Last month Community Transit produced the draft update to its six year Transit Development Plan. Their vision is an appealing one: prioritized transit corridors that travel through intensively used land. However, CT has (hopefully) completed a period of austerity that cut 37% of its service and over 200 employees, including the abolition of all Sunday service, at the cost of 3m annual boardings (off the 2008 peak of 12m).

The bad news is that their economic models predict revenue growth no faster than operating cost, meaning service levels will remain flat.* The near-term (2017)  goal is therefore both ambitious and limited – to recover the 2008 ridership high without any additional service, but through a 25% increase in productivity.

CT says it’s already at its most productive per revenue hour in its 36-year history. The plan doesn’t have a clear path to wring still more savings out of the system, as a lot of the least efficient service has already been cut. But the hope is that a combination of further emphasis on productivity in service allocation, more capacity through double-tall buses and parking spaces, and ever more intensive development along priority corridors will get the agency there.

On the other hand, there are revenue possibilities.


CT is looking for direct funding from both federal and state programs, in addition to more local taxing authority. Meanwhile a 25-cent fare increase takes effect Feb. 1st to bring CT’s farebox recovery up to 21%.

* Aside from some additional commuter runs from a federal Congestion Management and Air Quality (CMAQ) grant through 2015.

23 Replies to “CT Hopes to Fund its Future”

  1. It’s not just intensive development, of course. It’s development that’s walkable and integrates with transit. It means development in places that can efficiently be served by transit.

    It means development in places where there’s more demand, higher prices, and more traffic in a county where the pattern has lately been to find cheap empty (-ish) land near a highway. In order for CT to become more efficient SnoHoCo has to get smart infill right.

  2. I don’t know who put together that graph, but it has serious problems with scale, especically on the horizonal axis.

  3. “Meanwhile a 25-cent fare increase takes effect Feb. 1st to bring CT’s farebox recovery up to 21%.”

  4. There seems to be something fundamentally broken with funding transit in this state. Demand keeps going up, but service hours keep going down.

    Lets assume that farebox recovery will never be above 100% (because if they were, a private company would have come in a long time ago). Assuming you could get whatever you wanted passed though whatever body needed (Olympia, KC Council, etc.), how would YOU fix the situation? What is the ideal combination of funding sources?

    1. It’s not a magic bullet but I’d start by charging for parking. At least where high cost structured parking has been provided and where demand is great enough that you can’t be assured of a spot unless you show up at Oh-Dark-Thirty.

      1. One of the biggest obstacle to charging for parking is the administrative cost required to collect it. If $3 per car per day is what it takes just to pay for the cost of the collection equipment and $3 per car per day is also the maximum that drivers are willing to pay, than charging such $3 fee is simply funneling customers’ money to the vendors that operate the payment system, not doing anything to help pay for the garage or the transit operation.

        Unless the market can bear a significantly higher price than the cost of the collection, charging for parking is unlikely to happen.

      2. Even if there’s no net revenue, the parking charge could influence where people choose to park. If they choose to pay the price to park in downtown Seattle, it doesn’t help. If they instead choose to park at a below capacity P&R and continue to use transit, it’s a benefit for the public investment.

    2. It’s not a problem with funding and it’s not a problem with this state. This is about how cities are built. Where cities were once built in conjunction with private transit companies, they’re now built out along the highway network.

      Though we talk about transit-oriented development today, the fastest, most dynamic, and most flexible mode of transportation yet invented is the private automobile, and most development, shaped by economic pressures and a fixation on up-front costs, is on the cheapest land possible that’s near a highway. This means sprawl, not infill. Once there’s enough density that the land starts to become expensive, developers look for the next plot of cheap land. This process increases the coverage requirements of a transit system without building fertile ground for ridership. Because the transit agencies tax the residents of the new developments they have some responsibility to provide service, otherwise becoming politically unpopular.

      Snohomish County is slated to grow a lot, and the question is whether they can direct enough of that growth into walkable development along plausible transit corridors to increase transit effectiveness.

      1. The automobile is certainly not the fastest form of transporation, not by a long shot — that’s an absurd claim. Faster than horses and walking and bikes; slower than almost everything else, such as trains and planes, and even slower than some boats.

        I don’t know what you mean by “most dynamic” — “dynamic” refers in physics to “force”, and a freight train will hit you with the most force. :-)

        Most flexible, I’ll give you.

      2. You know what I mean — cars are the fastest reasonable urban transportation (except in places where they aren’t reasonable urban transportation at all). Airplanes and high-speed trains represent such a small portion of daily movement that they aren’t really factors in how cities develop, which is what I’m talking about. They’re actually way less flexible than walking over short distances and challenging terrain, but scale up to long distances effortlessly.

        Dynamic means they change things, and cars have changed urban and rural landscapes in totally amazing ways. The changes wrought by cars make it nearly impossible to run an efficient transit agency today, and a county where the vast majority of the people live in places built after mass motorization brings that particularly into relief.

  5. If CT can hold on to the status quo for a decade, in 2023 they get relief when Sound Transit opens Link to Lynnwood. CT can then re-deploy service hours from commuter routes to beef up local service frequencies and span.

  6. If CT really has the single-handed goal of getting the most ridership possible out of the resources they’ve got, the single best way to do this is to get rid of all service except for peak-period commuter runs to Seattle and (maybe) Swift.

    1. Isn’t peak the most expensive time to add service because it requires more buses in service and drivers working at once? And would many more riders come if they ran more buses during peak? It’s certainly true that even after cutting a lot of hours they still have some really unproductive service.

      Anyway, SnoHoCo is growing fast, and CT’s best chance for efficiency is to work with city and county planning agencies to channel growth toward the places and corridors they can serve efficiently. I guess that’s mostly along Swift, although the Edmonds-Lynnwood corridor could work… it’s probably overserved right now, but it might have some hope for walkable growth.

      1. Peak isn’t any more expensive a time to add service unless all buses are in use and you have to spend more capital to add buses. Even then, if those extra buses run full it’s far less expensive than adding service at other hours with existing buses that run empty. A full bus actually pays for itself. But I think CT has pretty well maxed out the existing peak commuter demand. The comment was aimed at not increased service but paring back service to only those peak commute routes that run full.

      2. “Isn’t peak the most expensive time to add service because it requires more buses in service and drivers working at once?”

        In general yes, but CT already has those buses and their cost is sunk. Once the buses for all those peak runs are already there, choosing what to cut to maximize productivity of what’s left unavoidably means ending all local service and become exclusively a commuter express agency.

        I’m saying this to suggest that this is what CT should actually. Rather, I am saying this to illustrate the point that you have to consider how the transit system functions as a network, rather than focusing exclusively on the operating-cost-per-rider of the bus route.

  7. Don’t you just love our stupid state laws? The only way to fund public transit is with sales tax, and this effectively forces our buses to drive on a minefield. Why are the laws like this?

    1. Huh? What’s that $20 CRC charge I pay on all my vehicle registrations? How come I have to put money on my ORCA card. Where does the money come from that Metro gets in Federal Grants. Who pays for the roads and sidewalks where all the bus stops are? Where does the money come from that places like the City of Kirkland dole out for commute reduction? Where does the money go that Metro receives in advertizing? Let’s see, WA has sales tax, property tax and users fees; seems like public transit is getting revenue from all available sources including the largest earmark from the sales tax (1.8% of 10% total) of anything in King County.

      1. I am talking about permanent public funding. Metro has additional sources simply because it has a big enough voice for Olympia to hear it. The state has a temporary (key word: temporary) $20 car tab fee (all the value of which you could get back with the free metro tickets you get) that expires this year. I’m sure the city of Kirkland put forth and insisted on an initiative to provide funds for metro, which any state would allow.

        Roads and sidewalks don’t count; they are there anyway. Transit agencies don’t pay for them, and they are there whether there is a transit agency there or not. So they don’t count as a funding source.

        Agencies get money from advertising and fares, but they are not from government funding sources, which is the issue. The whole point of public transportation is to get public funding, otherwise, they would be no better than a taxi-cab company. If the farebox recovery had to be %100, then the cost per boarding figures you see would become the fare. Maybe advertising could help a bit, but not much. The reality is that a HUGE chunk of the funding for these agencies are sales tax, so you can’t save bus service by covering every square inch of space with ads. This doesn’t save service, this just makes no one want to ride your buses.

        Oh, and i thought that Metro gets 0.9% and not 1.8%. Isn’t 0.9% the limit set by the state?

      2. Public transit is Metro and ST in King County, that’s 1.8% for public transit. But Metro alone has a larger percentage of the county budget than health and human services and public safety combined. Buses run on roads like light rail runs on tracks. Claiming the “free money” that Metro gets from the use of the roads despite the huge maintenance issue they create isn’t funding is like saying it costs ST nothing to build ROW. The CRC temporary; in the military there’s a saying, “temporarily permanent.” Certainly residents in Seattle aren’t seeing a surcharge on car tabs going away any time soon. Funding, in private industry funding includes things like… how much you can charge for your product (e.g. taxi fares). The ethos that public transit is hamstrung because their only funding source is sales tax cuts to the root of the problem. Public transit doesn’t need to be efficient or answer to it’s customers because it’s an entitlement. To even propose a reduction creates a humanitarian crisis on par with Darfur.

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