Intercity Transit’s system map

This post was updated at 6:20 2.20.18 to include testimony and information from comments.

In a disappointing legislative session marked by mostly defensive effort to protect the Sound Transit 3 project list from cuts, there has been one bright light: Engrossed Substitute Senate Bill 5288, allowing Thurston County Intercity Transit to add an additional 0.3% sales tax within its district, if approved by voters.

ESSB 5288 passed the Senate last week on a 34-14-0-1 vote. It is scheduled for its second public hearing, in the House Finance Committee, today, at 3:30 pm. The hearing will be aired live on TVW. (Go to 58:30 in the video for the public hearing.)

Intercity Transit is currently allowed a 0.9% sales tax, like most other transit agencies in the state, but has enacted only 0.8%. Allowing 1.2% would bring it up to Community Transit’s level, but without being combined with the additional 1.4% Sound Transit sales tax that applies in the CT district. IT gets 63% of its revenue from sales tax. Nearly 5 million boardings are served each year, at a cost of $45 million in operating expenses and $33 million in capital expenses such as fleet renewal. The additional revenue it could get for the 0.3% extra sales tax is estimated at $18.1 million annually.

Intercity Transit has had to take on most of the burden for transit service between Tacoma and Olympia in recent years, as Pierce Transit and Sound Transit have eliminated Thurston-Pierce inter-county service. IT operates routes 603, 605, and 612 between Olympia and downtown Tacoma, and route 620 between Olympia and Tacoma Mall.

Intercity Transit also operates a free shuttle serving downtown Olympia and the Capitol Campus. The shuttle has 12-minute headway much of the day. The only other IT routes with headway better than half-hourly are routes 13 and 41, each with 15-minute headway during their peak periods, and half-hourly off-peak on route 41. Some combined corridors provide scheduled 15-minute all-day headway.

Intercity Transit’s budgets and strategic plans are available here.

16 Replies to “Intercity Transit Sales Tax Bill Gets Second Hearing Today”

  1. So the legislature is going to vote to allow voters to vote to raise their own taxes.

    Just making sure I have this right. Anybody in the legislature or involved in politics in general who is reading this, please re-read my first paragraph a few times to understand why voters in our country are frustrated.

    1. The legislature regulates all local taxes, ostensibly to prevent one tax district from generating runaway increases that crowd out other needs and gouge people. But it’s ridiculous when they allow so little transit funding that counties can’t run more than coverage service, and each project requires special legislation that benefits only one agency at a time. Intercity Transit has some surprisingly good service for a city its size, with 15-minute service from downtown to Evergreen College. But the Olympia-Tacoma service keeps going up and down: sometimes it’s hourly, sometimes it’s peak only. The 60% sales tax dependency explains why, since sales tax is sensitive to booms and busts.

    2. The reasoning makes a lot more sense when you think of things like schools. That is basically the problem we have in this state. A lot of relatively wealthy districts were allowed to pay a lot of money for basic education, while the poor districts suffered. If the wealthy districts couldn’t raise taxes — so the thinking goes –then the poorer districts would have better statewide funding.

      The problem with that argument is that it doesn’t apply to transit. The state is providing very little for transit, and relatively wealthy areas that want good transit (like Seattle) are not asking the state to pony up a dime.

  2. Engineer, being into History, I’m curious as to when, and why any voter has to ask permission to raise their own taxes ? Was this to prevent racist poll-taxes?

    As for Intercity, would settle for the right to charge ourselves enough money, and inter-county permission, to tax ourselves only for the money to get two things.

    One, a diamond-lane each direction between Olympia and Tacoma. And two, bringing Sounder down to Olympia’s train station at Lacey.

    Fact that the 592 used to make Olympia proves that the authority is there. Maybe those lanes would make it worthwhile to resurrect. BTW- great statement of brave resistance to schedule this meeting today.


  3. Actually, Route 13 has 15 minute service during the weekday daytime off-peak as well. For what it’s worth, so do the combined corridors of Routes 41 and 48 (Saturday as well), Routes 43 and 44, and Routes 62A and 62B (with slightly uneven headways on Saturday).

  4. The Strategic Plan 2018 mentions customers wanting faster service, more service to Tacoma and JBLM, longer span, and service in areas that currently have none but are getting development. The most interesting point is on page 13:

    “4. Is there a role for local express service (=limited-stop service like Swift) in the current service area? … Our market research shows that travel time is one of the primary barriers to increased ridership for many of our customers or potential customers.” That’s it. People want to get to their destination quickly, they don’t want to wait a long time for a bus, and they want to feel safe on it. It’s interesting that an agency smaller than any of the Pugetopolan ones (except probably ET) is considering limited-stop overlays. Community Transit has one and is planning several more. Metro does not have any except where they masquerade under “Express” (e.g., 9X, former 7X), although it can be argued that Link is providing it, but Link is a long time in coming to many areas. I have no opinion on whether it’s appropriate for Thurston County or where, but the general issue is interesting.

    IT also mentions other ways to speed up buses, including transit priority lanes and streamlined fare policies. (I don’t see off-board payment specifically mentioned, but maybe it could come with those local express routes.)

    Regarding service to Pugetopolis, page 10 says:

    “Design principal #5: Expand regional express routes. Thurston County is becoming more closely linked to the Central Puget Sound region. Citizens increasingly suggest commuter rail service be established between Tacoma and Thurston County, or Thurston County join the Central Puget Sound Regional Transit Authority (Sound Transit). While both projects are outside the six-year timeframe of this plan, Intercity Transit recognizes the increasing need to improve inter-county travel opportunities… Two express services to Lakewood and DuPont, with continuing service to Seattle, were funded through a State Regional Mobility Grant Program which expired June 30, 2017.”

    So that’s the view of regional transit from Down Under.

    1. It was funded by a limited time demonstration grant that expired last year. The cost was such that it wasn’t renewed.

      1. Oh, it was so bad. There were never more than 5 people who got off in Olympia. But I think there are some decent reasons for that.

        I think the biggest reason was the length of the route. Stuck in traffic you were looking at a 2.5 hr minimum ride. Often times regular buses were used instead of the long-distance coaches. And the Lakewood part of the journey was very popular, meaning you were often standing for the majority of your trip. Connecting to Sounder just makes for a more comfortable trip.

        The buses were also unidirectional toward Seattle. I have a sneaking suspicion that if it was bidirectional service, it might have picked up people commuting to the capitol. They were also rush hour only, so it didn’t capture midday demand.

        The existing Intercity Express service to Lakewood and Tacoma is usually fairly full, so the demand is there.

    2. Just a guess, but from my own rides year or so back- while IT could still move at all on I-5, 592 ridership was usually about three people out of Olympia. Two out of Hawks Prairie P&R. Dupont, slightly more.

      But it bypassed Tacoma completely, ruling out everybody who had to go there, and guaranteeing being stuck on I-5 all the way into Seattle.

      When I-5 traffic could still move north of Centralia, my habit was to transfer from 592 to Sounder at Lakewood. Southbound, though…would’ve rather wait in favorite cafe in Tacoma ’til traffic cleared about 7.

      Right now, doing best I can while still maintaining a productive life, whose main requirement is to not have a barely-moving bus tor a work-place.

      So best I can do is drive to Tacoma via back roads I can’t reveal because I’d have to. kill you. Thought one mitigating condition: times I never see single tail-light ahead, or headlight following me.

      From Tacoma in, choice is ST 574 to Sea-Tac, LINK from there. If my day doesn’t get me to Freighthouse ’til after 9….classified again, but ten minute walk from parking space near an actual park to Tacoma LINK.

      Therefore: best choice for me would be either Sounder from Lacey-provided I can get there from home in less than an hour, ST or IT express, could not care less. And/or, ST 592 to Tacoma Dome, and Sea-Tac Airport.

      ‘Til joint-use tunnel under Spokane can relieve the 594 and Maintenance of a dirty job. Hard to get vulture-droppings off a white roof. Rawwwwwk Splat Splat! (Damn.)


    3. Also think, incidentally, that ST 592 might have decent ridership on a 1 hr. All Day express to Sea-Tac Airport. Maybe Tacoma Dome for Sounder and whatever connections.

      And an I-5-and-Spokane-free ride to Westlake and wherever LINK goes from there. Well-publicized try could try, and likely get, us a lot. Doubt free pass would get Steve O’Ban a bribery charge. Just a fact (for a change) finding mission. And a lot of kidding from his caucus. Who’d also buy a lot of them to put in cakes and exploding cigars.


  5. I see Intercity Transit vanpool vans parked at Green Lake P&R on weekends. Which implies that weekday vanpool runs do exist between the P&R and somewhere in Thurston County. It’s hard to imagine where else they’d go in Thurston County other than the state capitol.

    For all the new transportation technology, it’s disappointing that vanpools are still stuck in the 20th century. They’re hard to discover unless you happen to see a flyer, or really dig around. And many of them are restricted to people working for one particular employer, unavailable to the person working for somebody else, across the street. The fare structure also tends to be very subscription-based, with no good way to just pay for an individual trip they way you would with a bus.

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