Last night, the Everett City Council passed changes to its transit ordinance in response to recently approved legislation in Washington state, known as Move Ahead Washington.
The new law allows direct distribution of funds to reimburse transit agencies for any expense, operation or capital. The catch is that the funds are only available to agencies that adopt a policy of free, on all modes, for young people 18 and under.
Everett Transit currently collects less than $100,000 a year in youth fares. In exchange for allowing all youth 18 and under to travel free on all modes, the state will provide direct funding to Everett Transit.
Everett Transit will receive:
• $758,427 between October 1, 2022 and June 30, 2023
• $2 million per year thereafter (based on previous year’s operating expenses)
Council member Paula Rhyne proposed changes to the ordinance that would have provided free fares for people 21 and under instead of 18 as well as free fares for veterans as part of this package. These amendments were rejected by a majority of board members who said they did not want to confuse the issue by having one set of rules for passengers in Everett only and another for those who can transfer to other modes. or agencies, including Sound Transit, Washington State Ferries, or Community Transportation.
Council Chair Brenda Stonecipher asked city administrators to review the logistics of free fares for veterans and other runners as part of a separate proposal and to come back to council at a later date with that information. .
Everett Transit currently captures only about 4% of its costs from fares paid by riders. Before the pandemic, this figure was only 7%. Everett Transit manager Tom Hingson told the board that Everett had never exceeded ten percent in recovering fare boxes.
The new fare rules are due to come into force on July 1, which should allow children aged 18 and under to ride the bus for free this summer. There are plans to issue a free pass for young people 18 and under. Once the pass holder turns 19, the pass will convert to an adult pass modeled after an Orca card and will need to be loaded with funds. Other products for those who cannot afford full price are in development.
Meanwhile, the City of Everett, Everett Transit and Community Transit are working together to design what is called a collaborative study process that could outline a plan for Everett to join Community Transit’s Transit Benefit Area (PTBA). With Board approval, the joint study would inform a potential ballot action for Everett voters to consider moving forward with a merger between Everett Transit and Community Transit. This work should take a few years.