Public transport in Aberdeen, Washington. Flikr user gillfoto.
Public transport in Aberdeen, Washington. Flikr user gillfoto.

Two rural Washington counties will have a referendum on the ballot tomorrow, each asking voters to approve a sales tax increase to restore or begin lifeline fixed-route and dial-a-ride service. The financial and ridership numbers involved in these proposals are on a different scale to the Puget Sound metropolitan region, but the presence or lack of service will matter for people who live in these areas.

First up, Okanogan county:

Local voters will probably have a chance to decide in November if they are willing to pay 4 cents on every $10 purchase to fund a new public transportation system in Okanogan County.

The proposed transit system would provide regular daily bus service linking Okanogan County communities, including three round trips on weekdays between Winthrop and Omak and two round trips between Winthrop and Pateros.

Okanogan county is roughly twice the size of King County (or about the size of Connecticut), and its population is about 41,000 (just over that of Ballard).

More after the jump.

Meanwhile, Grey’s Harbor Transit will be asking for another tenth of a cent, to restore weekend service cut due to the recession:

Grays Harbor Transit eliminated its weekend service in early September, and if the sales tax increase isn’t approved this fall, the agency might have to start hacking apart weekday service, said Mark Carlin, general manager of Grays Harbor Transit.

“When they have the voting going on, I hope people realize how important it is,” Jamtaas said. “Even if people don’t use the buses, it’s a really important service for the disabled population. And it’s really cheap, that 0.1 percent.”

This is also a good time to recall that Washington state’s financial contributions to transit are pathetically small compared to other states. Matching funds for operations, or significantly increased funding for transit capital grants, would help show the state understands that moving people means more than just paving roads.

19 Replies to “Rural Transit on the Ballot Tomorrow”

  1. If voters approve the former, then a new public transit system will form in Okanogan County with the tax? That sounds exciting! I have watched the Pierce Transit proposition and saw how they voted, and a lot of the votes in a particular area was based on their perception of the existing Pierce Transit. So it will be interesting to see how people vote for the creation of a new agency.

  2. The spacing and size of these Okanogan County towns sort of reminds me of where I lived in Wyoming a few years ago (with comparable county size and population, too). In many of these towns a lot of the important destinations have historically been within a quick walk of a small number of bus stop locations. But then the same patterns of decentralization have lately been common as in big cities — major retail to big boxes on the outskirts and newer public buildings spread randomly around town. I don’t know much specifically about these towns, but this can present a challenge for a transit agency running point-to-point services. Some of them seem to be almost linearly laid out near the highway without lots of depth; maybe that’s not sure a hard nut to crack. The town I lived in had a fairly new library and public athletic complex not far from the old town center but up on a pretty steep ridge, a growing strip along the highway west of town, and a couple parallel strips to the east. It would be pretty easy to draw a couple good routes through town for inter-city routes to serve most of these areas, but I’m not sure you could get all of them.

  3. “Noel Brady, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation’s Public Transportation Division, said service cuts and sales tax increases have been common in recent years.”

    Why on Earth does the state DOT have a Public Transportation Division?

    1. Why on Earth does the state DOT have a Public Transportation Division?

      Uh, are you asking why the Department of Transportation has a public transportation division?

      Back in the 60’s, we rolled all the various state departments that fit under the general “transportation” umbrella into one monolithic department, which we now know as the DOT. The largest department to be rolled in, by far, was the old Highways Department (formerly a branch of the Public Works Board), so the new department was mostly shaped in their image. They handle highways, ferries, trains, and yes, public transit. Even though the only part that seems to get funded is the highway part.

    2. Small correction to Lack’s statement: while I have indicated to callers that transit agencies — especially those serving urban areas — have undergone funding challenges and service cuts in recent years, I have not said sales tax increases are common.
      WSDOT’s Public Transportation Division is an important part of the state’s transportation system because it helps manage transportation demand by coordinating transit agencies and services, partnering with agencies to develop transit infrastructure, administering state and federal grants for public transportation and supporting efficient travel and commute options that reduce single-occupant vehicles and vehicle miles traveled throughout the state.
      Noel Brady
      WSDOT

  4. It appears that the yes campaign in Okanogan county plagiarized from APTA :P http://getonthebusokanogan.wordpress.com/reasons-why/
    It does seem a bit misleading (almost like a red herring) that statistics about transit in the entire United States, which are dominated by large urban areas, are used to support the creation of a small rural transit agency. Frankly it would have been better for them to elaborate on the social benefits of transit (providing crucial lifeline service for those who are unable to drive for a myriad of reasons), as well as potentially the environmental and the quality-of-life aspects (riding transit tends to be more pleasant and productive than driving long distance).

    It’s still exciting that Okanogan County is this close to creating a new real transit system. Even though Okanogan county is extremely low-density, transit will still be very useful. I certainly hope for the best!

  5. Personally I would like to see the DOT get into the “postal bus” business, offering a basic, yet expansive network of routes along state highways connecting cities throughout the state. With frequencies of 3-6 trips a day to make it an attractive and useful offering to those who cannot drive or do not wish to, and also be cost effective by using cutaway type vehicles that have the capability for both wheelchairs and some luggage. Schedules, Routes and, Fares would be integrated with Local Public transportation, Amtrak, and other intercity carriers. Ideally, station facilities would have some P&R capacity so that buses do not have to make the “last mile”, and there would also be regular street-side stops where safe to do so, and where there would be opportunity to generate traffic. Through ticketing would be an option, and the fares would be fairly low (under $10). With the fact that greyhound has been and will continue to pull their more traditional routes out of the state I think surface intercity transportation will become a bigger issue in the years to come. If you compare a greyhound schedule from the 90s to today, they made about 6x as many stops as they do now, leaving many cities and other areas without any public transportation access at all.

      1. The Intercity Bus Program is a good start, but needs to be made more extensive and frequent. I guess I’m envisioning something like Transwa (from the other WA, Western Australia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transwa) or V/Line in Victoria, Australia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/V/Line). Despite very low population densities, those states still manage to operate extremely-extensive bus services serving almost all settlements, which often function as feeders to their rail systems. Of course, if this was applied to Washington, there would be a lot of overlap with county-based buses: I’m not sure how to address this issue. Perhaps the state could take over some of the more “intercity” county buses and integrate them into the statewide network, while also plugging some of the current gaps.

  6. “Washington state’s financial contributions to transit are pathetically small compared to other states.” – I’d love to see a link to your source for this info. Thanks.

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