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November 22, 2010

Calling on Your Customers to 'Buy Local for Transit'

by Janna Starcic - Also by this author

Community Transit based in Snohomish, Wash., launched its Buy Local for Transit campaign Thursday, a long-term effort designed to encourage people to shop in their communities, strengthening local businesses and increasing local tax revenues, which supports public transportation.

Community Transit gets a majority of its funding from a voter-approved 0.9 percent sales tax within its service district. For 2010, 56 percent of its budget is funded through sales tax, with the remainder being made up by other sources including fares and grants.

With consumer spending down during the recession, the agency's sales tax revenue has fallen by about $20 million a year. As a result, the agency has had to make major service cuts earlier this year, including eliminating all Sunday service.

"We had to make some hard choices, but it was a necessary response to the economic situation we faced," said Community Transit CEO Joyce Eleanor (pictured), of service cuts made.

When the transit system announced its service cuts, a lot of their customers asked how they could help, said Community Transit spokesperson, Martin Munguia. "This is a call to action," he said of the Buy Local for Transit campaign. "It's something our riders can do to help  their service."

A Buy Local for Transit Website has been set up with information about the program, a downloadable "I Buy Local for Transit" card and a growing list of participating businesses that will offer special discounts. Transit riders can show their regional fare card (ORCA) to get the discounts as well.

More businesses are expected to sign on once word starts to spread about the program, Munguia said.

The Buy Local for Transit campaign is a great idea that could be incorporated by other transit systems into their marketing efforts. Aspen, Colo.-based Roaring Fork Transit Authority already had a similar campaign in place called "Ride Local. Buy Local.," which promotes ridership during the off-season by giving out coupons to bus riders for discounts at local businesses.

Besides just trying to boost local tax revenues, the campaign is a good educational piece for Community Transit, Munguia said, as it teaches people how the transit system is funded. "A lot of people, especially the ones that don't use transit just think, 'Oh, the people that pay their fare on the bus that's what pays for the ride.' They don't realize that the fare only pays for about 18 percent for the cost of the ride."

Mungia said that when the system has to cut service, "the more people that realize where Community Transit's funded sources originate, hopefully they'll understand when we do make service cuts, why that is."

I think Munguia is onto something in terms of educating riders and the local community as to how the transit system is funded. I think if more people were aware of the situation, they would be more sympathetic to public transportation's plight during these challenging economic times, and more understanding when service cuts or fare hikes are needed.

Does your transit system educate your riders about your system's funding sources?


Janna Starcic

Executive Editor

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Janna Starcic

Executive Editor

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