Join transit agencies to save, says study

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Consolidating Snohomish County's two public-transit agencies would save taxpayers more than $1.7 million a year, according to a study released yesterday.

Combining Community Transit and Everett Transit could also result in additional annual savings of up to $200,000 by combining bus routes, according to the study commissioned by Community Transit.

But the idea of consolidation could be tough to sell to Everett Transit officials, who in the past have opposed it. Community Transit is proposing the move, in part, as a potential cost-cutting move for both transit agencies.

The study, conducted by consultants Porter & Associates of Seattle, found that the savings resulting from consolidation could result in an 18 percent increase in new transit service in Everett and would provide better bus-route connections. It also said a consolidated board of directors for the single transit agency would allow the interests of both Everett and county riders to be heard.

"The report looks rather promising," said Community Transit executive director Joyce Olson. "I'm not surprised, of course."

Everett Transit officials as well as Everett Mayor Ed Hansen yesterday afternoon said they had not seen the study and could not comment on its findings.

Ken Housden, Everett's director of transportation services, said a similar study was being done for his transit agency but wouldn't be completed for two more weeks.

Hansen yesterday reiterated the concerns the city has had with consolidation, which include the potential loss of local control and forcing Everett residents to help pay for transit service in other parts of the county. The biggest concern, he added, may be the likely tax increase Everett residents would have to pay.

Community Transit collects a 0.6 percent sales tax within its service area, double Everett's sales tax for transit. In addition, Community Transit this year will ask voters to approve a 0.3 percent increase in its sales tax, Olson said.

The new report characterizes the tax increase for Everett residents as minimal. It also claims additional sales tax "could be applied efficiently and effectively by one system serving the entire area."

It further states that the consolidation would not result in layoffs of bus drivers. Any driver surpluses could be managed through normal attrition, the report says.

In the past, Everett has steered away from serious discussions of giving up its autonomous bus system. Legislative bills aimed at merging the two agencies were introduced - but not passed - in 1992, 1994 and last year.

But adding impetus to the discussion has been the funding hits both agencies face as a result of the passage of Initiative 695. The initiative cost Community Transit about $18 million per year, or about 30 percent of its operating budget, Olson said. Everett Transit's hit will be much smaller, about $5 million to $6 million over a five-year period, said Dennis Bloom, Everett Transit's transportation systems manager. The percentage of the budget was not available.

The findings of a telephone poll released in September showed Everett voters supported the notion of a combined bus agency. But 65 percent of the poll respondents leaned against a combined agency if their taxes would increase, according to the poll commissioned by the city of Everett.

Community Transit leaders were unhappy with the poll, saying the sales-tax issue "poisoned" the poll. One board member said Everett's sales tax couldn't be increased without a vote by residents.

Olson said copies of the consolidation study have been sent to Mayor Hansen and Everett Transit.