Bus-System Merger Discounted -- Consultant Can See No Savings

A consultant last night dismissed the notion that merging the two Snohomish County bus systems would save money.

There is virtually no service duplication between Everett Transit and Community Transit, and if there were a merger, both staffs would have to be retained, said John Doolittle of Mystic, Conn.

But a merger could speed up construction of rapid transit between Martha Lake and Everett because additional income would be available, Doolittle said.

Merging, which has been discussed periodically by the transit agency boards, has been a politically volatile subject in Everett.

``The City Council of Everett always has had a desire to maintain its own system,'' said Mayor Pete Kinch. ``This shows there is not a financial benefit in merging.''

If development of rapid transit becomes an overriding issue, Kinch added, a merger might be one way to speed construction north of Martha Lake.

``I thought we ought to look toward a merger because it made sense,'' said Lake Stevens Mayor Rich Toyer, vice chairman of the Snohomish County Transportation Authority. ``He says I'm wrong and I can accept that.''

Without merging, both transit systems can reach their long-range plans without any change in the taxing structure, Doolittle said. He said a merger would extend the 0.6 percent sales tax to support transit in the Community Transit area to Everett, doubling the rate now collected in that city, and a combined system would share more money from the state motor-vehicle excise tax.

The extra money would add up to $80 million over 10 years, enough to finance a rapid-transit system's extension to Everett, Doolittle said.

Over the next few years, Metro is considering asking voters to approve a light-rail system from downtown Seattle northward. The first leg is expected to go into the Martha Lake area at about 164th Street. SNOTRAN is responsible for the system in Snohomish County, and it would take a long time to extend it to Everett with the existing revenue available, officials said.

In his study, paid for by the two bus systems and the transportation authority, Doolittle suggested more agreements between the transit systems, development of coordinated service, training, planning and maintenance and a joint capital plan.

One suggestion was joint development of a satellite bus center in north Everett to handle an expanding Everett Transit system and remove maintenance from its current base while saving Community Transit miles of bus driving to get from one route to another.

Such ``deadhead'' driving costs Community Transit 650 miles a day, $350,000 a year, he said.