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Local Transit Authorities and Funding Sources

This page provides an overview of public transportation benefit areas and other types of local government transit authorities in Washington State, including enabling statutes, funding sources, transit development plans, and a list of transit agencies.


Overview

As of 2020, there are 32 local government transit agencies in Washington State, most of which are operated as public transportation benefit areas (PTBAs) or other special purpose districts. A few are directly operated by cities or counties. Below is the breakdown:

  • 21 public transportation benefit areas
  • 6 city transit departments
  • 3 county public transportation authorities
  • 1 metropolitan county transit agency
  • 1 regional transit authority

More information on these agency types, as well as a list of agencies, is provided below. For a map of the transit districts, see Washington Department of Transportation's (WSDOT) public transit authorities map.


Transit Funding Sources

Transit revenue consists primarily of local sales taxes, passenger fares, and federal and state grants. For local tax revenue, most transit agencies in Washington rely on the transit sales tax under RCW 82.14.045. City or county transit departments may also rely on other funding sources including (but not limited to) transportation benefit districts, commercial parking taxes (RCW 82.80.030), or utility taxes.

The major statutes providing transit taxing and financing authority include the following:

  • RCW 82.14.045 – Transit sales tax up to 0.9%, with higher rates authorized for a few individual agencies
  • Chapter 35.95 RCW – Financing and taxation for public transportation purposes; applies to all “municipalities” including transit agencies (see definitions in RCW 35.95.020).
  • RCW 35.58.2721 – Authority of “municipalities” (defined in RCW 35.58.272) to acquire and operate public transportation and issue debt
  • RCW 81.104.170 – Additional sales tax authority for high-capacity transit service operating principally on exclusive rights-of-way

A few individual transit agencies may have additional statutory authority. Also see our page on Transportation Grants and Loans.


Public Transportation Benefit Areas (PTBAs)

Most transit agencies in Washington are public transportation benefit areas (PTBAs). PTBAs were authorized in 1975 and are governed by chapter 36.57A RCW. Passenger-only ferries were authorized in 2003 pursuant to RCW 36.57A.200 and RCW 36.47A.210. Below is a list of all PTBAs as of 2020 and their current sales tax rates.

Agency Sales Tax Rate Notes
Asotin County PTBA 0.2% Began providing transit service by contract with Valley Transit in 2004; assumed direct operation of transit service in 2010. Also provides service to Lewiston, ID.
Ben Franklin Transit 0.6% Established in 1981; serves Tri-Cities area and some unincorporated parts of Benton and Franklin counties.
Clallam Transit System 0.6% Established in 1979; serves Clallam County including connections to tribal transit services.
Community Transit (Snohomish County PTBA) 1.2%1 Established in 1976 and gradually expanded to include all cities and towns in Snohomish County (except Everett), Tulalip Indian Reservation, and many unincorporated areas.
C-TRAN (Clark County PTBA) 0.7% Established in 1981; serves Vancouver area, Battle Ground, Camas, La Center, Ridgefield, Washougal, and Yacolt. Used to be countywide, but boundaries were reduced in 2005 after a failed 2004 ballot measure. Also provides service to downtown Portland, OR.
Grant Transit Authority 0.2% Established in 1996; serves all of Grant County.
Intercity Transit (Thurston County) 1.2%2 Established in 1981; serves Olympia, Lacey, Tumwater, and Yelm urbanized areas. Used to be countywide, but boundaries were reduced in 2002. Board includes three private citizens.
Island Transit 0.9% Approved by voters in 1983 but did not begin service until 1987 following a court proceeding. Serves all of Island County; does not collect fares.
Jefferson Transit Authority 0.9% Established in 1980; serves all of Jefferson County. Different fare structures for eastern and western parts of county.
Kitsap Transit 1.1%3 Established in 1983. Serves all of Kitsap County; also provides high-speed passenger-only ferry service to downtown Seattle.
Link Transit (Chelan-Douglas PTBA) 0.5% Established in 1990; serves all of Chelan County and part of Douglas County.
Mason Transit 0.6% Established in 1992. Serves all of Mason County; only charges fares for out-of-county trips.
Pacific Transit System 0.3% Established in 1980. Serves all of Pacific County; also provides service to Astoria, OR.
Pierce Transit 0.6% Established in 1979. Serves Tacoma and vicinity; Bonney Lake, Buckley, DuPont, Orting, and Sumner opted to leave the PTBA in 2012.
RiverCities Transit (Cowlitz Transit Authority) 0.3% Established in 1987; serves Kelso and Longview. PTBA serves as taxing authority only; all transit and administrative services are provided through contract with City of Longview.
Skagit Transit 0.4% Established in 1993 in the Burlington and Mount Vernon areas; has since expanded to include all cities and towns in Skagit County, as well as many unincorporated areas.
Spokane Transit 0.8% Established in 1981; serves Airway Heights, Cheney, Medical Lake, Millwood, Liberty Lake, Spokane, and Spokane Valley, plus nearby unincorporated areas.
TranGO (Okanogan County Transit Authority) 0.4% PTBA initially created in 1996 but not funded. Voters approved the first sales tax in 2013 and service began 2014. Serves all of Okanogan County except Colville Reservation.
Twin Transit (Lewis County PTBA) 0.2% Established in 1985; serves Centralia and Chehalis.
Valley Transit (Walla Walla County PTBA) 0.6% Established in 1980; serves College Place, City of Walla Walla, and nearby unincorporated areas.
Whatcom Transportation Authority 0.6% Established in 1984; serves Whatcom County, including all cities and towns and the Lummi Nation.

Includes additional 0.3% sales tax under RCW 82.14.045(3) for PTBAs in a county of 700,000 or more that includes a city of 75,000 or more. [back to table]

2 Includes additional 0.3% sales tax under RCW 82.14.045(3) for PTBAs in a county between 250,000 and 400,000 population that includes two or more cities with a population of 40,000 or more. [back to table]

3 Includes additional 0.3% sales tax for high-speed passenger-only ferry service under RCW 82.14.440. [back to table]


City Transit Departments

Cities and towns have authority to acquire and operate transportation facilities under RCW 35.92.060. RCW 35.84.060 provides that a municipal corporation which owns or operates an "urban public transportation system" (as defined in RCW 47.04.082) within its corporate limits may acquire, construct, extend, own, or operate such urban public transportation system to points not to exceed fifteen miles outside of its corporate limits.

Below is a list of all city transit departments in Washington as of 2020 and their funding sources.

Agency Funding Source Notes
Ellensburg Central Transit 0.2% TBD sales tax Established in 2016 and funded by transportation benefit district (TBD). Part of Public Works & Utilities Department; service provided through contract with HopeSource.
Everett Transit 0.6% transit sales tax City began providing service in 1969. Operates as transportation services department, under the direction of the transportation services director (part of the mayor's senior management). CEO is mayor, who has authority to modify service and adjust schedules. City council has authority to establish fares and recommend tax rates.
Pullman Transit 2.0% utility tax City began providing service in 1979. Part of the public works department, under the direction of the public works director. Governing body is city council.
Selah Transit 0.3% transit sales tax City began providing service in 2009 through contract with Yakima Transit; now contracts with a private contractor. Contract is overseen by public works director.
Union Gap Transit 0.3% transit sales tax Established in 2008; all services provided by private contractor. City council oversees contract; no fares collected.
Yakima Transit 0.3% transit sales tax City began providing service in 1966. Part of the public works department; transit manager oversees daily operations and reports to public works director and city manager. Governing body is city council.

County Transit Authorities

There are a few types of transportation entities operated at the county level.  In addition to the types of entities listed below, counties may also operate passenger-only ferry districts pursuant to RCW 36.54.110 - RCW 36.54.190.

County Public Transportation Authorities

County public transportation authorities (RCW 36.57.010 - 36.57.090) may be formed by any county to provide countywide public transportation services (including all incorporated cities and towns within the county). Below is the list of county public transportation authorities formed under these statutes.

Agency Sales Tax Rate Notes
Columbia County Public Transportation 0.4% Began providing service in 1996 as a county department; county public transportation authority formed in 2005.
Garfield County Transportation Authority 0.4% Initially formed as unincorporated public transportation benefit area, converted to county public transportation authority (including Pomeroy) in 2016.
Grays Harbor Transit 0.7% Established 1974.

Metropolitan County Transit Agency

King County Metro is a metropolitan county transit agency that operates under chapter 35.58 RCW.

Agency Sales Tax Rate Notes
King County Metro Transit 0.9% Serves entire county, including all cities and towns. Initially operated by Municipality of Metropolitan Seattle in 1972, merged with King County in 1992 (retaining powers of chapter 35.58 RCW).

Unincorporated Transportation Benefit Areas

Unincorporated transportation benefit areas (UTBAs) are authorized by RCW 36.57.100 - 36.57.110 and allow counties to perform transit functions in some or all of their unincorporated areas, except areas already included in a PTBA. The UTBA may only include areas that would reasonably benefit from such service.

Currently, MRSC is not aware of any UTBAs in Washington. Garfield County replaced its UTBA with a county public transportation authority in 2016, and Whitman County established a UTBA but took no further action and officially dissolved the UTBA in 2017.


Regional Transit Authorities

Regional transit authorities (RTAs) may be formed by two or more contiguous counties each with a population of 400,000 or more, for the purpose of developing and operating a high capacity transit system. RTAs are governed by chapter 81.112 RCW. Sound Transit is the only RTA, and no other counties are currently eligible.

Agency Funding Notes
Sound Transit Property taxes, sales taxes, motor vehicle excise taxes Provides light rail, commuter rail, and express bus service to King, Pierce, and Snohomish counties.

Six-Year Transit Development Plans

Transit agencies are required to prepare and adopt a six-year transit development plan (RCW 35.58.2795). If the transit agency is located within a city or county that has adopted a comprehensive plan, its six-year transit development plan must be consistent with those comprehensive plans.

The transit agency must review and update its six-year plan every year by September 1. Following adoption, the transit agency must file the plan with the state secretary of transportation and Transportation Improvement Board, as well as the cities, counties, and regional planning councils the transit agency is located within.

For links to each agency’s transit development plan, refer to the Washington State Department of Transportation’s Summary of Public Transportation.


Recommended Resources

Below are helpful resources related to local government transit services, funding, and governance:


Last Modified: July 02, 2020