Everett Transit fare increase sparks lively debate at council
EVERETT - The City Council approved fare increases for Everett Transit last week, but not without a fight.
Fares will go up 25 cents for all riders starting Jan. 1.
The new fares will be $1 for adults, 75 cents for youths and 25 cents for seniors and disabled riders, who used to ride for free.
Council President Ron Gipson pushed a motion to not increase the youth rate and senior and disabled rate. He received no support for his motion when it came to a vote.
Gipson targeted the contract Everett Transit arranged with Community Transit to pay for Swift bus service, in which Everett Transit gives one-twelfth of its sales tax revenue to the regional agency.
He almost called for renegotiating the contract by invoking a clause which allows Everett to do so if the agency can’t fund the contract anymore. He says it can’t.
“Looking at the big picture, we give Community Transit a busload of money,” Gipson said. “We’re supposed to be guardians of this fund yet money’s going elsewhere.”
Everett Transit’s union had previously fought to cancel the Swift contract to save money in the face of a 15 percent bus service cut. The agency went ahead with the cuts in August.
Councilman Paul Roberts doesn’t support cutting the Swift contract. Community Transit previously said it probably would stop coming to Everett if the city didn’t pay it.
“No one likes to raise rates, no one likes to cut services. It’s a balancing act,” Roberts said. Cutting the Swift contract is “pulling the rug out from under them” and would scuttle plans to extend a planned Swift-like service beyond Shoreline to Seattle via another agency, Roberts said.
Everett Transit’s main reason for the fare increase is to offset increased diesel prices. The agency wants seniors and disabled riders to pay because a small number of people were abusing the system by using their friends’ free cards.
The agency signs a bulk fuel contract each year with the state and next year it will be $3.75 per gallon. In 2009, the contract was $2.06 per gallon.
Councilwoman Brenda Stonecipher asked if the fare increase could be held off for a year.
“This economy is so dire and we have so many citizens with issues … I’m asking if there’s any other way,” Stonecipher said.
Stonecipher voted against Gipson’s motion, though, because she worried Everett Transit would reopen discussing service cuts to make up the difference, she said.
The agency will raise $400,000 to $480,000 by raising all fares 25 cents, agency director Tom Hingson said.
If the agency held off on raising the youth fare and the senior and disabled fare, it would lose about $160,000 of that anticipated revenue. Hingson acknowledged the loss of revenue wouldn’t be a “significant loss” to Everett Transit.
Fares represent about 8 percent of the agency’s revenue.
The agency last raised fares in 2009. During the past few years, Everett Transit went through its reserves to avoid cutting service.
The rest of the council and Mayor Ray Stephanson said the fare increase is needed to cover the agency’s costs.
Councilman Shannon Affholter supported the fare increase because social services would be able to help people out. Councilman Arlan Hatloe agreed.
After the meeting, Hatloe called Gipson’s concern “making a mountain out of a molehill.”
Two riders spoke on the fare increase before the council.
Disabled rider Adrian Patayon said he can afford the increase, but many others on fixed incomes cannot.
“25 cents is not that much, but I know people … who rely on the bus,” Patayon said. “We are all on a fixed income.”
Senior rider Gary Hatle said the agency can’t say people are abusing the system as a reason to raise fares because nobody’s supervising for abuse.
“I have never seen a driver ask for ID,” Hatle said. The drivers let people on without paying, he said. “It’s unfair. I don’t think seniors and the disabled should have to pay.”
The drivers are trained not to argue with passengers and check for ID only sometimes, Hingson said.
Gipson was disappointed after the meeting.
“Absolutely. We’re supposed to protect the people, and we’re spending a lot on (Swift),” Gipson said.
Hatloe criticized some of the public’s comments. People need to pay to use the service, Hatloe said.
“Hatle, what’s his deal? He rides for free anyway,” Hatloe said.
The agency will conduct a public information campaign to alert the public of the fare increase. As part of that, Everett Transit will be giving out 1,300 free ORCA regional bus cards loaded with $1 in fare. An ORCA card normally costs $5.
To get a free ORCA card, people will have to show proof of residency at the customer service desk at Everett Station. The customer service desk will open on the following weekends just to give out the cards. The dates are Nov. 8-9 and Nov. 17-18.
ORCA cards won’t be handed out on buses.
Check out our online Publications!