Late last year, Kitsap Transit made news with the passage of its foot ferry initiative, which provided the funding to fulfill a long-standing dream of fast, cross-sound passenger service. For those paying attention to the less-sexy, workhorse transit modes, however, news across the sound has been bad for years. Like every sales tax-dependent agency in Washington, KT took a haircut in the great recession, beginning in 2008.
In 2009, the agency responded in many of the ways familiar to those of us who remember King County Metro circa 2010-2013: raising fares, deleting routes, reducing almost all the remaining routes. Unlike Metro, KT never took the high-pain, high-gain opportunity to rethink the structure of the bus network, leaving riders with a network of mostly circuitous, infrequent routes and some incomprehensible schedules.
The intervening eight years have not got well for KT, or their bus riders. After a predicable initial decline from the cuts and the recession, annual ridership has been stagnant since 2010. Much more worryingly, this stagnant ridership comes on increasing levels of service, as sales tax revenue has crept back up; the productivity of the bus network is declining, which suggests the bus network is structurally failing in some way.
While Kitsap county has not experienced anything like Seattle’s residential or employment growth, it’s a part of our booming city’s commuter belt, with a natural advantage to non-car modes: even without considering the upcoming foot ferry service, it’s much cheaper and easier to walk on to a Seattle-bound ferry at Bainbridge or Bremerton, than it is to drive on.
While the analogy is not perfect, the agency’s situation most reminds me of Pierce Transit in 2011: a tax-hostile electorate, a benefit area dominated by transit-hostile land-use patterns, and increasing costs have put the agency in sustained decline, at a time when it should be growing. Fortunately, KT’s leaders seem to have realized the severity of their case, and are going to the public with an outreach effort that sounds quite fundmental in scope:
Kitsap Transit is conducting a comprehensive analysis of our current bus service that will incorporate:
- Community input gathered at in-person workshops, an online open house and an on-board survey
- Data on current ridership patterns
- Projected population growth in Kitsap County
The purpose of the analysis is to understand how our buses currently connect riders to neighborhoods, city centers, social and community services and ferries. We want to hear from a broad group of transit users and community members, including people who might not use transit now. We are also committed to working with those in the community who are dependent on transit.
More after the jump.
The changes prefigured in the outreach materials sound pretty good to me:
- Increase frequency of weekday service on existing routes.
- Run buses on Sunday.
- Show real-time arrival information at bus stops.
- Construct additional park-and-ride lots.
- Add new routes to get you where you want to go.
- Implement frequent transit service along designated corridors to attract new customers.
- Become a leader in developing transit‐oriented design along designated corridors to improve transit access.
- Sustain financial capacity to maintain and improve services and facilities.
- Provide safe, reliable and efficient transportation choices that enhance the quality of life in Kitsap County.
- Offer robust, reliable and sustainable foot ferry services.
Whether these are to be funded by modifying existing service, or asking voters to raise the transit sales tax rate from .8% to .9%, isn’t specified in the outreach materials. There is, however, a great report from Nelson\Nygaard which digs into the gory details of the status quo.
If you have thoughts what you’d like to see from Kitsap Transit’s bus service, take the online “build your own transit system” survey, email RouteAnalysis@kitsaptransit.com, or attend one of three upcoming open houses:
Wednesday, May 17
5:30 – 7:30 p.m.
South Kitsap Fire & Rescue Station 8
1974 Fircrest Dr SE, Port Orchard
Monday, May 22
5:30 – 7:30 p.m.
Sheridan Park Community Center
680 Lebo Blvd., Bremerton
Wednesday, May 31
5:30 – 7:30 p.m.
North Viking Transit Center
21992 Viking Ave NW, Poulsbo