The C-Tran Board of Directors on Tuesday took the unusual step of excluding one of its own members from a closed executive session on a lawsuit against the transit agency.
The board voted 5-3 to disallow Clark County Councilor David Madore from participating in the closed discussion of the complaint, which mirrors a legal action that the county previously threatened to take but never did. Instead, a group of citizens filed a lawsuit last month alleging C-Tran violated public meeting laws when a special committee rearranged the membership of the C-Tran board last fall.
The action came during a meeting in which the board also voted to raise bus fares for the eighth year in a row, boosting the cost of some rides by a nickel.
Madore called the action to shut him out of the executive session “totally inappropriate, if not illegal.” The move excluded Madore from a discussion of a lawsuit in which he and all C-Tran board members are named as defendants.
Clark County Councilor Jeanne Stewart voluntarily recused herself from the executive session, in part citing the complicated nature of the situation. At issue was whether information shared in the closed-door session would create a conflict or leave C-Tran vulnerable to a legal threat that the Clark County didn’t act on, but technically never rescinded, either.
At one point, Vancouver City Councilor Jack Burkman asked Madore if he believed he was acting “without even the appearance” of impropriety.
“Absolutely,” Madore replied.
Madore was asked multiple times to recuse himself from the discussion. When he refused, the board voted to exclude him. Stewart abstained from that vote.
Fares to increase
The board’s 7-2 vote on a fare hike Tuesday means the single-ride adult fare in Clark County will cost $1.80, up from $1.75. The honored/youth fare for seniors, youth riders and others will jump from 85 cents to 90 cents. The cost of some monthly passes will also go up, as will the price of C-Tran’s premium Express routes. That service will now cost $3.85 for a single ride, a 10-cent increase, and $125 for a monthly pass, up from $122.
The changes will take effect Sept. 1.
Only Madore and Washougal City Councilor Connie Jo Freeman voted against the increases.
“I don’t think this is something that should be done just because it’s policy,” Freeman said.
Since 2008, C-Tran has implemented a strategy of regular but gradual fare increases as a way to help cover costs but lessen the sudden impact to ridership. The transit agency has acknowledged, however, that even small fare hikes have an impact on ridership, which has dipped for C-Tran in recent years.
Passenger fares bring in about 15 percent of C-Tran’s total budgeted revenue. The majority of the transit agency’s funding — about three-quarters — comes from sales taxes. The rest comes from grants and other sources.
BRT resolution passes
The board also approved a resolution that would allow C-Tran to use its eminent domain power to secure property for a planned bus rapid transit line in Vancouver. The $53 million system, “The Vine,” is scheduled to begin construction this summer.
C-Tran is in the process of acquiring property along the route, which stretches primarily along the city’s Fourth Plain corridor between the Westfield Vancouver mall and downtown. The resolution passed by the board Tuesday would allow C-Tran to use eminent domain to acquire easements on property to the south of the mall if negotiations with the two owners — Westfield Corp. and Sears & Roebuck — falter.
C-Tran says it doesn’t expect to use that power to obtain the easements, which will be used to relocate the existing transit center at the mall as part of the BRT project. The eminent domain authorization is something of a backup plan, said C-Tran planning and development director Scott Patterson.
“It provides a level of certainty in terms of the project being able to move forward,” Patterson said.
Brent Carson, an attorney representing Westfield, said the company intends to work toward an agreement with C-Tran that won’t require the use of eminent domain, and has “no problem” with the resolution approved Tuesday.