By MICHAEL WHITNEY
Published June 6, 2012
City Council: Swift worth paying for
EVERETT - A majority of City Council members agree Everett Transit should continue its contract with Community Transit for Swift bus service.
The contract became a council topic after Everett Transit’s union president and an ad hoc neighborhood leadership committee said the agency should cut the contract to save money in lieu of Everett Transit service reductions scheduled to be implemented in August.
Everett Transit will be before the City Council again this week for a public hearing on its 2012 service reduction plan.
Everett Transit pays out 1/12th of its sales tax revenue to Community Transit to have Swift commuter bus service. Last year that equaled $1.3 million. The contract lasts through the next decade; the Swift line runs 17 miles from Everett to Shoreline.
Everett Transit is planning a 15 percent service cut Aug. 26 to make up for flagging sales tax revenue. Union president Steve Oss said that could be avoided by ending the Swift agreement, calling Swift service a luxury item.
Everett Transit director Tom Hingson rebuffed that opinion last week. Agency officials say to provide the same level of service as Swift does now would cost more than paying the contract.
“Swift is not a luxury, it’s the best investment to our riders,” Hingson said.
It would cost Everett Transit $1.8 million to provide service equal to Swift, which is $500,000 more than last year’s contract payment.
Because the city agreed to make investments toward Swift and got state money to fund it, Everett could be on the hook to repay the state Department of Transportation $5.6 million, Hingson said.
Those costs left council members uneasy.
Community Transit told this paper previously that if Everett stopped paying on the contract, Swift would likely skip Evergreen Way altogether.
Oss told this paper previously that paying for Swift compromises service to local riders during budget cuts. Everett Transit allowed ridership to slip away to Swift through the contract, Oss said.
Commuters leaving the city via Evergreen Way largely have shifted to Swift. In response, Everett Transit is eliminating Route 9, which goes from Everett Station to city limits along Evergreen Way. While Route 9 serves more than 1,900 riders per day, only 3 percent ride Route 9 to city limits, agency officials said last week.
That’s because before Swift started in 2009, getting out of Everett by bus wasn’t seamless. Riders were forced to change buses at the city line, which caused headaches because the bus stops were on opposite sides of Airport Road. Hundreds of riders had to cross the intersection every day to make the transfer to Community Transit.
A little more than half of Swift’s daily riders board the bus in Everett, according to Everett Transit.
All council members said Everett cannot lose Swift.
For one, the city spent years developing a long-range Evergreen Way corridor plan centered on encouraging urban development near Swift stops.
“We need to stay the course on this commitment in order to develop this corridor,” Councilwoman Brenda Stonecipher said. Mayor Ray Stephanson echoed similar statements.
Councilman Paul Roberts said Swift is one critical part of linking public transit riders from Everett to Seattle. King County Metro plans to introduce a Swift-like service next year that will go from downtown Seattle to Snohomish County, Roberts said.
Councilman Ron Gipson questioned the contract as Community Transit reduced service times for Swift and eliminated Sunday service completely.
The contract should have a performance clause in it, Gipson said.
Public hearing on 2012 service changes
Everett Transit’s final public hearing on its 2012 service reduction plan is scheduled for Wednesday, June 6.
The agency has most of its changes decided, and the input only would affect small things such as tweaking scheduled bus stop times, Hingson said.
What won’t be discussed at the June 6 City Council meeting is the agency’s plan to increase fares 25 cents across the board, Hingson said. The agency has opted to move that discussion to later this year. The City Council sets fare prices for Everett Transit.