Community Transit facing even more service cuts for next year

After cutting public transit service 15 percent last summer, including the elimination of Sunday and holiday service, Community Transit will slash its service an additional 20 percent  in February 2012.

The culprit is sluggish sales tax revenues in the Snohomish County, the transit agency said.

“The recession has taken a large toll on public agencies that rely on sales tax revenues,” said Community Transit CEO Joyce Eleanor. “While we expect sales tax revenues to climb slightly this year, we foresee a long, slow economic recovery.”

In 2007, before the recession began, Community Transit collected $76 million in sales tax revenue, its primary funding source. The past two years, sales tax collections have been stuck at about $62 million, Eleanor said. Community Transit collects a voter-approved 0.9 percent tax on retail sales in its Snohomish County service district, the maximum allowed by the state.

“These cuts are necessary to keep our agency sustainable, so that we can provide transportation for Snohomish County residents far into the future,” she said.

The 2012 service cut will equal about 80,000 hours of service, roughly the same amount of service that was cut in 2010.

“By this time next year we will have cut about a third of the service and about a third of the employees that we had at the beginning of 2010,” Eleanor said.

In the last three years, Community Transit has cut about $29 million in program and administrative expenses, raised fares twice, deferred projects and purchases, and cut service by 15 percent.

More than 100 positions have been eliminated at the agency so far due to budget cuts.

“We are making this announcement now so that we can involve the public in a conversation on how our service should be restructured,” Eleanor said. Read the full speech in the “Message from the CEO.”

On June 2, Community Transit will release to the public three alternatives for achieving the 20 percent cut. Two of those alternatives will focus on reducing the frequency of trips, while a third alternative will propose a complete restructuring of bus service in Snohomish County. At least one of the alternatives will restore a skeletal level of Sunday service, which will mean deeper cuts the rest of the week.

Details of the proposals will be available in June on the agency’s website. Throughout the month of June, the agency will take public comment on the alternatives at five community open house meetings and a dozen rider forums and bus ride-alongs.

On July 7, the Community Transit Board of Directors will hold a public hearing on the three alternatives. The board is expected to take action on a final service cut scenario in September. The cuts will take effect on Feb. 19, 2012.

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