Months before the economic outlook turned gloomy amid the global COVID pandemic, Everett Transit was looking at financial trouble. Last year, the city-run system revealed that it forecast a $1.6 million budget shortfall that would continue due to Everett’s declining retail sales. While the agency has great plans to improve its network in coming years, they will have to be re-evaluated to preserve current service levels.
Everett Transit has launched its “Rethink Transit” survey, which runs online until July 13, with three options for the public to consider. Everett Transit is also re-introducing regular fares on all routes and services on July 1.
Option 1 would follow the already-adopted growth plans but require a 0.3% sales tax increase after voter approval. Everett Transit currently collects a 0.6% sales tax from retail in Everett, which accounts for 80 percent of its operating revenue according to The Herald. As a city-run transit system, Everett has a maximum sales tax rate of 0.9%.
Option 2 proposes a merger with the larger, countywide Community Transit system. It would come with a doubling of the sales tax rate to 1.2%, matching the rest of the Community Transit service area, and would also need to be approved by voters. Such a deal has been talked about since the 1970s, when Everett bowed out of the district after two unsuccessful votes. A merger was pushed by the state legislature in the 1990s, but both agencies were against the arrangement.
Despite remaining separate, the two agencies have worked together to ease transfers between systems. Community Transit routes are allowed to serve parts of Everett, but are required to have express-like stop spacing to allow Everett Transit to reach its residents for shorter trips. They are both part of the ORCA system and share facilities at major transit centers. In 2007, the two agencies signed a financial agreement that split operational costs for the Swift Blue Line.
The Herald mentioned some opposition to a merger plan, namely from the president of ATU Local 883 who wished to have Everett revenue used to serve Everett residents. While the loss of local routes are a valid worry for mergers, it’s unlikely that routes cut by the post-merger agency would have survived the post-COVID cuts for a standalone agency. The increased revenues from sales taxes and fares may improve local service within Everett, at least up to Community Transit’s service standard of 30 minutes or better on weekdays.
Another benefit of a merged system would be integration into existing CT programs, such as BusFinder and Google Maps; the latter has Everett Transit’s bus stops, but not full schedule information. The current arrangement forces riders to switch over to a phone-based real-time arrivals system for Everett, which is cumbersome and not entirely accessible for the general public.
Option 3 would maintain the status quo by keeping the current 0.6% sales tax rate and explore ways of stretching that revenue to cover the system. A December presentation to the Everett City Council listed a few potential strategies, namely service reductions, cutting Sundays and holiday service, and evaluating contract-based service with a private operator.
Everett Transit will conduct technical analysis of the three options and plans to release its findings later this year. The Everett City Council is scheduled to decide on an option next year. In the meantime, Everett Transit will have to also consider its immediate service in the wake of the COVID pandemic and the slow reopening of the city’s economy.