Port Townsend transit plan draws criticism

Language to acknowledge the climate crisis to be added

PORT TOWNSEND — For members of the agency board and the public, the 30-page, seven-chapter Long Range Plan for Jefferson Transit buses and vans did not cut it.

“I see a total lack of language” about the role transit can play in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, said Kate Dean, the Jefferson County commissioner who chairs the board.

The Long Range Plan, which covers the next 20 years of population growth, should be “an aspirational document,” Dean added in a later interview.

“Our community really has an opportunity to be a leader in rural transit,” said Heidi Eisenhour, Dean’s fellow county commissioner and transit board member.

“It’s an important thing for us to rise to the occasion” when finalizing the plan, which is available at www.jeffersontransit.com via the About JTA menu.

To date, the agency has paid plan consultant Fehr & Peers $189,495, according to board clerk Sara J. Peck.

The first half of the document has chapters titled “Why a Long Range Plan?” and “Jefferson Transit Today,” with maps and charts showing the system’s services.

The nine fixed routes — serving both west and east Jefferson County — have been fare-free since the advent of the pandemic. A fare will be charged on the new route to Kingston — connecting passengers with ferries to Edmonds and Seattle — but, due to a driver shortage, its first runs have been postponed to February, Dean said.

The Long Range Plan, meanwhile, devotes its second half to revenue graphs and projections, photos of buses, plans for capital projects and the public surveys done in 2020 and 2021.

When asked which routes they use most frequently, respondents ranked the Poulsbo bus first, the Port Townsend downtown shuttle second and the bus to Sequim third. As for what riders use transit for, 50 percent said they ride the bus to “events and leisure” activities; roughly 36 percent take it to work and about 31 percent use it for medical-related travel.

Ranking reasons why Jefferson Transit bus service is important, 84 percent of survey respondents answered it helps people who are transit-dependent; 75 percent said transit use is good for the environment, and 60 percent noted it’s less expensive than driving.

The Long Range Plan falls far short of what it could be, Scott Walker of Port Townsend said during the board’s November hearing.

“The document barely acknowledges the climate crisis,” he said, adding transit could be a better solution than, say, electric cars.

Car-oriented communities have more pavement, fewer trees and birds and less quiet, Walker noted; he believes now is the time to choose transit instead.

Local 20/20’s Transportation Lab group also registered its dismay at the Long Range Plan’s contents. Board member Ariel Speser, a Port Townsend City Council member, expressed appreciation for such comments at the November hearing, and put the issue on the agenda for another meeting Nov. 30.

During the discussion that day, board members asked that the urgency of responding to the climate crisis be incorporated into the plan’s core values.

Dean, along with county commissioner and board member Greg Brotherton and Jefferson Transit General Manager Tammi Rubert, then decided to form a subcommittee to focus on drafting the new language. They will meet with the board next on Dec. 21.

Rebecca Kimball, another Port Townsend resident who submitted comments to the board, summarized her hopes for the plan and for Jefferson County.

“The Federal Transit Association encourages transit agencies to be very bold,” she said, adding those agencies — regardless of size — are urged to write their own climate action plans.

“Please consider how transit is uniquely positioned to make substantial improvements, not only in our greenhouse gas emissions, but in our quality of life here in our community,” Kimball said.

“You, our electeds on the transit agency board, along with the hardworking staff at Jefferson Transit, can make a remarkable difference.”

Jefferson County senior reporter Diane Urbani de la Paz can be reached at 360-417-3509 or [email protected]

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