Everett Transit's unionwants to cut contribution to Community Transit
EVERETT - Everett Transit’s union president wants the agency to stop paying for Swift bus service in order to prevent local service cuts.
Everett Transit has a long-term contract to give up to 1/12th of its sales tax revenue to Community Transit, which operates the rapid bus commuter Swift service. The deal was struck in 2007, in part to have Swift serve Everett’s Evergreen Way corridor. The Swift line runs 17 miles and serves Everett to Shoreline.
Everett Transit says it would cost the agency more money if Everett Transit had to meet the service needs of local Swift riders who need to get to city limits to catch the Swift, Everett Transit operations manager George Baxter said.
Over time, people who rode Everett Transit’s Route 9 to city limits moved to the Swift line. Steve Oss, president of Everett Transit’s union, said he thinks it’s wrong to let Everett Transit ridership and sales tax revenue slip away.
“Swift is a luxury item” that Everett Transit, which faces up to 15 percent service reductions this year, can do without, Oss said. In a time of cutbacks, luxury items must go first, he said.
The call to end Swift is being led by union representatives, not the public, Baxter said. Nobody said they want Swift service stopped at the series of public meetings Everett Transit recently held on the proposed service changes for 2012.
The deal Everett Transit has with Community Transit amounts to about $1 million this year, which Oss says should go to Everett Transit operations.
“What I want is not using our dollars for Swift,” Oss said. “We should not be compromising our service.”
Everett Transit isn’t releasing a dollar figure on the service cuts, but Oss said the agency can avoid service cuts altogether by stopping the Swift payment. He said a get-out clause in the contract lets Everett Transit renegotiate the deal.
Everett Transit isn’t going to invoke the clause, Baxter said, because Swift is saving Everett Transit money.
Everett Transit estimates it would cost $1.4 million more to run enough buses to serve the volume of customers who now have transitioned to Swift.
“This idea Everett Transit should cut Swift, that’s a silly idea,” Baxter said, “Why would we do that, it would cost us more money.”
Before Swift started in 2009, hundreds of people made transfers at the city limits using the Route 9 bus. Running the Route 9 bus cost the agency a significant chunk of money, and riders constantly complained about the transfer, Baxter said.
The old transfer system aggravated riders, Baxter said. Before Swift, hundreds of Everett Transit riders crossed Airport Road to make a Community Transit connection.
There were so many riders at the time that some people were being left at bus stops, Baxter said.
Oss has a solution in lieu of Swift: Run buses every 30 minutes to get people transferred to a Community Transit bus at the Mariner Park and Ride lot. He said agency officials’ argument that a bus would need to run every 10 minutes instead of Swift is overkill.
“One half hour is more than reasonable,” Oss said.
There is one other wrinkle: It’s time to renegotiate the union’s contract, and Everett Transit speculates the union is bringing up Swift now because of negotiations.
Oss flatly denies that. The negotiations are completely separate from the Swift issue, Oss said.
“If (these cuts happened) last year, we’d still be doing this,” Oss said.
Also, the agency told the union the proposed 2012 service changes won’t include any layoffs, Oss said. The cuts will impact the work available to a pool of 20 substitute drivers — which makes up a little more than one-fourth of Everett Transit’s driver pool — but the talk on Swift has nothing to do with this, Oss said.
The public is not calling for renegotiating the Swift contract to save money, Baxter said. The public is more concerned about getting to 128th Street, which is currently served by Route 9, he said.
The agency proposes cutting Route 9 altogether this August but will modify Route 8 to serve this southern piece of the corridor. Riders seem happy with Route 8 serving the area, Baxter said.
The agency began cutting back on Route 9 when Swift started taking its ridership. Oss said Swift is siphoning valuable customers over to Community Transit.
Everett Transit union leaders always criticized Swift running along the Evergreen Way corridor, Community Transit spokesman Martin Munguia said.
Oss said the union opposes the money spent, not the service. The money shouldn’t even be going to Community Transit in the first place, Oss said.
How the deal came about
In 2003, a Community Transit board member balked that Everett wasn’t paying anything for service inside Everett limits, and Community Transit came asking for $2 million a year. Everett wouldn’t pay up, and Community Transit service in Everett ceased.
Around the same time, Everett Transit faced a shortfall in revenue. Oss led a city initiative to increase the sales tax for Everett Transit operations only.
The City Council opted to go to voters for a sales tax increase, but by Oss’ understanding somewhere along the way the language was loosened and eventually Community Transit got a cut of that money, Oss said.
“I believe they started seeing the money and said, ‘We got a windfall here’,” Oss said.
When negotiations between Everett Transit and Community Transit started for Swift in 2007, the $2 million figure showed up again. The 1/12th of one percent sales tax generated $2 million in 2007, but the amount raised varies year to year. Swift operates on a $6.5 million budget, Munguia said.
Baxter was not part of the negotiations on how the sales tax cut came up, so he couldn’t discuss it.
In the deal, Everett built 16 Swift stations and terminals at Everett Station and College Station. State grant money paid for both, Baxter said.
If Everett didn’t pay up in 2007, Community Transit would have bypassed the Evergreen Way corridor and went straight to Everett Station via Interstate 5, Munguia said.
The City Council has the final say on contracts like the one for Swift.
By MICHAEL WHITNEY
Published April 25, 2012