It is time to invest a little bit more in our Link Transit system to serve our growing population, support economic development and ensure that our vulnerable neighbors get access to critical services.
Link is one of the most underappreciated agencies in our region. Under General Manager Rick DeRock, Link has been a model of innovation and service to the public and has made the most out of limited financial resources.
Link has done an admirable job of engaging the public to help prioritize system improvements and are now asking voters to approve a two-tenths of a percent sales tax increase. It’s on the ballot on Aug. 6.
DeRock stopped by The World offices recently with Russ and Jean Speidel, who serve on the committee supporting Proposition One. Their message was that the agency has been extremely effective and efficient with taxpayer dollars, that the population has grown by more than 33 percent since 1990 and the funding has not kept pace. It’s time to reinvest, they told me.
Link has had to be creative to survive and thrive.
In 1999, state voters approved Initiative 695, which drastically reduced the income from the motor vehicle excise tax. That eliminated the 80 cents on the dollar match Link was getting to develop the transit system, which amounted to a 45 percent budget cut.
In response, Link added fares, made significant service cuts and as a result ridership dropped off dramatically from a high of 1.7 million per year to 500,000, DeRock said. When frequency drops and routes are curtailed, transit becomes less useful to users.
When DeRock was hired in 2002, his mission was to rebuild ridership and keep the organization on a firm financial footing. That mission has been accomplished.
The economic challenges led to the pioneering use by Link of electric buses to reduce operating expenses.
It wasn’t always smooth sailing in the early days of electrifying buses, but Link kept at it and the technology and reliability improved. The reduced operating costs has helped Link become one of the more efficient transit systems around. DeRock and his team have been successful at getting federal grants to cover a portion of the capital costs.
But a bare bones system is not going to be enough to maintain the quality of life and support economic development.
Before asking the taxpayers for more support, Link went through a public engagement process to determine what services would be most supported and what taxpayers would be willing to support. In this day and age, engaging the community first is essential.
Link found that demand was strong for for additional service, including expanding the hours to serve more commuting employees, increasing frequency and expanding service on the weekends.
A survey of riders was done recently by Wenatchee Valley College and that showed that 55 percent of those riding were going to jobs, while 25 percent were traveling to school. So, 80 percent were pursuing economic activity that contributes to the economy here, DeRock said.
Here’s one more example of the frugal mindset of Link. The tax is scheduled to phase in rather than hit all at once because it will take time to ramp up the service, Russ Speidel noted.
Link Transit is one of the most effective public agencies around. The demands on the system will continue to increase. It makes all the sense in the world to support Proposition One on Aug. 6 and support our quality of life and the economy of the region.
You can get more information on the following website: yesonlinkprop1.org.
Rufus Woods is the publisher emeritus of The Wenatchee World. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 509-665-1162.