North by Northwest View 13: A Case for Transit Fares on Island Transit

A Night Picture of Island Transit 411W Turning Into March's Point
A Night Picture of Island Transit 411W Turning Into March’s Point

I’ll be brief.  I’m hopeful by now all of my regular readers have read about the future facing Island Transit’s County Connector participation.  There’s guaranteed controversy about charging fares on Island Transit.

But here’s the reality:

  1. By charging a fare, the message is transit users will have to pay up front for the transit services we use instead of just rely on sales tax subsides.  That only makes sense.
  2. Representative Hayes is right when he says, “I think riders need to have some skin in the game.”  Charging fares is going to dramatically improve the relationship between Island Transit governance and the riders, because now the Island Transit governance triad (board, director & director’s staff and upcoming driver’s union) will realize they have a financial stake in being responsive to riders.  I’ve seen for quite some time how other transit agencies that charge a fare are more reflective and responsive to rider input before going to the transit board; by charging a fare this will likely induce the same result.
  3. Island Transit is working hard to make right the issues the State Auditor found.  In one of their Monday business items in page 8 of their packet, the Island Transit Board will consider serious policy adjustments to get into audit compliance.  For instance, the Executive Director will have way more Board oversight.  For two, tighter controls are to be installed regarding  official vehicle usage.  I mention this so riders feel like they can trust Island Transit with their direct contributions.
  4. The 25-30% every year of Island Transit’s budget that’s made up of grants is being severely whittled at.  That money has to be replaced or there will be further service hour cuts.  Having fares installed will put an emphasis on service hour generation.

One last thing: Some of the Island Transit Boardmembers are championing the ORCA card as a solution including the Chairman.  I agree, as long as if we’re going to go beyond exact change into a metal farebox let’s make sure there’s some financial aid for Island Transit to purchase their first fareboxes.  I also think Skagit Transit should get into ORCA, but I digress.

North by Northwest 56: An Uncertain Future for the Island Transit Tri-County Connectors

Island Transit 411W @ Night
My Photoshop Showing Island Transit Route 411W at March’s Point at Night

Since November, Mr. North by Northwest has been dreading the day final decisions will be made on the “Tri-County Connectors” Island Transit commuter routes linking Camano Island with Mount Vernon and then linking Mount Vernon with Oak Harbor and points beyond.  Those decisions impacting about 10% of the Island Transit ridership will be made at the end of a Special Island Transit Board Meeting at Island Transit HQ Monday starting at 9:30 AM.

Now together, the Island Transit participation in the Tri-County Connectors comprised 13.5% of the Island Transit ridership in 2014 – that’s with 411W (Oak Harbor to Skagit; 92,190 riders), 411C (Camano to Skagit Station, Mount Vernon; 29.851) & the now-suspended 412C between Camano Island & Everett Station, Everett (18.419) – you can check my math HERE if you wish.  For the first three months of 2015, that’s dropped off to almost 9.8%.  So it’s easy to understand the temptation for a county-level transit agency in dire fiscal straights to reduce or eliminate long-range capability for about 10% of the ridership.  But that’s ridership commuting to/from work and arguably federal & state grantors are more gracious to funding commuters than students and tourists.

A Representative Hayes Fix for County Connectors

Today, Representative Dave Hayes (Republican, 10th District) got a proposal through the State House that just might solve a few problems with one piece of legislation.  The plan is for $1 Million to be given to Island Transit & Skagit Transit.  Furthermore, the money will be held by the State Office of Financial Management (OFM) until, “a fare policy has been adopted for the Everett connector service that achieves a farebox recovery ratio similar to comparable routes that charge a fare” as per the proposed legislation.

Multiple sources, including Island Transit Board Member Jill Johnson, believe the solution is to use this million plus fares to leverage a link between Camano & Whidbey Islands, the two main islands of Island County – and we’ll revisit this.  Furthermore, it’s very clear the state legislature and even Seattle Transit Blog commenters have extreme discomfort with Island Transit not charging a fare – aka “fare free”.

The Beginning of the End of Fare Free Island Transit?

Even though “fare free” neither created the current Island Transit fiscal fiasco nor was any different than sales tax subsidies to roads (SOURCE 1SOURCE 2), there is a serious question as to how to replace grant dollars that now are being withdrawn at least in part.  There is even the credible threat to withdraw county connector service completely – a decision that will be made deep into a 13 April special meeting at Island Transit HQ starting at 9:30 (link to agenda packet).

When it comes to transit, it’s important to realize this author’s bias is to serve more destinations – even if several transfers are necessary.  The alternatives are to deny access out and outright or put the financial barrier of a taxi fare in the way.  So obviously I’m not a “save my bus” or “one seat ride” guy.

Since the state legislature is in no mood to give direct funding to transit and the current Senate Transportation Committee Chair has said direct support of county-level transit agencies would be a “black hole that we will never, ever fill”, this may just have to do.  Obviously when the State Auditor’s Office was requested to testify in front of the State Senate Transportation Committee about their audit of Island Transit; the state legislature has deep concern in investing in Island Transit.

At least now with the carrot & stick approach with funding contingent on Island Transit charging fares, this just shows that when Representative Dave Hayes said at one point last fall, “Shifting the focus back over to the state and saying the state needs to come in and support this is not a fair statement.  Until Island Transit starts charging fares and operating in a more responsible manner, it will be a huge challenge to get additional state dollars;” Representative Hayes is a man of his word.

Potential Camano to Whidbey Connections

The problem is, these proposed connections are highly problematic.  That’s if Island Transit Board Monday at their 9 AM special meeting decides to keep the Island County Connector.  One option, called “Proposal 2” and page four (4) of this Scribd link shows a proposal to only serve Deception Pass.  For Skagit Transit (Skagit County’s county level transit net), they’d have to make it to Cornet Bay to link up with Island Transit at all.

The other option best explained on page 8 shows a schedule that allows commuters to get off the main islands of Island County, but not necessarily get back.  Commuters seeking to leave Whidbey would have to be ready to accept a 3 PM departure from Harbor Station, Oak Harbor to arrive at Skagit Station at 4 PM.  The bus would then depart at 4:10, run to Camano and arrive at 4:40 PM – passing the bus going the other way.  To get from Camano to Whidbey you’d have to leave Camano at 3:30 PM, arrive Skagit Station at 4:05 PM, then leave Skagit Station, Mount Vernon at 4:15 to arrive at Harbor Station, Oak Harbor at 5:15 PM.  So if you work in Everett and need to get to Camano in the afternoon but miss that first northbound Skagit Transit 90X connection from Everett to Skagit Station, Mount Vernon which supposed to arrive at 4 PM but can easily be delayed… you are totally stranded.

So what is the solution?  One option may be delaying these runs until starting at 5 PM or 6 PM.  There already are plans for a northbound run starting at 6:35 AM and another southbound run at 6:45 AM.  Or chucking the 9:35 AM northbound & 9:55 AM southbound routes and making another late afternoon or early evening run.

With this Proposal 1 in play thanks to Representative Dave Hayes, the focus should be on commuters.  Doubly so with fares being required to get the $1 million state match for the biennium.  Gone are the days when a $6 million biennium start-up grant could be lobbied for this route.  Make sure to e-mail info-at-islandtransit.org your thoughts on this or attend the Monday, 13 April Island Transit Board 9:30 AM meeting at Island Transit HQ.

Oh and one more thing as I wrote recently, if a Republican State Senator with the last name of Bailey, first name of Barbara that Seattle Transit Blog endorsed in 2012 could please publicly apply pressure on her caucus leaders to not just support Representative Hayes’ fix but also give more money maybe the State Senate Republicans might just realize they need to remember their reluctant transit user allies and protect a vulnerable seat come the 2016 election cycle.  But that polite request to help us in Northwest Washington needs to come from you – transfer from anti-spam barbara.bailey-AT-leg.wa.gov and shoot off a quick e-mail please.

North by Northwest 55: Island Transit’s Recovery Story

Island Transit Route 1 Bus & the OLF Coupeville Weeds
Author photo, “Island Transit Route 1 Bus & the OLF Coupeville Weeds”

Figured as promised on Easter Sunday 2015 I’d get around to posting the Island Transit Recovery Story without further comment:

ISLAND TRANSIT’S RECOVERY STORY

Island Transit is pleased to report it is in the midst of executing a recovery plan after having survived serious financial challenges requiring significant reductions in bus service in July and September 2014. A new Interim Executive Director was hired to implement recovery planning for future financial stability, and a new Board of Directors was appointed. At its first meeting of 2015, Island Transit’s Board adopted a stabilization plan including the following key strategies:
1. Development of a financial stabilization plan.
2. Consideration of new funding sources.
3. Review of overlapping service with other transit districts.
4. Ongoing review of all routes and schedules.
5. Investigation of collaborative transportation solutions with Naval Air Station Whidbey Island (NASWI), school districts, and other qualifying organizations.
6. Discussion with neighboring public transit districts for ways to improve operating efficiencies.
Embracing these goals and strategies, the management team is aggressively monitoring, analyzing, and implementing policies and projects that will contribute to operating efficiencies and improved services. At the same time, budget levels are within approved parameters, and future service reductions must be avoided. Meanwhile, a number of new, constructive activities are underway in 2015 to set the foundation for a more promising future. Some of these efforts include:
• A carefully balanced 2015 budget.
• Continuation of the Service Enhancement Plan to reinstate and modify most transit services that were eliminated or reduced in 2014.
• Continuation of efforts to identify new sources of additional revenue.
• Development of an Asset Management Plan and accompanying Asset Replacement Plan.
• Continue regional service coordination efforts with Skagit, Whatcom, and Snohomish Counties.
As the year progresses, we will continue to plan for added weekday service, the return of discontinued service, and scheduled replacement of aging buses. Improvements and expansion in transit service will be slow in coming, but Island Transit is more encouraged and excited about its future than it was just a few short months ago. Thank you, Island County, for your continued support.

You can read the original and see the signatures on the Island Transit website’s hosted PDF.  I would appreciate it if it was, “Thank you, Washington State, for your continued grace and patience with us as we overcome bad progressive fiscal management” but alas this letter was more for Island County consumption…

North by Northwest 54: Tired of the Status Quo on Transportation? Want to Save the Tri-County Connector? ST3?

Okay, copy-paste this list of legislative transportation committee members into your e-mail and speak acutely, boldly and calmly.

judy.clibborn@leg.wa.gov, jake.fey@leg.wa.gov, jessyn.farrell@leg.wa.gov, luis.moscoso@leg.wa.gov, ed.orcutt@leg.wa.gov, mark.hargrove@leg.wa.gov, steve.bergquist@leg.wa.gov, mia.gregerson@leg.wa.gov, mark.harmsworth@leg.wa.gov, dave.hayes@leg.wa.gov, linda.kochmar@leg.wa.gov, joan.mcbridge@leg.wa.gov, jim.moeller@leg.wa.gov, jeff.morris@leg.wa.gov, lillian.ortiz-self@leg.wa.gov, liz.pike@leg.wa.gov, marcus.riccelli@leg.wa.gov, jay.rodne@leg.wa.gov, mike.sells@leg.wa.gov, matthew.shea@leg.wa.gov, dean.takko@leg.wa.gov, gael.tarleton@leg.wa.gov, lynda.wilson@leg.wa.gov, jesse.young@leg.wa.gov, hans.zeiger@leg.wa.gov,, curtis.king@leg.wa.gov, don.benton@leg.wa.gov, joe.fain@leg.wa.gov, michael.baumgartner@leg.wa.gov, doug.ericksen@leg.wa.gov, steve.litzow@leg.wa.gov, mark.miloscia@leg.wa.gov, ann.rivers@leg.wa.gov, steve.Hobbs@leg.wa.gov, marko.liias@leg.wa.gov, annette.cleveland@leg.wa.gov, cyrus.habib@leg.wa.gov, pramila.jayapal@leg.wa.gov, jamie.pedersen@leg.wa.gov, timothy.sheldon@leg.wa.gov

Be forewarned I intentionally kept the list bipartisan.  Don’t like it, tough luck.

North by Northwest View 12: A Polite Reminder to Senate Republicans…

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State Senator Barbara Bailey, R, 10th LD

Dear State Senate Republicans;

Just a polite reminder of some painful facts from one Seattle Transit Blog Page Two writer.  Especially since Island Transit Boardmember & Island County Commissioner Jill Johnson pointed out in a recent Island Transit board meeting some of you State Senators want to lash out at transit users for Mary Margaret Haugen’s antics* when chairing the Senate Transportation Committee.

  • In 2012, the Seattle Transit Blog HQ was so sick of Mary Margaret Haugen’s antics the Seattle Transit Blog leaders endorsed State Senator Barbara Bailey.   We didn’t expect to see the Tri-County Connector defunded as political retaliation to transit users in the north Puget Sound area for backing your candidate for that position.
  • Senate Republicans got the gavel as a result of many efforts, including reminders to Whidbey progressives & independents of the Seattle Transit Blog endorsement.
  • In 2014, this Seattle Transit Blog Page Two writer endorsed several Republicans.

I mean, this run has received grant funding since 2001.  Also the State Senate Transportation budget has allocated more money for regional mobility grants.  Although yesterday in the genuine section of the Whidbey News-Times the new Island Transit Board Chairman points out your concerns on the genuine needs to right the fiscal ship and charge fares, the reality is that the new Island Transit Board has only had three months to right years of incompetence and ignorance.  Last November, Island Transit staff decided to withdraw a grant application without the previous Board’s deliberation, consultation, input or affirmation – two days before Senator Curtis King warned, “they would have to apply for funds just like every other agency would have to apply which had not been the case before that” as I put in my November timeline of events.

Is it really fair to punish this route’s users – many of whom are veterans seeking to get to the Mount Vernon VA or aviation tourists going to/from OLF Coupeville – for the Island Transit fiascoes?  Or do you legislative Republicans want to be perceived as the bad guys in a swing legislative district, possibly also harming our farm team of county & city politicians?

Granted, Island Transit could run a few runs on their own.  But certainly with the blame for the dramatic cutback from 13 round-trips currently to maybe 3 or 4 to/from March’s Point placed on you if even that level of service as punishing Senator Bailey’s constituents and those of neighboring districts such as the 39th & 40th for past grievances certainly in good faith either have worked or will work to address.

Ultimately State Senate Republicans: You’ve already decided to increase transit funding via grants and all reasonable transit advocates, many with reservations, thank you for that.  Why not put Island Transit on a performance contract with a carrot to make sure the talk and small actions becomes strategic change under (mostly) Republican fresh leadership?

Yours;

Joe

—FOOTNOTE—

*I think we all can agree an Amtrak Cascades station in the middle of nowhere qualifies.  We also all can agree that fundamental reform of Island Transit is necessary and thanks to fellow Republicans in the trenches like Jill Johnson, Rick Hannold and Rick Almberg that now need your cooperation are executing!  It’s going to take backing the reforms to get ‘er done!


A few things for the commentators…

  1. I am an advocate for more transit.  Not going to snipe at any transit run that’s safe.  I ask for the same from you, especially as Regional Mobility Grants are used all around the state.
  2. I helped “back the attack” for a new era for Island Transit.
  3. I have this post scheduled after April Fool’s.  This isn’t a joke or a drill, things are genuinely serious.

North by Northwest 53: BREAKING NEWS, THOUGHT TRANSIT I JUST PASSED!

In a sudden come-to-Messiah moment, the Senate Republican Caucus and House Republican Caucus both agreed to request and approve light rail last night…

For Olympia.

Apparently my dear Republican friends want a Lynn Line* to run from the State Legislature to the Freedom Foundation at 2403 Pacific Ave SE because well, Republican legislators & staff alike can’t get their think tanks to the legislature fast enough.  Riding a bus for 24 minutes is too slow for these people who want CONGESTION RELIEF (TM).  No, Sound Transit is so cool say their Husky grandchildren that now the grandpas & grandmas want their own subway like Congress does but will settle for light rail!

However, leading Senate Democrat Marko Lilias demanded in return that Sound Transit get $20 Billion in taxation authority for ST3 and it’s passage the only permit required to start building!  Furthermore, Mukilteo is to receive light rail all around Paine Field on the Jenn Line and the ribbon cutting is being planned at the Plaza to the Future after the Mayor flies in her own 777 to the future 777-8X “Sandy” Bus Stop.

Senate Republican Barbara Bailey also demanded $6 Million for Island Transit to keep fare-free and restore Island Transit to rosy health.  Senator Bailey’s seat was barely won against a vengeful old Democrat who was so bad she torqued off Seattle Transit Blog and got the boot after blockading Sound Transit too much.

The State Senate agreed, wanting unanimity on building light rail along Pacific Avenue for somebody else to think great thoughts for them on Thought Transit I.  Rumors that Thought Transit II which would link up Olympia with the Washington Policy Center’s SoDo office by building the necessary links with Sound Transit were delayed until 2030 and the starter set’s completion.  The State House agreed, provided voters could decide on amending the State Constitution to no longer require ample funding for education & Speaker Frank Chopp could get his light rail fix!

Governor Jay Inslee, so relieved to hear support for light rail and his beloved green agenda, decided to stay up well into the night swilling green tea.  Governor Inslee also gave a nod to using the emergency clause to make sure that no public vote would be possible on requiring more permits/red tape when moments ago Governor Inslee signed Thought Transit I into law.  Shortly thereafter, ST3 authorization was also signed into law.

The ribbon-cutting at Marummy Station for Thought Transit I just outside the legislature is planned for 1 April 2015 at 14:15 Hours.  All celebrants are requested to wear pink ties or pink sweaters to honour the greatest Washington State Republican staffer of all time… and her “Lane’s Legions” the AP picked up on.  After all, it’s the staff and lobbyists that run the legislature, not the politicians!!!!

The afterparty for the Thought Transit I ribbon cutting, by the way, is planned for Seafair on the log boom where 150 politicians – including the Governor – will get drunk until the Katie-Bird Flying Crossover goes so low as to blow them off their yachts which as this AvgeekJoe Photo proves is possible.  Patriots of all political parties will call it a good start!


 FOOTNOTE

*A tribute to Lynn Harsh, G*dmother of the conservative think tank movement in Washington State

North by Northwest 52: End-of-March Island Transit Update

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Author Photo of the 27 March 2015 Island Transit Board Meeting

I decided to take the long way to work Friday the 27th via Whidbey Island to catch the Island Transit meeting and of course, OLF Coupeville action.  After making a few comments in support of the Tri-County Connectors with a fare, I took in what information I could from the Island Transit board meeting.  Very disappointed two boardmembers got themselves excused absences while the Board addressed failing radios after one public commentator talked about his health scare on Island Transit, a plan to make public a mission statement of recovery, making surplus various vehicles to pay for replacing a few, and implement a Request For Proposals/RFP to get advertising on the outside of the buses modeled after Whatcom Transit Authority/WTA and possibly bus shelters.

It seems regarding the bus radios Island Transit is dragging their feet, blaming the FCC and seeking “management time” as the new Board chair would put it.  One would think Island Transit with no reserves would be doing just about anything to reduce their potential liability… like maybe having cellular capable tablets as backup.

When the Island Transit letter is public, expect a copy here.  I understand the letter will focus on a recovery strategy for Island Transit.

Thanks to Glenn in Portland for noting Island Transit’s new schedules.  Seems to be the third or fourth new schedules since 1 July.

Also please note at 13 April at 9:30 AM is finally expected a decision on the Tri-County Connectors.  One Island Transit boardmember wants the decision made before the legislature adjourns hoping sufficient pressure can be created for a state legislative rescue package – an act that I’m sure STB commentators will unleash upon.  However various official observers of the situation also want & need an answer sooner rather than later.

You can watch the videos of 75-85% of the 27 March Island Transit meeting here.  Enjoy and thanks Gayle!

North by Northwest View 11: Comments on Community Transit 2015-2020 Transit Development Plan

The View Out the Community Transit Double Tall Down the Highway to Mukilteo
My photo from a Community Transit Double-Tall

I thought I’d share my comments to Community Transit on their annual Transit Development Plan update.  As I empathized last Friday along with some neat statistical quotes, please by 3 April e-mail planupdate-AT-commtrans.org your thoughts on the CT Draft TDP if we transit geeks want to give Community Transit input on their future goals.

I just copy-pasted my comments as well.  Figure this may or may not help you.

Joe


Dear Community Transit;

I just finished reviewing your 2015 update of your Transit Development Plan (hereafter TDP for brevity).  Rather impressed by Community Transit capabilities I’ve experienced and stated in the TDP, but the TDP does reflect vacancies around transit service for Paine Field so that’s where most of my comments are going to reflect.

But first, as a Republican and as a supporter of genuine congestion relief having sat last autumn in Skagit Transit 90X buses trapped in deep congestion and occasionally used Sound Transit-branded buses to get from Everett Station to Seattle – I hope all Community Transit staff take pride in providing 1% of the vehicles, but 25% of commuters on the I-5 corridor.

That said, I went over your TDP as an aviation photographer with a part-time gig at a Paine Field tenant not named Boeing.  I noticed no mention of any route restructures if Swift II came into being – which I hope Swift II does with the same awesomeness I’ve experienced with Swift I.  As such, I’m politely reminding Community Transit of some basic Paine Field geography:

  • There is a lease option on for a potential 2-gate Paine Field commercial aviation terminal along 100th Street SW.  Your TDP should have a plan to link service from that terminal to Swift II at the least, and at the most reroute Swift II to/from the terminal; just as the SeaTac International terminal is served by many transit providers.
  • Airport Road & 112th Street Southwest is the closest Swift II bus stop at 0.9 miles to Flying Heritage Collection.  I hope you agree please this Swift II potential station should come to fruition and feed service to Flying Heritage Collection.
  • Future of Flight Aviation Center & Boeing Tour in the January 2015 Leading Edge newsletter revealed having 281,567 total 2014 visitors (1) yet has no regular transit service within half a mile.  One explanation given is that the Future of Flight requires a bus stop.  However, Everett Transit has commuter only bus stops #7375 westbound to the Mukilteo Ferry and #7380 eastbound to the Boeing Factory a mere 0.2 miles walking distance to the Future of Flight at 44th Avenue West & 84th Street Southwest.

Pardon my incredulity, but until you start serving a place averaging 777.8 visitors for the 362 days the Future of Flight is open annually… I just shake my head at your abandonment of your potential 777-8X bus stop.  I salute your service of Historic Flight Foundation & the neighboring “Windsock” via the Bernie Webber Drive bus stop, I appreciate Everett Transit’s service of the Museum of Flight’s Restoration Center but still.

            At this conjecture I remind you of two of your more robust your TDP assertions:

  • “We will provide fast, frequent, reliable and affordable public transportation connecting all major destinations in Snohomish County. People will enjoy the ease and comfort of being transported on buses in priority lanes. … Transit will be the first choice, not just for commuting to work but for all travel” on page 2.
  • “More connections to more places, more often and more reliably” on page 86.

The head-shaking failure to serve within half a mile a major Snohomish County destination by any definition with an average of 777.8 visitors for the 362 days and around 86 visitors per hour the Future of Flight is open annually without a strenuous hike from the Mukilteo Speedway or a hike up & down a trail to the Boeing plant 0.8 miles away is not conducive with your TDP goals.

            So what is my “call to action” as your TDP would put the issue?  Okay, you need to initiate planning with new revenue a route restructure to service Paine Field museums and follow through to, “provide fast, frequent, reliable and affordable public transportation connecting all major destinations in Snohomish County” by using the new revenue to provide, “More connections to more places, more often and more reliably”.  There you go.

—FOOTNOTE—

  1. This stat counts the 269,854 purchases of the full Boeing Tour (which includes access to the Gallery & Strato Deck) tickets & 11,713 Gallery & Strato Deck ticket purchases.  Not counted was the 1,850 students also served.  SOURCE: http://www.futureofflight.org/newsletter, select January 2015.

North by Northwest 51: Community Transit’s Transit Development Plan Update – Comments DUE 3 April!

Community Transit Double Tall Bus...

My snap of a Community Transit Double Tall.

Just finally became aware today of Community Transit’s draft annual Transit Development Plan update (hereafter CT Draft TDP for brevity) towards a very bold vision of, “Transit will be the first choice, not just for commuting to work but for all travel” (Page 5 of THIS PDF).  STB transit geeks this weekend might want to eke out time and write a comment letter to planupdate-AT-commtrans-DOT-org because you’ve got only until April 3rd to comment.

However, before you write off your wish list to Community Transit, you might want to note the CT Draft TDP has some interesting points:

  • “Based on the current service network, 45% of all jobs in the county and 76% of all jobs in the PTBA are within ¼ mile walk distance of Community Transit bus service (Figure 22). An additional 154,000 jobs in King County and 24,000 jobs in Everett are also within ¼ mile walk distance of Community Transit bus service. In all, nearly 260,000 jobs are within ¼ mile walk distance of Community Transit bus service.”  [Please note Everett Transit has its own separate Public Transit Benefit Area for the City of Everett too].
  • “On the congested I-5 corridor between Everett and Seattle, buses are carrying 25% of all commuters on the road in less than one percent of the vehicles.”
  • In 2013, the cost per bus rider averaged out on every route after fare payment was $6.57 for about a 24% farebox recovery.  However fare increases beyond 2015’s are planned for 2017 & 2019 to hopefully maintain that 23-24% farebox recovery.
  • “Retail sales tax collected in the Public Transportation Benefit Area (PTBA) is our primary revenue source. PTBA residents have approved the maximum taxation rate – 9/10 of one cent, or 9 cents on a $10 purchase – allowed under current law. Through a partnership agreement, Everett Transit also contributes sales tax funding – ½ of one tenth of one percent, or ½ cent on a $10 purchase – toward operation of Swift service in Everett. Retail sales tax accounts for about 63 percent of the agency’s operating revenue. Rider fares provide about 16 percent of total operating revenue and cover about 24 percent of the cost to operate Community Transit branded service (excluding Sound Transit routes).”
  • “As described in the service portion of this plan, revenue forecasts have been sufficient to shore up the existing transit network and return to 7/365 operations with restoration of Sunday service. But the list of unmet needs is far larger. Community Transit’s vision for fast, convenient bus service throughout Snohomish County requires a higher level of public investment.”

Again, comments are due on the CT Draft TDP by 3 April so don’t delay, e-mail planupdate-AT-commtrans.org your thoughts this weekend or next as you’ve only got two weeks from today.  So if you want more bus service, a new bus stop or just want to atta-boy Community Transit, please make the time to submit comment.  Arguably resources are taken from service hours to prepare transit development plans so ridership can give feedback, so please by 3 April e-mail planupdate-AT-commtrans.org your thoughts on the CT Draft TDP.

NORTH BY NORTHWEST HEAD’S UP 01: Governor Inslee AMA Reddit

Where you can ask Governor Jay Inslee anything.

Apparently some “GrowlerJoe” who apparently loves Boeing EA-18Gs, among other things, asked the Governor: “Hey Governor Inslee how come it seems we won’t get to vote on the gas tax but will have to campaign for all the transit taxes? A bit dysfunctional, don’t you think?”

Then there’s a great question on ST3 by another Reddit user.

Let’s see how the Governor responds.  You too can get a Reddit account and fire away.  Methinks you should ask the Governor to fight more for transit.


Special thanks to ShiftWA for the head’s up on the AMA.  ShiftWA, where we think we have the Call of Duty to dismantle transit apparently. /snark

North by Northwest 51: Everett Transit’s New Website

Everett Transit Gillig Hybrid B0500
Everett Transit Gillig Hybrid B0500 by Wings777

Figured you’d want to know Everett Transit has a new website up and running.  EverettTransit.org which used to be a clunky afterthought on the City of Everett’s webpage now has intuitive buttons to check fares, schedules, programs and even a Google Map of all their bus stops.

So go take EverettTransit.org out for a spin this wet weekend.  You’ll love it.

North by Northwest 50: Following Up…

Going for that black & white look of an Island Transit 411W at March's Point, Anacortes, WA

My Photo, “Going for that black & white look of an Island Transit 411W at March’s Point, Anacortes, WA

Two separate transit agencies are on two very interesting paths – namely Island Transit & Community Transit.

For Island Transit, tomorrow the 9th of March, the Island Transit Board will gather to discuss on the agenda, among other things:

  • Discussion of Financial Stabilization Plan and Correspondence from the Board of Directors (“Island Transit’s Recovery Story” letter)
  • Surplus Vehicles
  • New Revenue Sources [Advertising, Fares]
  • Service Issues [such as the Tri-County Connectors & service to Ault Field – the main NAS Whidbey Island campus to the north of Oak Harbor.].
  • Status of Audit Findings and Resolutions

The special meeting is planned to run from 9:30 AM until 11:30 AM, but a majority of the board can extend the meeting time to address agenda items, which seems likely to this keen observer.  I have a photoshoot scheduled tentatively at 1 PM in Mukilteo so can’t be there.

For those STB readers who may be unaware, Island Transit has an interim CEO in Ken Graska and it’s been decided to wait to seek a permanent replacement while Island Transit seeks alternative revenue streams and conducts route restructures.   Also Coupeville City Council decided to replace the controversial rep Bob Clay with Island County Human Services Director & Town of Coupeville Councilwoman Jackie Henderson.

The Everett Station Swift Terminal in a Damp Dawn
My black & white iPod photo snap of Community Transit Swift BRT at Everett Station

For Community Transit, the story’s a bit different.  First, for those few who may not have heard, the Snohomish County Council approved a lease option contingent on an Environmental Assessment for Paine Field commercial service a week ago.   But as two dueling press releases by proponents Propeller Airports and in opposition Mukilteo Mayor Jennifer Gregerson posted at MyEverettNews.com indicate, both pro & con can only agree the County Council vote is a step not a finale.  Major issues remain, such as addressing traffic & transit access & how many passengers will actually use the terminal on the east side of Paine Field – which could factor in any discussion about ST3 having light rail service Paine Field.

New CEO Emmett Heath arguably put it right when he wrote in Community Transit’s press release announcing his hiring, “We’re back in growth mode. Today, we have every driver and every bus out on the road, yet we know there are still unmet needs in our community,” said Heath.  The plan is to get state legislative authorization to seek voter approval to raise taxes three-tenths of one percent to fund Community Transit expansion.  Other items of a growth-focused tenure are in the works such as working well with other transit agencies and a few transit projects.

North by Northwest View 10: Critiquing Republicans on the Senate Transportation Package

One of the reasons why you haven’t heard much from me lately – besides a difficult work-life balance – is because your resident Republican is not too happy over the Senate Transportation Package.  I’d like to explain why in my own words, although our Senior Editor did great covering State Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Senator Curtis King’s public statement on Sound Transit taxation authority.

We the People have got Republican legislators down there in Olympia who demand a 2/3rds supermajority or public vote on taxes to the point of attempting to write that into the State Senate rules.  But same legislators won’t send to voters the Senate proposed gas tax increase as if somehow Republican supporters like I will just magically forgive this epic slight that resulted in a historic Lt. Governor ruling against the 2/3rds rule for legislators to approve tax increases.  The argument being according to Senator King’s spokeswoman Liz Coleman who e-mailed back, “The transit issue is part of a local option. The legislature doesn’t have the authority to change the tax structure of just one municipality or jurisdiction. However, if the residents of an area want to vote to raise their own local taxes to pay for services for their area, they have that option.”  Sure, great but why not put the gas tax up to a statewide vote as well for ideological consistency to marry actions with Republican rhetoric if nothing else?

We’ve got Republican legislators who sure demand “local control” for a lot of things, including transit.  But Republican legislators are cutting into the taxation authority for Sound Transit to submit to voters.  At least the State Senate has sent to the State House a transportation package with these grant amounts:

  • Special Needs Transportation Grant Program: $160 M total new over 16 years (adds $20 M per biennium to Base)
  • Rural Mobility Grant Program: $90 M total new over 16 years (adds $11.25 M per biennium to Base)
  • Vanpool Grant Program: $21 M total new over 16 years (adds $2.625 M per biennium to Base)
  • Regional Mobility Grant Program: $140 M total new over 16 years (adds $17.5 M per biennium to Base) (but not sure if Base is $40 M or $50 M per biennium)

So I guess we’re going to be having WSDOT grants influence local transit agencies and improve connectivity to neighboring transit agencies.  The problem is, these grants likely won’t fix the Whidbey to/from Skagit and the Camano to/from Everett Tri-County Connector segments.  Furthermore, some of these grants are meant to be “startup” grants only which means after 4 years the recipient transit agency is/agencies are supposed to find other forms of funding.

At least we’re having a conversation about “congestion relief”.  Again, I refer you to this graphic as to what genuine congestion relief would look like….

At least Representative Dave Hayes “gets it”, he’s fighting to save the Tri-County Connectors which is something you just don’t see out of many legislators of the Republican party fighting to save specific, vital transit service.  But it would sure be nice if we had support for Community Transit’s local option from him too, which has passed the State Senate.

North by Northwest 49: Acute Paine Field Update

An Aerial Photograph of Paine Field on Final at Sunset...

An Aerial Photograph of Paine Field on Final at Sunset… (My Photo)

For transit advocates, we know that a) Paine Field needs more Community Transit service to more Paine Field tenants (e.g. Future of Flight currently at the top of a hill!  Flight schools!  Flying Heritage Collection!) and b) Sound Transit 3/ST3 will likely include a Paine Field transit terminal of some type.  So I figure it’s of interest to most of the Seattle Transit Blog readership that in recent weeks the Snohomish County Council is fast-tracking a proposal to have Propeller Airports build a 2-gate terminal at Paine Field with a possible vote on the lease option Monday at 10:30 AM in their chambers.

Much of this renewed advocacy for Paine Field commercial service arises from City of Everett Government leadership whose Everett Transit has punted to Community Transit who then punted to Paine Field governance in regards to building bus stops around Paine Field tenants.  Something to file away…

Again, the Snohomish County Council will consider voting on the lease option Monday at 10:30 AM.  If approved, according to the Mukilteo Beacon with my emphasis,

The company would have three years to finish an environmental assessment. It would have exclusive rights to the property. It would pay Snohomish County $3,575 per month, or one-tenth of the lease agreement.

After that, it could sign a 30-year lease with two optional 10-year extensions. Propeller would pay to build and operate the terminal. It would then pay the county $35,755 per month, plus hundreds of thousands of dollars in mitigation fees.

One would hope with traffic a major concern for local residents and Community Transit’s issues with serving Paine Field, if this proposal gets to the environmental assessment point these commute concerns will be heard.  Also worth noting: It will be well into the 2030s if ST3 is approved before light rail can make it to Paine Field.  At least Swift II will be in the vicinity as a potential remedy but without building more bus stops… and without good communication between Community Transit, Paine Field governance and Paine Field tenants on transit services these issues may just fall through the cracks. Again.

As an aviation geek/avgeek, I have made public these concerns and others as well.  Many thanks to the Everett Herald for publishing.

Finally, for reference, our STB Senior Editor Martin H. Duke wrote about the last serious proposal to put commercial service into Paine Field in 2010.  The take is a bit different than mine…


Programming Note: Sorry I’ve been quiet lately, but just as you can see above busy as the photo is from 20 February.  I do need to write up a follow-up on WSDOT Transit Grants though… with focus on Whidbey :-).

North by Northwest View 09 – A Flawed Republican & Senatorial Response to Mass Transit Concerns

Washington State Capitol from 15th Avenue SW

Sounder Bruce photo of our State Legislature

Disclaimer: This commentary is solely the views of the author and not of STB as a whole. This commentary was started and now modified for the Senate Bipartisan proposal released 12 Feb. 2015. Nor is this commentary restricted to one transit agency… so with that, read on!

First, please note I’m not going to use as a picture any Republican legislators.  Republican legislators get enough mug shot time on here anyway and I doubt they or their communications staff perceive mug shots here or on The Urbanist as a form of honorium.

Second, as I’ve editorialized in the past, Republicans can and should find a way to embrace transit.  By doing so Republicans manage better limited transportation dollars for congestion relief and remain relevant with Millennials for starters.

So to hear from The Urbanist that Rep. Ed Orcutt was a yes vote on Community Transit’s local option bill HB 1393 to pass out of committee was a relief.  Apparently after listening to his “pithy & succinct” – to quote the late Rick Epting, my community college journalism professor – comments on TVW, Rep. Orcutt understands the alternative is direct state support of mass transit via Transit Operating Support as documented in this graph which is a nonstarter for many Republicans.  In the words of State Senator Curtis King, state direct support of county-level transit agencies like Pierce Transit would be a “black hole that we will never, ever fill“.

Okay so what have Republicans proposed as an alternative to direct state aid to transit in the recent past and presently?  Grants and also now local options with voter approval.  To quote Rep. Orcutt’s speech, “I really believe that transit should be done locally and those decisions should be done locally.”

What does this strategy result in regards to helping county level transit agencies?  Let’s parse the Republican strategy by prongs – and to spare your e-mails there’s a bit of a jump as you can just click on the post title to read the details:
Continue reading “North by Northwest View 09 – A Flawed Republican & Senatorial Response to Mass Transit Concerns”

North by Northwest 48: As Sounder Northline (aka North Sounder, Sounder North) Is Stood Down…

Looking at the Sounder North Without My Polarity Filter
My Sounder Northline Photo From A Drier, Safer Time…

Imperative to review the new Sound Transit protocol on what Sound Transit is now calling “Sounder Northline”:

The most important slide is Slide #5, where in the slide notes of the original PowerPoint, it’s noted:

Our new protocol to determine if North Sounder service should be operated following heavy rainfall involves the following actions:

1.Sound Transit staff examines the data published by the USGS on a daily basis that charts the 3 and 15-day cumulative precipitation threshold, rainfall intensity/duration threshold, and a soil saturation index to determine the likelihood of a slide.

2.Staff also reviews weather forecasts to determine if additional rainfall is expected and discusses actual slope conditions reported through BNSF field observations.

3.If the slide probability appears high, Sound Transit managers and senior management staff after conferring with BNSF and other partner agencies, determine whether service should be operated and make a recommendation to Sound Transit executive staff members for a final  “go” or “no-go” decision. 

Since implementation of the ST protocol, staff has acted on the daily monitoring of slide probability data on 2 occasions.   

The first involved Sounder North trains scheduled to operate special event service to the Seahawk game on Sunday, December 28.  Due to a forecast of significant rain and the nature of the service, a decision was made on Friday, December 26 to cancel the service.  A Friday decision allowed customers ample time to find alternative transportation. It also allowed our partner bus agencies enough time to add additional weekend service, something that would have been much more difficult to do on short notice, especially on a weekend.  In this case, a blocking slide did occur on Sunday morning just prior to what would have been the train departure time. 

The second occasion occurred on Sunday, January 4.  Rain began early Saturday and significant rain was forecast for the area overnight and into Sunday.  As it turned out, actual rainfall levels were much lower than forecasted and the USGS slide indicators did not rise to the level anticipated.  A decision was made to operate on Monday morning and to reassess mid-day for Tuesday operation.  Rainfall levels in the Everett area continued to be lower than anticipated and Sounder North service continued as scheduled for the remainder of the week.  A slide fence was tripped during the Monday evening service but it was minor in nature and no other slide activity occurred.

Some Northline… it’s good however that safety is a growing priority – not statistics.  Ditto with Amtrak Cascades’ concurrent cancellations.  The question is should Sound Transit continue this service…


Special thanks to Sound Transit Paralegal Q’Deene Nagasawa for getting this PowerPoint to me.

North by Northwest 47: Tomorrow’s A Big Game Day for Community Transit…

Photographing a Departing Community Transit SWIFT Bus
My photo of a Community Transit Swift I bus

HB 1393 – the local option – for Community Transit has a first hearing tomorrow in the House Transportation Committee for HB 1393 is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 4 at the John L. O’Brien Building, House Hearing Rm B.  It’ll also be on TVW.

So if you use transit in Snohomish County or care for your Snohomish neighbors, please go here and request passage of HB 1393.   If HB 1393 passes, voters in Community Transit’s service district will get to vote up or down on a 0.3 percent sales tax hike.

So where would the money going to go?  Fair question:

  • Swift II
  • More commuter bus runs from Snohomish County to Seattle
  • Extended Community Transit run service periods
  • Increased bus service hours for all of Community Transit’s runs
  • More service for Paine Field – provided the bus stops get built…

For Community Transit, after this June’s rebound into Sunday hours and a few route adjustments – “current forecasts indicate that any new service hours added in the next few years are likely to be taken up by schedule maintenance—adding time to current trips because their actual travel time is getting longer.”  So we transit advocates can forget about Swift II, service to Paine Field – possibly in lieu of a light rail diversion, or just about anything else on a Community Transit wish list.  HB 1393 – is must pass as much as, if not more than ST3.

Oh and one last thing… 1800 Hours tonight, House Republican Chairman Dan Kristainsen who represents a nice swath of Snohomish County (and my Skagit) will hold his tele town hall w/ his 39th LD seatmate Rep. Scott.  Make sure to call into (360) 350-6256 at 6 PM tonight the 3rd and ask to please support HB 1393.  Or you could please also go here please and request passage of HB 1393 via e-mail please.

North by Northwest 46: Statement from Senator King’s Office

First, if you’re wondering where North by Northwest 45 went – go here.  Very important read & slides on Sounder North.

Second, finally after many kind phone calls and polite responses got a reply back from State Senator Curtis King’s public information officer.  Here goes unfiltered:

It is fair to say that Sen. King supports public transit as part of an overall transportation system. Also, Sen. King supports the idea of allowing voters to decide for themselves if they are willing to pay increased sales tax, property tax and car tabs to pay for light rail. As far as funding for specific projects, those are still being negotiated as part of a larger transportation project right now, so he can’t comment on that.

Figured you’d want to know.  I think we all can exhale and quit bashing Republicans right about… now.


Programming Note: Expect an Island Transit update this weekend if not sooner.

Sounder North’s New Slide Prevention Protocol

Sounder North in the Rain in "Kodachrome"

The Sound Transit Board received a presentation from Martin Young, Sounder Commuter Rail Operations Manager of the new protocol to cancel Sounder North service.  Deputy CEO Mike Harbor explains that a small slide that blocked a Sounder North train inspired the briefing. Video is 78:35 into this link.  Below are the slides for you to browse through.

Sounder Cancellation Protocol 2015-01-22 Presentation

After going through the slides, Sound Transit’s spokeswoman Kimberly M. Reason explained the three USGS predictive tools are “rainfall, rainfall intensity and soil saturation” (see here), but also that “Sound Transit uses weather forecast data and information on field conditions to inform service decisions.”  Although Sound Transit attempts to make a decision “the afternoon before the day of service”, there is no firm deadline to make a decision before — or during — a Sounder North run.

Continue reading “Sounder North’s New Slide Prevention Protocol”

North by Northwest 44: Manspreading (& a Programming Note)

Manspreading.  It’s a loaded term and possibly anti-male, but it’s not what Marshawn Lynch does after a touchdown.

It’s this:

View post on imgur.com

This was Skagit Transit Route 90X at oh 5:30 last night – guys taking up the aisle, many folks taking up two seats making the bus so crowded that I – a self-identified bookworm – didn’t have a light to read under as I sat all the way in the back.  All the way.  Taking an iPod picture in a way to preserve riders’ anonymity (for now).

It’s also those two guys to port/left below:

Manspreading

Thank you, Kelley Rae O’Donnell of New York City (the gentlelady standing above) for raising the issue and getting among other media outlets, the New York Times to pay attention.  I recently reached out to the Broadway actress and asked her what started her transit activism.  Here goes:

I take the subway sometimes 14 times in one day. Various auditions and gigs. And when twitter quickly became popular and a place where companies and people started to care about what was said about them on twitter, I started taking photos and posting them when one person would take up more than one seat and not let an elderly, disabled or pregnant person sit. Because I would see it happen on pretty much every crowded train ride. And I was hoping others would start to speak up about it too and maybe the MTA and city of New York would listen. I’ve done it regarding #showtime and #nailclipping too!

It seems MTA has listened via social media as Ms. O’Donnell wasn’t reached out to directly.  According to the New York Times, the MTA has started a new campaign specifically to protect the public space called public transit with logistic details in the Washington Free Beacon.  A campaign that’s inspired other transit agencies such as Sound TransitCommunity Transit of Snohomish CountySan Francisco’s BART, and Chicago (for starters) with even Canadians talking about the issue.  For Ms. O’Donnell, “It’s really fantastic. And I hope it raises awareness.  It’s been nice to hear from people from all over the world about how it’s an issue in so many places. And I love how so many people recognize it’s a small part of bigger issues. We’ve been fighting over land and space forever as humans.

“What a difference it would make if we all were more considerate of each other on public transportation. I’d like to see that ripple effect!”

I couldn’t agree more.  I know Seattle Transit Blog Page One has covered this issue, but I feel we at STB need to raise the issue of the transit rider experience from time-to-time instead of just the transit net.  In the past, I’ve called on folks literally to Please Photograph Transit and wrote last October, “Ultimately transit photography can be a non-confrontational way to advocate for transit.”  Remember, as Ms. O’Donnell put it, “Riding the subway is part of my everyday all day. So it’s been easy to spot and confront space hogs since I’m always on a train. And sadly, there’s almost always at least one person that’s being inconsiderate of others on every trip I take.”

Maybe it’s fruitless considering how months after the issue of the $11.852 million Chuckanut Park & Ride lacking a public bathroom has resulted in inconsiderate inaction.  Or maybe we can at least further the conversation to get occasional win-win results – I’m not expecting Runway Girl Network levels of detail & impact like with the aviation passenger experience, but at least a conversation and some action.

 As far as Ms. O’Donnell, one day she’ll come out to Seattle and check out our transit net.  I can’t wait to say “thank you” to her face and shake her hand.


A Programming Note: I will be shortly writing about the Sound Transit Board presentation about Sounder North – have politely requested the presentation & the video be online.  I also hope to soon give an Island Transit update – counting on some materials.  Oh and a small surprise maybe this weekend… the good kind.