It’s official: Riders of Pierce Transit buses will start feeling the effects of major cuts in service by this fall.
The agency’s Board of Commissioners, in a vote June 10, authorized a 28 percent cut in bus service to take effect Sept. 29. Throughout Pierce Transit’s service area in Pierce County, the amount of time that buses and shuttles are available annually will be reduced from the current 417,000 hours to 300,000.
People who depend the heaviest on public transportation and are expected to be the most affected by the cutbacks include seniors, students and low-income riders in general.
Buses and shuttles will run less often, particularly on weekends, as routes are either curtailed or eliminated.
The impact could have been worse. In January, the commissioners approved even deeper cuts of 34 percent in response to voters’ rejection last November of a tax measure increase that transit officials said was needed to retain full service. A month later, the commissioners altered that plan by voting Feb. 11 to provide limited bus service on Saturdays and Sundays, which left the overall cuts in service at 28 percent.
The cutbacks could have begun in February, but the commissioners decided to give transit users more time to make alternative plans for transportation that is scheduled to end.
Among bus riders who are likely to suffer from reduced bus service are the 55-and-over clients of Tacoma Area Coalition of Individuals with Disabilities (TACID) who are vision-impaired. According to TACID, they rely heavily on Pierce Transit shuttles, which will be eliminated wherever bus routes are being dropped. People may be left without transportation to and from daytime doctor appointments, officials said.
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 and maintained current levels of service, officials said.
Only voters living within the transit benefit area could cast ballots on the tax proposal. Communities that are part of the benefit area include parts of Graham and Spanaway, as well as Tacoma, Puyallup, Gig Harbor, Lakewood and Sumner. Eatonville isn’t part of it.
The same proposed tax increase was also 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.