Local View: Voters will determine C-Tran future in 2012

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On Nov. 8, voters said yes to preserving basic bus service for thousands of citizens who rely on C-Tran to get to work, school, shopping and medical appointments throughout the region. They also said yes to expanding C-VAN, C-Tran’s door-to-door paratransit service for Americans with Disabilities Act-qualified individuals who, due to their disabilities, cannot ride C-Tran’s regular bus service. In such hard economic times, this show of support is humbling for those of us who work for C-Tran and reflects, I believe, the strength of the spirit of community in Clark County. Passage of Proposition 1 assures that C-Tran can, for the foreseeable future, fulfill its core mission of providing safe, reliable, efficient bus and paratransit service in its service area.

Now comes Part B. Someday soon, Clark County will return to times of economic prosperity and again grow its population and employment base. What then of our transportation system and its ability to accommodate and strengthen that growth? In 2010, the C-Tran Board of Directors adopted a 20-Year Transit Development Plan that would turn C-Tran into more than a bus system. It envisions a C-Tran willing to provide a palette of services to empower citizens with more and better mobility options and thereby contribute positively to the region’s sustainability, livability and economic vitality.

Significant opportunities

In 2012, the C-Tran Board of Directors will wrestle with two significant opportunities to step into that future: The Columbia River Crossing (CRC) light rail extension into Vancouver and a Fourth Plain Boulevard Transit Improvement Project. While the CRC project and light rail has generated an intense amount of interest and discussion throughout the region, it is important to understand C-Tran’s role in the project and what citizens may be asked for in order to fulfill that part of the agency’s adopted 20 Year Transit Development Plan. In 2008, the C-Tran Board of Directors voted to support the CRC project with two funding-related conditions:

  1. That C-Tran would not have to ask its voters to fund any construction elements of Light Rail Transit (LRT); and …

  2. That C-Tran would ask voters to fund only the Vancouver side’s share of the LRT operations and maintenance costs.

These conditions will keep the costs for local funding of the light rail portion of the CRC project to about $2.57 million per year as identified in the CRC project’s Final Environmental Impact Statement. This would be less than a 0.1 percent C-Tran service-area-wide sales tax increase.

C-Tran’s Fourth Plain Transit Improvement Project would significantly increase ridership by making physical improvements in the corridor to improve trip reliability and reduce travel time. Fourth Plain is the agency’s highest ridership route, with more than 6,000 daily trips, and buses today are over capacity. High volumes of wheelchair and bicycle boardings, feeding of coins into fare boxes, and localized roadway congestion all contribute to buses running behind schedule 30 to 40 percent of the time. Larger buses, upgraded bus stops with level boarding, fare payment on the platforms instead of inside the bus and roadway enhancements that will improve travel times could transform the Fourth Plain corridor into a safer, more walkable and livable community.

In 2011, voters chose to preserve existing levels of public transportation service in Clark County. 2012 will likely witness an opportunity for them to decide on what a future C-Tran might look like.

Jeff Hamm is executive director/CEO of C-Tran.