PORT TOWNSEND — When she looks toward the new year, Jefferson Transit finance manager Sara Crouch calls herself “terminally optimistic.”
She will present the transit authority’s 2021 budget to the board of directors in a public meeting, via jeffersontransit.com, at 1:30 p.m. Dec. 15.
Jefferson Transit’s $5,929,267 operations budget for next year is a 1 percent increase over 2020. It comes with plans for continued fare-free service on almost all routes, with the exception of a new bus to connect with the passenger-only fast ferry from Kingston to Seattle.
“We’re hoping by July to have something in place: a run in the morning and a run in the afternoon,” Crouch said in an interview Friday.
At the onset of the pandemic, Jefferson Transit reduced service by 60 percent; ridership “just kind of tanked,” she said.
Nov. 2 brought restoration of full service, but passengers have been slow to return to the system’s nine fixed routes, which serve west and east Jefferson County plus Sequim and Poulsbo.
In fall 2019, some 770 people rode the buses each day, Monday through Saturday. This November, the average was 320 to 340, according to Mobility Operations Manager Miranda Nash.
Since Gov. Jay Inslee’s stricter mandates Nov. 15, Nash also saw a decrease in Dial-a-Ride passengers, from about 25 to 16 daily.
“The people who use Dial-a-Ride are a more vulnerable population,” she said.
“People are being more cautious, and that’s good.”
Crouch noted Jefferson Transit has received $2,335,924 in Coronavirus Aid Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act aid, which helped avert layoffs of drivers when service was cut back.
Transit operators were reassigned to other duties, she said.
Two customer service workers were laid off, Crouch added, as the customer service lobby at Haines Place was closed to the public.
For the rural bus service, little operating revenue comes from fares. A budget chart shows sales tax provides three-quarters of that funding, with federal and state grants supplying another 24 percent.
Sales tax is projected to rise 3 percent in the coming year, according to the 2021 budget.
“We’re not planning to reinstitute fares,” Crouch said.
“The in-town runs and the other runs will all be fare-free for the foreseeable future,” except for the planned route to the Kingston fast ferry, which she said will be expensive to start.
Crouch and Jefferson Transit General Manager Tammi Rubert emphasized efforts to keep buses clean for passengers and drivers.
“We want people to feel safe coming back to transit,” said Rubert, “and we invite people to talk to us about what they feel would help them feel safe.”
The customer service phone number is 360-385-4777; email is [email protected].
Rubert said a fog machine is used to disinfect all buses daily, while her staff is researching the addition of a UV sanitation system connected to buses’ HVAC systems.
“We also ask people to social distance,” on buses and at shelters, she said, and riders now use the back door to stay distanced from the driver, who sits behind a barrier. Passengers with disabilities are the only ones who use the front with its boarding ramp. Masks are required on all buses.
Rubert said she’s seen no protocol-related problems through the past several months.
“The public is just over-the-top good about this,” she said.