Opinion

Viewpoints

"Eleven reasons to vote for TransitBy Saranell DeChambeauAs you know, Island Transit lost 60 percent of its funding as a result of the passage of Initiative 695 (the other 40 percent comes from local sales tax). Even though the initiative has since been declared unconstitutional, the Legislature has promised it will not go back on the $30 license tabs (MVET), where Island Transit derived this 60 percent. Governor Locke recently signed a bill that specifically eliminates MVET and retains the $30 fee despite any court overrule.There has been much talk in the legislature of bridge money for transit throughout the state. This bridge money is only a Band-Aid for transit; a one time shot, not a continuous flow of revenue. The purpose of this Band-Aid is to give transit districts some operating money to get them through until a local fix can be found. This money would only see Island Transit through a few short months.At a special Island Transit Board meeting held March 29, the Board of Island Transit passed a resolution to place an issue on the May 16 ballot to raise the amount of local sales tax collected in Island County for Island Transit (an additional 3/10 of 1 percent on every taxable purchase in Island County, which equates to 3 cents on every 10 dollars, or 30 cents on every $100). A yes vote on this issue would allow us to maintain our wonderful transit system and, most importantly, to keep local Island County tax dollars in Island County, to benefit local citizens.Without a yes vote on May 16, Island Transit service will be cut by 50 percent in July.It is also important for people to realize that Island Transit is not -- and never has been -- funded by property taxes. Island Transit has an influence on all of our lives, whether we are riders or not. Here are:Eleven reasons to vote yes for transit on May 161. Local concurrency laws: As mandated by the state, counties must provide an adequate transportation infrastructure for their population (i.e., transit, etc.). Island County currently has several roads/areas that have failed or are rapidly failing. If a county cannot provide such infrastructure, the issuance of all building permits cease. This will have a great impact on our local economy -- to anyone who wants to sell, build or renovate a home; to local developers and contractors. And the trickle-down effect will hit each and every one of us. Is the answer a four-lane highway, or better/more transit service?2. Our local economy: Island Transit currently employs some 70 people with families .... our friends and neighbors. These people, in turn, purchase goods and services in our communities. There are also many businesses that rely on Island Transit for revenue, and many businesses that rely on Island Transit to get tourists to their locations (i.e., bed & breakfasts, etc.). These tourists also purchase local taxable goods which help pay for our transit system.3. Our children: Island County is an open enrollment county, which allows families to choose which school they want to send their children to, and Island Transit helps them get there. There are also many homeschoolers who take transit to the public school system for certain parts of their curriculum; kids who attend our several alternative schools; the Southend school district which relies on Island Transit to get students to and from the Maxwelton Salmon Adventure; college students; kids going to and from sports, music, and many other after school activities. Many of our children rode Island Transit on Saturdays (which was cut December, 1999), and these kids can now be seen walking and/or hitchhiking on 525, which is beyond dangerous. A yes vote will restore Saturday service.4. Our elderly and disabled folks: Island Transit has an outstanding service for our elderly and disabled population. These folks schedule service to get to doctors, hospitals, pharmacies, and grocery stores. Island Transit is a lifeline for many of these people. They don't want to be a burden on their families, friends and neighbors. They value their independence like everyone else, and any cuts to this service are an absolute crime. In fact, Island Transit is ranked THE MOST EFFICIENT transit system in our entire state for this service. And this service is like an insurance policy for you as well. You never know when you may become disabled or unable to drive. If that day comes, Island Transit will be there for you, too.5. On-island traffic: In years past, winter traffic on Whidbey and Camano was relatively quiet and sparse. Have you noticed this has not been the case this year? It's only going to get worse -- especially without transit. Every week you read of more and more accidents, many of them fatal.6. Ferry lines: Ferry lines during certain parts of the day can be horrible ... imagine all those Island Transit commuters in their own vehicles.7. The environment: Yes, we love our islands, and yes, transit does make a difference in helping preserve our environment by taking cars off the road.8. Most efficient use of our tax dollars: If we all had to pay the true costs associated with owning cars -- payments, insurance and maintenance along with the full brunt of gasoline and road subsidies -- we would ALL be walking ... or riding the bus. Transit subsidization does not come close to automobile subsidization. For every $1 spent operating a vehicle, approximately $2.61 worth of costs are generated that society bears. Government costs fall in between private and social costs. They are those that are borne by local, regional, state and federal governments to provide and maintain the infrastructure necessary for automobile use. There are less visible forms of government support for vehicle use as well. This includes the portion for police, fire, and justice expenditures that go toward meeting the many requirements of automobile users.9. No free lunch: Island Transit is fare free and prepaid by local sales tax. We ALL contribute to the system (even visitors) just as we do for other community services, like libraries. The system also helps those on welfare -- many who cannot afford transportation -- to transition themselves in the workplace. They have a way to work, to the store, to daycare. Women and children in abusive situations can move to a shelter on the bus line and use the transit to regain and/or maintain their independence, and stability.It has been proven that fares do not make sense or money -- especially for small to medium sized systems. The costs associated with collecting fares are far more than the amount Island Transit could collect. Island Transit would actually be in the hole -- would be losing money -- if fares were collected (i.e., farebox purchase and maintenance; training; accounting; special bank accounts and auditing costs; not to mention loss of travel time to meet the ferries ... the list goes on and on.) Collecting fares would be the easiest fix ... if it actually worked. Don't you think Island Transit would have instituted a fare structure long ago if there was any money to be made?10. A vision for the future: This was to have been the year for transportation in Washington state. Over a decade of planning has gone into connecting the different modes ... buses to ferries to trains to airports. These plans have come to a screeching halt, and the setback will be devastating. On a local level, Island Transit's vision for the future includes mini-harbor stations (like in Oak Harbor); beautiful transit hubs in Clinton ... Langley ... Freeland ... Greenbank ... Camano ... where people can catch the bus, and connect with inter-island water taxis to get them where they need to go without their car. Transit is the future.And if, by some miracle, two, three or five years from now, the Legislature were to find money for transit, think of the possibilities. Island County citizens could have the enhanced service they have been requesting for years --- like later night service; Sunday service; service for special county events, and a reestablished Mount Vernon connection. Transit is the future.11. Our community: We are a wonderful, diverse community, and we owe it to ourselves, and each other, to work together. Whether young or old, rich, poor or working class. It doesn't matter your profession, nationality or political party. Community = caring = working together for the common good.Please vote yes for transit on May 16.Saranell DeChambeau is Chairman of S.O.S. -- Save Our System, Citizens for Island Transit."

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