Community Transit

With tax revenues collapsing, and no legal authority to raise new revenue, Community Transit CEO Joyce Eleanor yesterday announced a 20% service cut to occur in February 2012, on top of last June’s 15% cut that eliminated all non-ST Sunday service.

CT will release a detailed plan in June:

On June 2, Community Transit will release to the public three alternatives for achieving the 20 percent cut. Two of those alternatives will focus on reducing the frequency of trips, while a third alternative will propose a complete restructuring of bus service in Snohomish County. At least one of the alternatives will restore a skeletal level of Sunday service, which will mean deeper cuts the rest of the week.

The month of June will be filled with lots of public meetings about the three alternatives. The board will make a final decision in September.

Ms. Eleanor’s speech ruled out the elimination of Saturday service.  She also mentioned, while in no way expecting or relying on it, a regional mobility grant in the House budget that would restore 30% of Sunday service by spending $1m a year for four years.

The speech also emphasized the cost-cutting measures that have occurred at CT, including 100 layoffs. This is probably a direct response to Senate Transportation Chair Mary Margaret Haugen’s assertion that only Metro would get relief in the emergency transit funding bill because only Metro had made the necessary efficiency reforms.

47 Replies to “Community Transit Announces More Cuts for 2012”

  1. I pose this question to transit supporters –
    Is the Puget Sound making smart investments of limited tax revenues for future generations?
    It’s a loaded question, but one worth discussing here, for anyone concerned about transit in general, not just transit -my favorite mode, or transit, my favorite route.
    John Niles, in testimony before the ST Board on 3/17/11 posed a series of questions concerning ‘robbing Peter to pay Paul’, with ST costs per rider, across all lines, is far more than the service from our local transit agencies have historically provided. He documents some disturbing trends in ridership, cost per rider, and sustainability to invest so much in capital projects, while our brethren transit providers keep getting the short end of the stick in terms of revenues, and high ridership routes.
    In other words, are we starving the base providers to the many, to prop up the elitist service to the few?
    If transit generally provided the bulk of it’s funding through fares, with some popular tax support, this wouldn’t be such a big deal. But transit relies on the good will of the public for about 80% of their revenues, when fewer than 1 trip in 10 is made on transit. Granted, it’s much higher in the peak commute when congestion is the worst. But, that’s a very tenuous relationship, and one easily pissed away, when voters and pols alike decide that transit “Isn’t worth the more support”.
    Last question,
    Do we take at face value how transit will be great in 2030, and quit asking questions along the way, with the critics of transit policy decisions , in some areas, just sit on their hands until then OR is this a fair ‘on-going’ discussion that’s healthy in the long run?

    1. Not trying to be a jerk, but who are these people receiving “elite service?” If you mean commuter routes (which I take), then I’ve got to say I don’t see a whole lot of “elites” on the bus. We’re working folk, most of whom probably can’t afford parking downtown, or gas to get to their jobs (which we’re lucky to have).

      1. Elite was probably a bad term, I’m sorry, and meant no offense to the good working people here.
        Maybe I should have said ‘premium’ service provide to riders that receive much higher levels of subsidy per ride, than the base-line service that transit has traditionally provided, at a certain unit costs.
        Is Commuter rail from Lakewood to Seattle more subsidized on a per trip basis (capital and operating costs)than traditional trolley service from anywhere to anwhere else in Seattle? Is that even a fair question to ask?

      2. I think the sort of think Mike is referring to are routes like the 595… It would be so much more efficient to route a bus from Gig Harbor to Tacoma Dome Station and have passengers transfer to one of the MANY morning commute 594s/Sounders. Heaven forbid the folks in Gig Harbor loose their one seat ride.

    2. Mike,

      Consider that subsidy per trip and subsidy per mile yield different pictures. If we looked at subsidy per mile, I bet the commuter routes would come out smelling like roses.

      That said, I think John Niles’ gripe is purely against trains as a mode of passenger transportation.

  2. Uhg! Wish we had an edit button. Awkward sentence structure, but you get the point.

  3. Cutting Sunday service was an immoral act disproportionately affecting the transit dependent and favoring weekday commuters. The next round of cuts should be targeted at commuters; people who have a multiple transportation choices. The transit-dependent do not.

    1. I Don’t disagree that cutting Sunday service was bad, but I do hope you realize how many people ride the commuter routes. It’s a lot, and until you regularly stand on the 40 minute ride into downtown I suggest you rethink your bias against commuters.

      A lot of the local routes I see buses driving around empty. You will never see an empty commuter bus.

    2. Often many commuters do not have the option to another choice, so I don’t understand your statement. Maybe you could name the other transportation choices for someone like myself who commutes from Whidbey to Ballard. If there is another avenue besides the only two choices I have of either the CT bus or the Sounder, I’d like to know. Having two choices is nice I’ll admit, but sometimes it can come down to one if the other fails, say mudlsides for example on the Sounder.

      1. For local service routes, there is always the alternative of walking or biking and even the cost of a taxi isn’t that bad, if you don’t need to do it too frequently. For longer distance routes, walking becomes out of the question and the time cost of biking increases greatly, as does the cost of a taxi and the social cost of getting someone with a car to drive you where you need to go.

        There are always going to be fewer alternatives for longer-distance routes than for local routes.

      2. Anthony, please lobby your state senator to allow CT to be part of the emergency funding package. Sen. Haugen is the one blocking CT’s participation. If you know others in the 10th District who feel as you do, get them all to call Sen. Haugen’s Olympia office. As constituents, you have much more persuasive power over her than any of the rest of us have.

      3. I have a friend who receives less than $200 of income per month. Taxis are never an option, no matter how short the ride is. This is probably the case for more of CT’s ridership than you’re guessing…

      1. Do the quotes mean you don’t believe they are really made in Saint Cloud, MN? If so, what is the real story on that? As a Minnesotan who remembers the excitement when New Flyer built a Saint Cloud plant, I’m curious. (I love Winnipeg and am sure they make fine buses there, but I wonder why New Flyer would claim to make them in Saint Cloud.)

  4. they should start charging people for parking at their park & rides. it would raise at least a little revenue and then the people that don’t use them will stop subsidizing the people the do.

    1. 1) The parking lots are already paid for.
      2) We already pay a fare on the bus.
      3) People who use the P&R are probably saving CT money by not requiring local routes to pick them up.

      Commuter routes are packed. Local routes are not. Which is more efficient? I’m not sure, but I can make a pretty good guess where most people get value from CT – and it ain’t on the 201.

      1. I’ve always supported charging for P&R when it makes economic sense, but argument 3) is food for thought. My thoughts:

        1) Yes, the parking lots are already paid for. This isn’t in and of itself a reason not to charge. If you own a building free and clear, would you not still charge rent to your tenants?

        2) Yes, you pay a fare on the bus. So does the person who lives within walking distance of the P&R and walks there to get the bus. A bus ride plus a parking space is inherently more valuable than just a bus ride.

        3) This is the best argument against charging for P&R, IMHO. However, if already existing local routes are used with no increases in service, then using the local bus increases its efficiency and that needs to be taken into account too.

        Whether charging makes economic sense depends on a few things:

        A) What price would maximise revenue?
        B) Would this price exceed the costs of collection?
        C) If the P&R is overcrowded, what price would bring demand just below capacity?
        D) Can prices be varied by time of day/day of week, or by usage level?
        E) Marginal cost of providing local bus to people choosing not to use P&R due to price.
        F) Others I haven’t thought of.

      2. It’s hard to say based on ridership alone. For one, (I assume) most commuter routes from Snohomish County have to deadhead back to base because there is not two way demand for commuter services from Seattle to Snohomish County. With a local route, there is much less deadheading so these riders may cost the agency less money over all platform hours, even though not necessarily in service hours.

  5. At what point do we look into transit system consolidation? Perhaps economic efficiency in the administration side would be achieved if Community Transit were eliminated and service was provided by some combination of Everett Transit / Seattle Metro / and Sound Transit.

    People don’t always understand how much more expensive it is to provide express commute service than it is local service, primarily due to two reasons: 1) extremely long trip rides and a corresponding low passenger turnover and 2) off service deadheading in the non peak direction. I’d like to see what the farebox recovery rate for the commuter services is, for its own sake and also in comparison with the local service farebox recovery rate.

    1. People don’t always understand how much more expensive it is to provide express commute service than it is local service

      Wondering just how much more expensive I pulled up the CT 2009 Comprehensive Annual Financial Report. For the Directly Operated Service (the local buses?) the cost per passenger was $8.07 with a 13.3% fare box return. For the Contract Commuter Service the cost per passenger was $7.65 with a 43.1% farebox return. What’s disturbing is the farebox recovery rate for the Directly Operated Service has dropped steadily from 18.1% in 2000 whereas the rate for Commuter Service has been relatively consistent. Metro has managed to turn this trend around from being somewhere around 18% pre-recession to ~25% today. Maybe that’s why the legislature is pointing fingers and saying CT hasn’t really address efficiency. Cutting service to reduce spending is not the same thing as making better use of the funding available.

      1. Contract commuter service is probably CT’s contract with First Transit to provide Snoho Sound Transit service. It’s what allows the 511 et al to run on Sundays even though the CT bus base shuts down.

    2. **Perhaps economic efficiency in the administration side would be achieved if Community Transit were eliminated and service was provided by some combination of Everett Transit / Seattle Metro / and Sound Transit.**

      Well you might save money in the long term, but it would take quite a while, and you’d have to spend a lot of money before you got to that point. It’s not like all the agencies have parallel scheduling, customer information, and other systems. You can’t just roll all of these into a single system instantly or cheaply.

      Regarding farebox recovery, I’d be willing to bet that very few routes, local or commuter, come even close to paying for themselves. The only routes that do that are in dense corridors with many stops; perhaps the 7?

      1. Actually if you look at the Route Performance Reports the trolleys on Queen Anne consistently have the highest recovery ratio among Metro routes. But even they don’t exceed 75%.

    3. If I were living in Everett, I would thank the Creator that Everett Transit has not been consolidated into Community Transit. Not having local Sunday service would suck.

  6. they could eliminate a lot of commuter routes by feeding the local routes more directly to the park and rides in the peak times, the 511 is going every 15, drop most of the 413/415/401/402 that leave from ash way/ltc. The stanwood and marysville/lake stevens buses should just go to everett station where the 510/513/sounder are.

    1. I could not agree more. Many of the commuter routes overlap local-to-ST combos (one-seat, I know…) and the ones that don’t could be turned into to locals that truncate at I-5 ST stops.

      510/511 and Swift make combined cover the intra- and inter-county spines.

  7. What about cutting the routes to Darrington and Gold Bar/Index? I would think that would save CT money especially the Darrington route. I mean why does a town in the middle of the Cascade Mountains with a population of around 1000 get bus service?

    1. I the ideal world, I agree and would say the same about other sub-areas – is bus service to places like North Bend and Enumclaw really the best use of scarce resources? Especially routes like 215 that have to do 30+ miles of deadheading for every service trip they operate.

      I think the reason for this comes down to a fact that since the whole county is paying taxes to support the system, the whole county has to feel like they’re getting some benefit. I don’t necessarily buy this logic, as local service in denser areas still benefits people who live in more outlying areas when they occasionally commute into town. It allows those who aren’t spending their entire trip downtown the option to drive to a park and ride and ride the bus into town, rather than driving the entire way. Whereas, regarding local service within outlying areas, people who live there are likely to use them only as an emergency backup option for when their car won’t start.

    2. they did cut the darrington down to 2 trips in am/pm, they are in the tax district so they have to give some service to those far flung places.

      1. Not that that stops Pierce Transit! :D

        I wonder, do some of those far-flung areas contribute as much in taxes and fares as they cost to serve?

      2. my suspicion is that the amount of sales tax generated in some of these outlying areas do-sent or barely cover’s the cost of proving a scheduled fixed route bus plus mandatory ADA para transit service that accompanies it. I think in CT’s case they need to take a look at their routes, and consolidate some with ST services, others with other local routes (like the 405/406/416 (To mulkateo via the P&R). Tough times demand some tough changes…

  8. It’s not logical to make a blanket statement praising commuter buses while dissing local service when commuter buses are empty for one half of each trip.

    1. That’s just not true. Look at the reports from the various agencies. For ST the platform hours are only about 20% more than the revenue service hours. Most commuter buses run between job centers; Bellevue to Seattle, Everett to Seattle, Bellevue to Everett. Neither direction of the freeway is empty and neither are the commuter buses. It’s true that one direction may be crush loading but the “reverse” commute is often way better patronized than mid-day and weekend local service.

      1. the ct commuter buses only carry into seattle in am, out in pm, so empty on the long deadheads..the 101 or almost any other route carries more passengers in a shorter time because of the turnover.
        They should raise the local fare to $2.

      2. Even buses that aren’t in revenue service for half the route still cover the reverse in a fraction of the time they are in revenue service because they are on relatively uncongested roads and make no stops. A crush load bus in one direction and out of service the other still averages out way better than the typical CT local route (slow with low ridership both ways). Outside of Seattle (west subarea) King County has very few areas where density makes transit viable (Bellevue barely makes the grade). Snohomish County is less dense and their one “big city” is a separate transit agency. It’s not a surprise the local service is a loser. Providing the allusion that a transit dependent person can live anywhere in rural Snohomish County is the real problem.

    2. If CT wants anyone to “Buy Local” in Snohomish County, then deadheading all the commuter buses back, instead of giving King County riders the opportunity to go north and spend a few hours shopping in Snohomish County, goes against that slogan. So does the lack of Sunday service.

      The one-way commuting also hurts the ability to locate businesses in Snohomish County, since transit commuters find the idea of having to drive to work unattractive, so the labor pool is reduced.

      Metro does a good job with 2-way commuter express service on the 121, which gets commuters from their downtown Seattle transfers to jobs in Burien. I bet some of the CT routes would be a good fit for similar 2-way commuter express. I’d certainly do more shopping in Snohomish County if I had a convenient way to get to SWIFT.

      1. And hey, those double-deckers would be a great tourist attraction for Snohomish County … if they provided some 2-way service all day.

      2. I am curious as to where would you shop if you could get to SWIFT?

        It seems to me that taking the 511 to Lynnwood and transfering to a bus towards the Alderwood Mall area would be a better choice.

      3. You can get to Swift by riding the 510 from downtown to everett station. I don’t know where you would want to shop along the Swift route though. You could probably get a good deal at one of the RV dealers along the way.

      4. Not true.

        I commute from Edmonds to Everett via Swift and I’ve found it surprisingly easy to incorporate stops. For instance, going south, stopping at Trader Joe’s is pretty easy. There’s also a gluten-free market right near the Madison station, which in our family is pretty cool.

        Yes, 99 has a ton of car dealerships and the like, but it also has a lot of useful places. It’s a mixed bag.

      5. I don’t honestly know where I would shop. It might just be at a restaurant, and skip all the stuff I don’t need.

        If I don’t know where I’d shop in Snohomish County, then the average transit-riding commuter won’t know where they would shop, either.

        But those deadheading double deckers are certainly a deterrent to getting day-tripping tourists to Dole out for Snohomish County.

    3. This is a good point that CT’s express buses don’t address the reverse-commute or reverse-shopping market. The 510/550/594 et al are used both directions all day. Forcing people to transfer at Mountlake Terrace or Lynnwood accomplishes two things: (1) It would require more service on the 510 etc which will make those routes more frequent and position them as the “premier” routes for cross-county travel. (2) It allows the CT express routes to be merged with local routes (existing or new), which would make the local routes more frequent and thus increase intra-county ridership as well as inter-county.

      Increasing the reverse-shopping market would of course help Snohomish County’s tax base, although it would hurt King County’s. That’s an interesting political problem. :)

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