February 4, 2013 in City

Getting There: Cash-short transit agencies seek help

By The Spokesman-Review
 
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Public transit officials in Washington are reaching out to state lawmakers, asking for new funding to help alleviate their troubled finances.

Transit agencies in Pierce and Snohomish counties are facing cuts of service on nights, off-commute hours and weekends.

King County’s Metro system is operating on a two-year temporary motor vehicle license fee with no guarantee that that funding will continue after next year.

Spokane Transit Authority has already cut 10 percent from its budget, mainly by eliminating lesser-used routes, even as ridership is on the rise.

STA has redirected resources to major routes where full buses with standing passengers have become common.

The Washington State Transit Association recently announced a Keep Transit Moving! coalition to urge lawmakers to consider the need for more transit funding.

Susan Meyer, president of the transit association and the CEO of Spokane Transit, said the state needs to find a way to keep buses rolling because transit is integral to healthy communities.

“Everybody should have an interest in a smooth-moving transit system,” including motorists, she said.

Buses reduce traffic congestion, serve people with lower incomes, get college students to and from school, and provide workers with a way to get to their jobs, she said.

Business leaders in Washington are supporting additional transit funding.

Transit availability has become a factor in recruiting new businesses to Spokane, Meyer said.

While transit systems need $2.5 billion in funding over a 10-year period, transit officials realize that the Legislature likely won’t be able to produce that kind of money.

Instead, they are asking for $400 million a year for transit as part of a broader package of new funding for state highways, city streets, county roads and ferries.

In addition, local transit agencies are asking for the ability to raise money through a local vehicle license fee.

Meyer said she would only support the license fee option with voter approval.

Trouble in transit traces back more than a decade, when voters eliminated the former motor vehicle excise tax, which had provided a large share of transit funding.

To replace that money, transit agencies were given authority to seek a sales tax of up to 0.9 cents on the dollar. STA currently is collecting 0.6 cents.

Four Western Washington agencies, including Metro in King County, are at the maximum sales tax amount and are facing future cuts to fend off increased costs.

The funding crisis is preventing transit systems from building for future growth in ridership, officials said.

House Transportation Committee Chair Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, is working on a broad transportation package that would raise gasoline taxes by a dime over five years, increase annual vehicle license fees and collect other new fees.

Among them is a fee on vehicles with fuel economy of 40 miles per gallon or greater, including electric vehicles.

Transit would share in the funding. So-called “mega projects” such as the North Spokane Corridor would also get some of that money under Clibborn’s plan.

But getting the full House and Senate to support such a proposal may be difficult in a weak economy, officials said.

Turbine Center buying Felts Field buildings

The Spokane Turbine Center is purchasing two buildings at Felts Field for $280,000 to house its aircraft training operations. The buildings are part of the history of Felts Field, having served as home of the National Guard at one time. The building purchases are accompanied with a 50-year lease for the ground beneath them.

The center offers training to missionary pilots on the 10-seat Kodiak turboprop airplane that is built by Quest Aircraft Co. in Sandpoint.

Sale of the buildings will ensure that Spokane Turbine Center remains an employer in Spokane for years to come, said Larry Krauter, CEO and airport director in Spokane.

County commissioners and the Spokane City Council each approved a joint resolution authorizing the sale last week.

Survey finds drivers don’t clear off windows

Seventeen percent of drivers in Washington and 24 percent of drivers in Oregon don’t fully scrape their windows before driving off on icy days, according to a recent poll conducted for PEMCO Insurance.

Many drivers are unaware that not fully scraping windshields could lead to a traffic ticket, PEMCO said in a news release last week.

The poll also found that 63 percent of drivers start heating up their cars prior to using an ice scraper.

Some of those drivers may even return to their homes and wait for the interior of the car to warm.

Those vehicles are theft targets. Spokane police recently sent out a warning to drivers, cautioning them against the practice.

According to PEMCO, “Washington state law requires drivers to stop their car’s engine, lock the ignition, remove the keys and set the brake before leaving a vehicle unattended.” 


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