By Brandon Naff
Buses are key to any type of public transportation system, and in smaller cities such as Bellingham, they’re typically the only public transportation option.
On April 27, 2010, there was a county-wide special election on Proposition 1, which sought approval for a sales tax increase by two-tenths of a percent (approximately 2 cents on every $10 spent), that would go to the Whatcom Transit Authority, or WTA.
“The WTA losing sales tax revenue because of the downturn – that is not something permanent, and yet this was a permanent tax,” said Brett Bonner, spokesperson for the group that campaigned against Proposition 1.
Since the WTA will not be getting their tax increase, they propose cutting bus services by 14 percent, which would limit some routes inside Bellingham, other routes to areas outside Bellingham, and would cut Sunday service entirely.
“To be completely honest I would say that I didn’t really mind them at all because they don’t affect any of the routes I use,” said Jeff Storm, 18, who lives in Lynden. “They are cutting the express bus, which only runs twice a day and I never really use it.”
Ferndale resident Anna Kiceina said that “the cuts would be a nuisance. But I would still get to where I needed to go on time.”
Proposition 1 narrowly failed, with 49.71 percent of voters approving, but still not enough to be a majority.
The data makes sense.
In an area where bus service would be affected the most (Bellingham), the voters wanted to support the WTA by approving a sales tax increase. But in an area like Lynden, where cuts in service would not be as dramatically felt, the voters disapproved of the measure.
The WTA held a public hearing on May 13 to hear public opinions about the proposed 14 percent route cuts.
Many were frustrated with the WTA.
“I think it’s much harder to build that system back after you’ve cut off the limb of the tree,” said Bellingham native Brent Allen in a story by the Bellingham Herald, using trees as a metaphor for service cuts. “We have to look at trimming it back, rather than say ‘Let’s lop off a leg,'”
Bonner, much to the delight of many in the audience, said the WTA just isn’t doing enough to keep busses on the road. “They’d rather protect their own jobs than serve the public they work for,” he proclaimed as many stood up and applauded.
The overall feel at the public hearing was that the WTA should slightly decrease its services, rather than instill wholesale changes like the current proposal suggests.
Meanwhile, amidst all the talk of route cuts to stay on budget, the WTA has purchased eight new buses at a total cost of $3.6 million.