Proposition 1, to significantly boost Community Transit bus service, would bring the total sales-tax rate to 9.8 percent in much of south Snohomish County, leapfrogging Seattle’s 9.6 percent.

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Community Transit supporters are asking voters to approve the highest transit sales tax in the state, by promising frequent bus service to a booming population.

Proposition 1 would raise the tax rate 0.3 percentage points, bringing the total sales tax to 9.8 percent in much of south Snohomish County, leapfrogging Seattle’s 9.6 percent.

When the recession struck last decade, Community Transit hung on by slashing service and cutting Sunday trips entirely. Now that happier days are here again, the agency and elected officials aren’t content to restore lost service, which they’re already doing. They hope to transform lifestyle and housing patterns, by making public transit options abundant.

Proposition 1 (Community Transit)

The ballot measure in urban areas of Snohomish County would increase the sales tax by 0.3 percent, to fund more bus service. Here are the basic arguments:

Pro

• Transit service must become more frequent and available, for the area to cope with rapid growth.

• Proposed Swift 2 bus-rapid transit corridor, Bothell to Paine Field, offers a good fit for people with moderate incomes in apartment clusters.

• The agency showed financial discipline by reducing service in the recession, then restoring service when income improved.

Con

• Only 3 percent of residents use Community Transit, but all shoppers in the transit district pay taxes to subsidize their trips.

• Community Transit spends $168 per hour to operate local routes, among the highest cost in the state.

• Sales-tax increase Community Transit would be a burden on families and small businesses.

Sources: Snohomish County Elections online voter pamphlet; Mukilteo Mayor Jennifer Gregerson; Citizens for Efficient Transit Spending.

At least two more Swift bus-rapid transit lines would run every 12 minutes, at new stations, to improve on sluggish local buses. Other buses would finally run on the neglected Highway 9 corridor.

The pitch isn’t all that different from Seattle, where voters passed a $60 car-tab fee and 0.1 percent sales tax last year, to buy more-frequent bus service from King County Metro Transit. A Proposition 1 win would result in a 1.2 percent sales tax just for Community Transit.

The agency’s vision amounts to bringing urban-quality transit to a grown-up county.

A passage in next year’s proposed budget says: “Families will opt to have only one automobile or none as public transportation will be such a wonderful experience that it will become the mode of choice. We will all “think transit first”!

Mukilteo Mayor Jennifer Gregerson, campaign chairwoman for Community Transit Now, said young adults who grew up in the area can better afford to stay, if they save money by taking transit.

“We can’t build enough roads,” she said. There’s not enough physical space, especially for commuters.”

An estimated 40 percent of Snohomish County workers who commute into King County do so on public buses, Community Transit says.

Local politicians, led by Sen. Marko Liias, D-Lynnwood, have sought higher local taxing authority, and finally got it from the Legislature this year. Proposition 1 is the result.

At least six legislators and seven mayors have endorsed Proposition 1, along with business and labor groups.

Opposition campaign

The opposition Citizens for Efficient Transit Spending posted a website but has reported zero campaign donations.

It’s led by Jeff Sherrer of Edmonds, who ran as a Republican for the state Legislature last year and says he’ll run in the future.

The website argues everyone pays taxes to subsidize the 3 percent who ride the agency’s buses, which are among the state’s most expensive to operate, at $168 per hour for local routes.

“Why pay higher taxes to support a shoddy transit system in Snohomish County?” they say.

Small businesses worry not only about the cost of Proposition 1, Sherrer said, but a an expected Sound Transit request next year that could include property, sales and car-tab taxes.

Normal growth in sales-tax income, estimated at 4.5 percent per year, ought to be enough, Sherrer said. “They don’t have to do anything but let the economy improve, and they will realize increased revenues.”

Proposition 1 would add $25 million per year, with an average increase of $33 in sales taxes per adult per year, the agency estimates.

Not everybody would pay as much as 9.8 percent in total sales tax. For instance, the overall rate would be 9.5 percent in Everett, which has a lower local sales tax. Outlying communities such as Arlington that pay for Community Transit don’t pay the 0.9 percent sales tax to Sound Transit. In Mill Creek, where there is a 0.1 percent public safety tax, residents would pay 9.9 percent.

Ballots sent to the 313,445 voters in the transit district must be postmarked by Nov. 3. The entire county’s population of 757,600 has grown one-fourth since 2000, and an additional 240,000 residents are expected by 2040.

In the last major transit-tax vote, 54 percent of urban Snohomish County residents supported Sound Transit’s 2008 request for a 0.4 percent sales-tax increase, to bring light rail to Mountlake Terrace and Lynnwood by 2023, and increase ST Express buses. Community Transit’s territory is wider and may include more fiscally conservative voters.

Swifter buses

Proposition 1 dollars would fund a Swift 2 bus-rapid transit line, in 2018, running from north Bothell to Mill Creek, McCollum Park, the Mariner area, and Paine Field. The Highway 9 corridor linking Silver Firs to Snohomish, Lake Stevens and Marysville.

Bus schedules and routes would change in 2023 to carry commuters to the Lynnwood Transit Center, when Sound Transit light-rail arrives that year. The plan includes Swift 3 service east-west, from Edmonds to Lynnwood and Mill Creek.

Proposition 1 could improve mobility in the county’s pervasive and often overlooked “suburban clusters” — neighborhoods of two, three, and four-story wood-framed apartment houses, identified in groundbreaking research by University of Washington professor Anne Vernez Moudon.

They’re dense, ethnically diverse, and serve more lower-income workers.

“Their internal world revolves around a maze of driveways and parking lots,” Moudon found.

At last count, there were more than 100 suburban clusters in the Puget Sound region, each home to 2,000 to 10,000 people within walking distance of retailers, Moudon said this week. Yet they’re often isolated by roads or fences, so residents drive for even simple errands.

Suburban clusters potentially create an ideal market for bus-rapid transit, because sidewalk stations can be built next to clusters: along Highway 527 for Swift 2, or across 164th Avenue Southwest for Swift 3.

Mukilteo Mayor Gregerson, a former student of Moudon’s, hopes to reduce congestion by making it unnecessary for cluster residents to drive to park-and-ride lots.

Residents would have another way to reach shops and health clinics. This is already happening on the six-year-old Swift 1, which carries 5,500 riders a day in a 17-mile Highway 99 corridor. New homes are sprouting near the highway.

“You can’t deny that Swift being there has made these apartments more attractive,” said Community Transit board Chairman Mike Todd, a Mill Creek city council member. “People are using Swift because it’s fast enough and frequent. Very few people are riding the whole corridor.”

Todd said Mill Creek would focus on easy walking from roadside apartments to Swift 2 stops. “Adding a few permanent sidewalks or gates where the natural migration paths start to appear will probably be in the cards,” he said.

High-occupancy lanes exist already for the Swift 2 segment along Airport Road, from Paine Field to Highway 99 and almost to I-5. To get buses through the crowded I-5 overpass, east-west traffic signals would be changed to give a head start to buses on 128th Street Southwest, said spokesman Martin Munguia.

Lynnwood is studying bus lanes on 196th Street Southwest, where Swift 3 might run.

Sherrer said he accepts the need for quality transit but objects to high costs.

Opponents cite operating statistics that show Community Transit’s local buses cost $169 per hour to operate, carry 18 riders per hour, for an average $9.10 per passenger.

Munguia responds that opponents are cherry-picking the data. He said service to local cities and towns understandably costs more per user than busy commute lines or a King County Metro bus in Seattle.

The long-distance commuter buses, including Double Tall vehicles, run mostly full, costing $7.62 per boarding, offset by premium rider fares of $4.25 or $5.50.

Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Curtis King, R-Yakima, took the unusual step of endorsing a yes vote in an op-ed in The (Everett) Herald.

“Several other transit agencies only wanted to stress all of the cuts that would have to be made and threats of unimaginable doom. Community Transit addressed the challenges of lower revenues the same way any business would have. That is impressive,” he writes.

King rewarded Community Transit by supporting the legislation to allow the highest sales-tax rate among local bus agencies.