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Sunnyside city leaders encouraged to get on board with developing transit system

Yakima Transit Manager Ken Mehin gave a presentation to the Sunnyside City Council this past Monday about establishing public transit throughout Yakima County.

Mehin explained the benefits of forming a public transportation benefit area in Yakima County and said he's visiting every town in the Lower Valley to explain how transit can improve the lives of residents of the area.

"The city of Sunnyside is a prime candidate for some type of bus service," he said. He noted the population of Sunnyside is between 14,000 and 15,000 people. "Bus service can be designed to fit this area. City of Union Gap and City of Selah are much smaller and they already have service."

Mehin said transit should not be linked to the budget of a city because of fluctuations in budgets that would mean cutting services.

"When the economy is good, transit is great," he said. "But when the economy is bad, transit should be even better, because the public relies on transit."

He also noted that transit should go somewhere, not just loops around neighborhoods. It should extend from residential into commercial and industrial areas, or even to other cities.

"Every dollar you spend on transit, it generates at least four dollars in commerce," he said. "Not four dollars in revenue, but in commerce."

Mehin argued that transit is the safest form of transportation and all buses have cameras now so they are very secure. He also said that all Yakima buses are on a GPS system now and with today's technology it is possible to know exactly when a bus is arriving.

"You don't have to wait more than two minutes for a bus," he said.

Buses tend to benefit an entire region and it's a service that people like having.

"In the history of public transportation, no city or region has ever decided that they don't need bus service or transportation," Mehin said.

He talked about the commuter route to Ellensburg that has "grown like a wild fire" with double the expected ridership in the first year.

Mehin said voters in Yakima approved a three tenths of a 1 percent sales tax 32 years ago and the system is still going.

Asked how many cities needed to be involved to make the system cost-effective, Mehin said the more cities that get involved, the cheaper the system would get. He said at least two cities must be interested for the process to move forward.

Mehin's vision for Sunnyside includes one or two buses serving the city once an hour with commuter buses that would stop at South Hill Park and West Side Park and take riders to Grandview or Yakima.

It was noted during the meeting that efforts to create a transit system in the county have failed in the past. Mehin stated his goal over the next year is to get enough interest to get transit on the ballot.

Mehin has already presented transit information to Grandview's city council and plans to do his presentation in Granger next.

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