I recently sat down with Everett Transit director Tom Hingson to talk about the agency’s place in the regional transit system and whether it should merge with its larger neighbor Community Transit, the latter of which is a topic that frequently comes up in comment threads on our articles about Everett.
Everett Transit proudly traces its roots back to 1893, with the establishment of the first private horse-drawn streetcar within the newly-incorporated city. The streetcars and their electric successors were replaced in the 1920s with privately-operated buses that were rescued by city voters in 1969 to form Everett Transit. Community Transit was formed in 1976 by several cities in the county, with the notable exception of Everett, after two attempts at passing a countywide sales tax for buses were turned down by Everett voters.
As Community Transit grew to encompass more of the county and take over commuter service from Metro, the state legislature drew up plans to force the two agencies to merge. State Representative Dave Schmidt submitted three bills in 1992, 1994, and 2000 to merge Everett Transit into Community Transit after a public referendum, at a time when CT’s sales tax was only twice that of Everett’s 0.3 percent.
Current Everett Transit director Tom Hingson worked for both CT and ET, moving to the latter in 1999 as a Program Manager and taking over as Director in 2005.
I’d heard from a few sources back in the day that the legislature tried to force Everett to merge with CT in the 1990s. Were you around during that time?
I worked with Community Transit from 1983 to 1992, but I’ve worked with Everett Transit since 1999. I was here in Everett right during that heated discussion in early 1999, when Community Transit came to the city and said that they had established a lot of service in the city of Everett and would like compensation. The city responded by pointing out that it had its own service and thought that the buses CT was providing to and from Everett was reflecting what customers wanted. The city declined to pay for CT’s service, but continued to welcome their presence in the city.
We went through months of conversation on what was the value of service within city limits to downtown, and we reached a point where we really didn’t really agree on any specific dollar value. And things just sort of stayed where they were until I-695 came along and drastically reduced Community Transit’s revenue stream. At that point, it was a business decision on their part to not serve the city of Everett directly, but to operate to the city limits and use the freeways instead of city streets on the way from the then-new Everett Station.
That was the condition until we came to the agreement with Community Transit for Swift in 2007. The agreement that we came to was significantly improving what the customers would experience, as intended. So now, we use Community Transit’s bus stops outside of city limits and vice-versa with our bus stops within Everett city limits. We shared those spaces because it made sense to do that.
Was there any sense that a merger would be possible after I-695?
This was before my time, but I did a little research: A long time ago, back in the 1980s, when both agencies were at 0.3 percent, there were conversations on whether it would make sense to merge. I worked at Community Transit at the time as a driver, but still heard talk of what it would look like by the time I became a planner a few years later. CT was not a big service back then, but agreements were in place to pay Everett for mileage within city limits, such as commuter service on Casino Road. There was always this thought that CT would have a service from Everett to Shoreline and ET would have a parallel service that terminated at Everett Mall, which looked nonsensical to planners but appealed to customers. CT, however, was able to increase their sales tax to 0.6 percent in 1989 and discussions turned to whether a doubling of Everett’s sales taxes would mean a potential doubling of services.
So, what has changed since then?
We each have our own specialty. CT is good at regional and commuter service, and they cover a huge territory while providing a high level of service. Everett is focused on the city, with the exception of the route to Mukilteo, and we provide a fairly high level of local service, with a focus on neighborhood connecting service. In areas where it made sense, like Swift, we partnered with CT to create a seamless trip through city limits. Swift was not something that Everett would ever be in the position to implement alone, but Community Transit had a vision and a partnership was beneficial.
We look at other things and services that might be duplicative between the two agencies. For example, when Swift came into play, the paratransit requirement would oblige CT to provide paratransit service within Everett city limits. We came to an agreement to have Everett Transit cover paratransit along Swift within city limits and slightly beyond to cover everything, helping reducing wait times for customers. That was another area of cooperation that did not require a merger to implement. There’s other examples out there, such as the ORCA call center, which was a requirement for the ORCA card system. Our call center did not receive a large amount of calls, so it made sense to have Community Transit to handle our calls as well. We also merged the reviewing system for paratransit qualifications since we shared a customer base, with the exception of seniors within Everett city limits who qualify for ET dial-a-ride service, and automatically qualify customers for both systems.
I would say that there hasn’t been any big business reason to merge. We can do more with cooperation with less cost to the taxpayer.
Looking down the line, when Link arrives in 2036 and Community Transit begins pulling back its commuter service, would it be possible to have a single brand to create a seamless experience for customers?
Honestly, it’s never been brought up. It sounds similar to sub-contracted work for private operators like First Transit’s commuter contract with CT, but that is a model that is more prevalent in the Northwest. I would ask whether a single brand from Everett to Tacoma would be a good idea under that model.
But who has the coolest brand? We re-branded, in part, because we wanted to remind the Everett citizens that we weren’t the same as the other agencies and had a different mission. We were early in adopting red, but it has shown up elsewhere. It looked cool with the wings, and red was the only one that popped for us. The artist that did the winged logo for us was actually a temporary employee that was doodling and goofing off on his own time in between his job putting together the schedule books. We were in the process of talking about what Everett would be in the future and that brand helped us launch that idea, which eventually led to a sales tax increase that brought it up to 0.6 percent.
In part two, we’ll talk about Everett’s upcoming restructure and its long-range plan that will be centered around Link service when it arrives in 2036.