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Next stop: One-third cut in bus service

7:44 am January 24th, 2013

Pierce Transit plans to eliminate weekend bus runs and some weekday service by this fall as part of a 34 percent reduction in service.
The agency’s Board of Commissioners approved a plan Jan. 14 for the cuts to take effect Sept. 29 in response to voters’ rejection last November of a tax measure that transit officials said was needed to retain full service.
The cuts could have begun in February, but the board decided to allow more time for bus riders to make alternative plans for transportation that is scheduled to end. It’s expected that people who depend the heaviest on Pierce Transit transportation and will be most affected include seniors, students and low-income riders.
“We understand these reductions will deeply impact thousands in our communities. This was a difficult decision,” said Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland, the transit board chairwoman.
Pierce Transit has been providing a combined 417,000 service hours per year. That number will be reduced to approximately 275,000 by the cuts.
A series of public meetings to discuss the changes and inform riders about exact service cuts will include a hearing that’s scheduled for May, officials said.
Overall, the reduction plan includes elimination of all Saturday, Sunday, and holiday service. On weekdays, there will be less service after 7 p.m. and during mid-day hours of 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
In the general election last November, Proposition 1 – placed on the ballot by Pierce Transit to ask for an increase of three-tenths of 1 percent of the sales tax in Pierce County – was narrowly defeated. Had it passed, the additional tax revenue would have boosted funding for transit services.
Only voters living within the transit benefit area could cast ballots on the proposal. Communities that are part of the benefit area include Tacoma, Puyallup, Gig Harbor, Lakewood and Sumner.
The Graham-South Hill-Spanaway area is about as far south in the county as Pierce Transit buses go. Residents of Eatonville and nearby communities have no direct service and couldn’t vote on the tax proposal because they weren’t included in the transit service area that was initially created in 1979. People from those areas and others that aren’t in the benefit area can ride Pierce Transit buses, though. They also could have paid the higher tax when making purchases in the benefit area if Proposition 1 had passed..
The same tax increase was rejected by voters in 2011. Since then, in an effort to lower its operating costs and continue full service, Pierce Transit has cut some spending, raised fares and reduced its number of management employees. Also, bus drivers and other employees agreed to no pay raises in a three-year contract. But ridership rose to record levels, according to transit officials.
If voters had approved Proposition 1 last year, current levels of service would have been saved, and special service – such as routes to high-traffic events like the Washington State Fair in Puyallup that were eliminated in past cutbacks – would have been restored, according to Pierce Transit.
Transit officials and supporters of Proposition 1 have said that reduced service hurts people with limited or no other transportation options. They include seniors, students, commuters, people with disabilities and low-income families and individuals. During the campaign for and against Proposition 1, opponents of the measure said many of those same people would be negatively impacted by paying a higher sales tax, and that Pierce Transit should find other ways to meet its desired expenses.

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