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Kitsap Transit budget won’t cover cost of new buses

POULSBO — In three years, Kitsap Transit needs to begin replacing its bus fleet, but does not have the projected budget to bear the expense.

Additionally, in 2012 the state Legislature passed an alternative fuel use requirement in the state code (RCW 43.19.648) that all local government agencies soon must use 100 percent biofuels or another renewable energy source to run public vehicles. Kitsap Transit currently uses clean diesel, but must look into higher-technology buses and a different fuel source by 2018.

Executive Director John Clauson is coming to the public with the agency’s six-year transit development plan and its first organization annual report, and asking for help: What do riders and non-riders like about the current transit system, where is there room for improvement, and how can Kitsap Transit pay for these upcoming changes?

“The transit system is owned by the community, really I want to make sure the community understands who we are,” Clauson said.

Kitsap Transit’s revenue comes from area sales tax, fares and operations grants, a large portion of which comes from the Federal Transit Administration. Clauson wants to look at another, more sustainable revenue stream than “volatile” sales tax.

Kitsap Transit previously bought its last fleet between 2003-05 using a $20 million bond. The 45 buses each had a 12-year life expectancy. Clauson would prefer to phase in the purchase of new buses, to “flatten out” the costs over many years and be able to introduce new technology sooner, he said.

Based on current budget assumptions — the cost of buses and fuel today — Kitsap Transit will have higher expenses than revenue by 2016. That is the year he will need to replace at least seven large buses, Clauson said. The buses are projected to cost Kitsap Transit $400,000. By 2019, Kitsap Transit is projecting to spend another $1.3 million on replacing the fleet.

To accommodate the state’s vehicle efficiency demands, Clauson said agency staff have begun researching different vehicle models and what kind of fuel will work for Kitsap.

Fuel options beginning in 2018 include ultra-low sulfur diesel, biodiesel, biofuel, compressed natural gas, liquid natural gas, propane, electric, hybrid electric and fuel cells. Some of those options are difficult to factor in; propane is a current fuel source, but has not been vetted for heavy duty vehicles, Clauson said. Compressed natural gas is an option, but cannot be carried in fuel trucks to refuel buses in rural zones, and building a CNG fuel station in the north end would costs millions of dollars.

The public meetings were also an effort to survey the public on Kitsap Transit’s service, Clauson said.

“I’m trying to provide a little higher level of transparency for the transit system than what we’ve done in the past,” he said.

Kitsap Transit conducted a phone survey, and asked folks at the public meeting to rank what operations are most important to them; such as frequency of service, expanded service and routes, and security at shelters.

“[There’s] not a lot of funding, this is not something we’re able to do real soon,” Clauson said. But the agency is looking five to 10 years in the future, “Where should we be at least looking at for things that might include service expansion.”

For example, he said, if the community wanted Sunday service reinstated, that would be a [higher] implication on the fleet and staffing. If the community wanted more buses during the day, “that doesn’t have quite the same demand on the fleet.”

The responses were interesting; he assumed the community would want Sunday service brought back first, Clauson said. But he said two issues ranked highest among phone and meeting surveyors — frequency of mid-day routes and expanded service on weeknights.

“Unless we fix the financial issues, this is theoretical,” he said. Possibly altering the level of service is not included in the six-year budget projections, Clauson said.

A number of people, about half bus riders attended one of the public meetings May 24. Rich Houchen of Poulsbo said he is not a bus rider, but is concerned about how the increased service will affect the budget.

“The rural nature and population density affects the ability of Kitsap Transit to serve those areas,” he said about his north end home. “They need to carefully consider what they can do efficiently to serve the most people.”

It is to be expected that an increase in service will cost more — and she’d like to see an increase in service, said Verde Geil of Poulsbo.

“As with anything, you have to accept the cost,” she said. Geil is low-income and does not have a car; her schedule revolves around the bus schedule. It takes her 45 minutes from her home by Viking Junction to get to her doctor appointments at the North Kitsap Medical Center on Bond Road.

“I’d like to see that our lifestyle is accepted or taken care of,” Geil said. “A lot of low-income people can’t do the things they want. We can’t go to church on Sundays.”

She suggested those with a car experience the bus for a while, and learn of its limitations. She said it’s a “fantastic social experience.”

The public comments will be included in the transit development plan, which must be submitted to the state by September. The Board of Commissioners will review the comments at their July meeting. Kitsap Transit will also publish an annual report for the public in June, available on their website.

 

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