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Survey: 56 percent of residents support higher WTA sales tax

February 19, 2010

JARED PABEN – THE BELLINGHAM HERALD

Fifty-six percent of county residents want the sales tax increased to either maintain the existing amount of bus service or expand service, according to a recently released survey conducted for Whatcom Transportation Authority.

At the same time, only 22 percent said “reduce service” and 3 percent said “don’t raise taxes,” according to the survey, conducted by consultants Redhill Group.

The survey results come out a little more than three months before Whatcom County residents will vote on a proposed sales tax increase for WTA. The WTA board forwarded to the voters a proposal to raise the local tax by two-tenths of 1 percent. Without an increase, WTA staff say, the agency is looking at service cuts and layoffs.

About $9 of every $10 WTA receives comes from sales taxes, which have been lagging in the recession. The agency already raised fares starting last October, boosting a cash fare from 75 cents to $1 and a monthly general public pass from $20 to $25.

The survey, which interviewed 824 residents in November, showed that only 4 percent of residents urged raising fares to address funding shortfalls.

The Bellingham City Council has scheduled a Feb. 8 public hearing on the ballot measure. Local legislative bodies must, by law, hold hearings on ballot measures before they formally weigh in with a resolution.

Groups are forming to support and oppose the measure. Transit Works, which has paperwork filed with the state, supports passing the measure, and People for Progressive Transportation, which has yet to file, opposes it.

Following are other results from the telephone survey:

• 61 percent of respondents said they are somewhat or very familiar with bus service in their area.

• 19 percent said they ride the bus five or more times per week, and 31 percent said they ride a few times a year (the others are somewhere in between).

• 55 percent said bus service has improved over the past five years, a period in which WTA transformed itself by boosting service and introducing high-frequency Go Lines in Bellingham.

• 52 percent of people said they were aware of Go Lines. Of those, 46 percent said they didn’t know how they are different from other bus service.

• 58 percent said they were satisfied or very satisfied with bus service.

The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent at a 95 percent confidence level. That means that 95 out of 100 times the results won’t vary by more than 4 percent.

A second survey was taken only by bus riders. Perhaps not surprisingly, more of them (79 percent) supported increasing the sales tax to either maintain or boost bus service than county residents in general.

http://www.bellinghamherald.com/255/story/1257774.html

To view the results of the Whatcom County Community Survey results, click here:

http://media.bellinghamherald.com/static/images/downloads/WTA_survey2009.ppt

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