WA: Twin Transit Cuts Commuter Route and All Sunday Service

July 26--The Twin Transit Board addressed its recent budget woes Thursday morning by cutting the newly implemented Capital Commuter route to Tumwater and all service on Sunday.

The service reductions will likely go into effect by Labor Day.

A 40 percent increase in paratransit service, a door-to-door pickup for people with disabilities, left Twin Transit more than $100,000 over budget this year. Each paratransit ride costs Twin Transit $27, compared to $5 for a regular fixed-route.

In order to balance the budget, the board decided Thursday to approve the service reductions.

"There was reluctance to cut service. Nobody ever wants to cut bus service, but there is a financial decision that needed to be done," General Manager Rob LaFontaine said.

The Twin Transit Board -- comprised of Lewis County Commissioner Bill Schulte, Chehalis City Councilor Chad Taylor and Centralia City Councilor John Elmore -- considered public comment before cutting the services.

Elmore said the board will work to expand service on Saturday to make up for no Sunday service. In addition, the board is planning to submit a state grant application this fall to possibly fund the commuter route.

Compared to other service reduction options, Elmore said, cutting the commuter route and Sunday service would not have the same impact on most local riders.

"My decision was based on the fact that Twin Transit is made to address the Twin Cities first," Elmore said. "We have to take care of home first."

While the board works to bring back the cut services, it is also working to streamline its costly paratransit service. Elmore said the board is researching computer software that would better schedule paratransit pickups and dropoffs. Currently, paratransit riders have to call in for a reservation to be picked up.

"It could do multiple pickups and drop offs at the same time," Elmore said. "We really want to make it as efficient as possible."

LaFontaine said the board is extremely interested in supporting the recent paratransit growth.

"It's not just that we are recognizing it's growing, but we are trying to come up with strategies to help the growth," LaFontaine said.

Later this fall, the board will approve its six-year plan that will address its goals for potential grant funding to bring back the commuter and Sunday service.

The state Regional Mobility Grant provided by the state Legislature would provide 80 percent of the funding needed for the commuter route for four years. Other than grant money, Twin Transit's primary funding source is a 0.2 percent local transit sales tax. It is not a countywide taxing district, rather the taxing boundaries are limited to the incorporated city limits of both Centralia and Chehalis, according to Twin Transit.

"Unfortunately we don't have enough funds to support everything we are doing right now," LaFontaine said.

Copyright 2014 - The Chronicle, Centralia, Wash.