As a local leader, I work to improve regional mobility in support of our local businesses and working families. So I’ve kept an open mind as Island Transit has taken a fresh look at charging fares.
I’ve studied the report, reviewed the data, and listened carefully to all the public comments. If charging fares improved mobility, added service, stabilized the budget or improved our island communities in other ways, I’d be willing to consider it.
However, at this time, adding fares will do none of these things. Instead it is expected to reduce ridership by 30-40 percent, lessen predictability on routes, increase cars on the roads, bridges, and in the ferry lines, while further stretching our social safety net.
Here’s what the study shows: Fares will generate about $200,000 per year, require $300,000 in one-time costs to implement, and have over $100,000 in yearly costs.
The best-case increase in revenue after three years is only about 2 percent of the total annual transit budget.
Though the numbers are expected to slowly improve over time, it is just not enough to substantially add service or stabilize the transit agency’s budget during a future economic downturn.
Island Transit is financially healthy now, with a $10 million fund balance. This cash provides another way to diversify the revenue stream without collecting fares.
As a member of the financial committee, I have recommended the board increase prudent investments to gain additional interest income, as an alternative revenue source. In a time when affordable housing is scarce, housing costs are rising, and working families are struggling, needlessly adding to the price of vital transit services is not the right thing to do. Though there are political pressures to charge fares, there are not state requirements to do so.
I’ve heard overwhelming concern from most community members about this big change for the agency and the environmental impacts it will produce.
In 2009, over 56 percent of Island County voters agreed to tax themselves to the maximum allowed in order to maintain fare-free transit service. Before overriding this majority vote, and a 30 year tradition, this Board member would want a lot more community benefit than what the current data shows.
The Transit Board will consider this action on Friday, June 22, 9:30 a.m. in Coupeville. You can offer your comments via email at email@example.com or at the public meeting.
• Johnson is the District 1 Island County commissioner