new state and federal funding to restore Sunday service. While the current level of service costs about $5 million a year, the agency would need to be sure there is enough funding to restore service indefinitely before bringing it back. We do not want to restore service based on a one-time grant, then have to cancel service again when the grant runs out. Stay tuned.