Thurston County, like everyone else, is conducting its primary election on August 17th. On the ballot, notably, will be a sales tax increase for Intercity Transit from 0.6% to 0.8%, just short of the statutory maximum of 0.9%. The tax would only apply to, and only be voted on by, the Public Transportation Benefit Area (PTBA) of Thurston County, basically the urban areas.

The revenue predicament of Intercity Transit should by now be familiar. Tax revenues are down about 13% from 2007 levels. The agency has already cut some nonessential programs and raised fares, and is now facing a 9% cut in February 2011 and a further 14% in 2012.

Likely 2011 cuts include, according to this handy fact sheet:

• Elimination of the Dash shuttle (Capitol Campus-downtown Olympia)
• Elimination of Rt. 42 (SPSCC-Family Court)
• Reduction in Rts. 13 (Tumwater-Olympia), 41 (TESC-Olympia), 94 (Yelm-Lacey-Olympia) and 620 (Olympia-Lacey-Tacoma)

followed in 2012 by:

Elimination of all transit service on Sunday [just like everyone else]
• Elimination of Rt. 67 (Tri Lake-Lacey)

If the measure passes, all current service while remain, plus a modest 4% addition:

Increased service for Rts. 41 (TESC-downtown Olympia), 68 (Lacey-Yelm Hwy.-Tumwater-Olympia) and 603 (Olympia-Lacey-Tacoma).

The vote is going to depend on turnout. If transit-dependent populations, in particular college students, mail in their ballots in bulk, it will pass.

28 Replies to “What’s at Stake in Thurston County”

  1. Oh man that would be awful to eliminate the DASH. That’s a really great service for many people at the Capitol who otherwise almost never ride transit. Not only would a lot more people drive for short little trips if it was gone, but also I think that Downtown Olympia would suffer.
    Increased service, even just a couple more trips at better times, on the 603 would be really great. Service is spotty on it, but it gets a lot of ridership. I ride it down to Olympia and back from Seattle at least a few times a year.

  2. How many of Evergreen’s 4,800 students (or SPSCC’s, for that matter) are Thurston County voters? And how many of them will be in Olympia in mid-August? I (sadly) predict a repeat of Whatcom County’s vote. Pierce County’s upcoming vote might fare better.

  3. Zach, The big difference between Whatcom and IT is that Intercity Transit went through a strategic shrinking of their PTBA a few years ago so they only have incorporated areas. If Whatcom did this it would have passed easily. Imagine Bellingham, Blaine, and Ferndale as the voting block instead of the whole county. I’m optimistic about this IT ballot measure.

    1. Mind you the shrinking came only after winding up in another similar situation where they had a loss of revenue and either needed to find additional funding to fill the gap or cut service. I suspect that they surmised that the revenue the affected areas brought in was less than the cost to operate service there and thats why the service area was shrunk.

      It’s too bad they cannot locate some state grant funds to restore a connection to centrailia, and to implement a connection from Yelm to Spanaway via McKenna and Roy.

      1. Yeah, those routes might be almost as productive as North Bend. I’m surprised you left out Eatonville; lets push strip malls and subdivision development all the way out to Mt. Ranier National Park.

  4. Also their is a big democratic primary fight there at the same time, which will help progressive turnout.

  5. So what’s it going to take to get them to join Soind Transit? While Thurston County is I gather not included in the CMSA it really is a commuter destination from both Pierce & MLK Counties. Getting express buses (from Seattle) and Sounder down there should be on somebody’s radar.

    1. It’s going to take it getting expanded over my dead body, and the bodies of everyone else who wants to pass ST3 by not diluting the district with more anti-transit votes.

      1. If they have just the more urban parts of the county included in the district, like it sounds like Intercity Transit does, then I think it could work. Also, they should deannex the eastern and southeastern parts of Pierce County which both drag down the vote and get little or no service for their taxes, making it unfair for them to be part of the district. Anyways, we’ll see how the Intercity Transit vote goes. If it loses, then I would agree with you that ST shouldn’t annex it.

      2. Thats why you annex them in seperatly. Either in conjunction with ST III, or apart from, and only the urban Tumwater-Olympia-Lacey areas. This was done with the issaquah highlands several years ago so theres already form for it.

        Indeed, i think you will find the support coming from those areas because they want the benefits of Sound Transit. It’s already been proven that the populus wants Orca, they want more Olympia Express service, and they want Sounder. Although i will say it’s been fun watching IT dance around the ORCA issue, its time has come down there. The Olympia Express really needs to be handed over to ST because the local agencies cannot provide enough service to meet the demands, as the service is VERY expensive to operate (long routes + heavy traffic). Finally, some have been talking about wanting sounder for years.

      3. Martin, I didn’t mean to invoke your passion on this issue. :-)

        My first job out of college was working for the state. I chose to move there at the time simply because commuting nearly 2 hours each way was a complete non-starter. If there was a viable fast train then I might have made different choices. I think though my parents were happy there was no fast train. ;-)

      4. i used to do the Pierce County-Tumwater commute, and i’m quite glad i dont do that anymore. The traffic through the fort compares to 405 on many days, why does state and local government have to mitigate traffic caused by its devlopements, but private business and the federal government are seemingly nearly or mostly exempt from those requirements? I think patty needs to bring home some more bacon for more HOV lanes and transit in the southern I-5 corridor…

      5. Martin,
        I think it really depends. Who knows adding in Thurston County might actually make it easier to pass ST3. Of course it would be better if Thurston County could raise additional taxes and use the revenue to contract service from Sound Transit. The issue is if a district could be formed with the appropriate taxing authority.

      6. L Of course it would be better if Thurston County could raise additional taxes

        Additional taxes are a good thing? Even when the economy is in the dumps and it will result in a net loss of jobs (yeah a few union jobs with benefits we can’t support might be addded in to make it look good). Less than 3,000 people per square mile = no public transit. Why is it so hard to draw the line on cost? And NO, the alternative is NOT building more lanes. The alternative is “deal with it”; either live closer to work or accept less for the privilege of living in an area that doesn’t feel like an ant hill. Of course lots of people actually like the ant hill ambiance.

    2. theyre gonna want sounder service into olympia otherwise joining ST wouldnt have much appeal to them.

  6. The agency has already cut some nonessential programs

    Which begs the question, why were they spending the money to begin with. Oh yeah, it’s always a revenue problem, never a spending problem.

    The tax would only apply to, and only be voted on by, the Public Transportation Benefit Area (PTBA) of Thurston County, basically the urban areas.

    Yelm counts as an Urban area? No wonder they’re in a deep hole. They’re trying to run transit to areas that make North Bend look like a teeming metropolis.

    1. Yelm counts as an Urban area?
      You’d be surprised, the Yelm area has grown a lot in the past 20 years. It is still out in the middle of nowhere, but there are scads of people commuting to State jobs in Olympia/Lacey/Tumwater, to jobs at Joint Base Lewis/McChord, or even Seattle.

      Still the lifeline service out to Yelm likely isn’t much of Intercity Transit’s service hours or even costs. The bulk has been spent on improving service in the urban core and on the Olympia Express.

      Sure Intercity Transit could go back to providing nothing more than minimalist lifeline service only good for those who have no choice but to ride transit, but that would be a shame.

      1. Not so surprised. I grew up riding horses out there. You want to own horses, great… but don’t expect express bus service. We could have two horses here in Bridle Trails but I don’t expect bus service (although with Access who needs it). I’m not surprised when I drive out to Yelm or Eatonville. More like sickened. Making it even more attractive economically to promote this sort of cancerous growth through transit makes me all the more adamant to vote NO on any measure.

    2. Which begs the question, why were they spending the money to begin with.

      I don’t know much about IT’s cuts, but in Metro’s case it was reduction in things like shelter cleaning. Not “essential” but not exactly Metro setting fire to $100 bills.

  7. Eliminating transit service on Sunday… not as bad as Salem, OR’s Cherriots – not only no service on Sunday but no service even on Saturday and I believe more cuts are on the way. And nevermind that their transit system’s offices and downtown transit center was just condemned since the building and transit center is unsafe.

  8. If you watch some of the routes you get the impression that a smaller, more fuel efficient vehicle be of better use than a bus that gets about four miles to a gallon and is carrying half a dozen people.

    1. The operator is the biggest cost component – and that’s whether its a small vehicle or not. Fuel, while a significant contribution, is not the major cost driver.

      1. I am aware of that but any reduction in fuel is beneficial in reducing costs and in reducing pollution. Every little step helps. Of course it might help to reduce the size of the vehicles they run.

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