Prop. 1 failure forces Pierce Transit to plan for service reductions

The Pierce Transit Board of Commissioners met Friday for a day-long work session to discuss the agency's future and when...

The Pierce Transit Board of Commissioners met Friday for a day-long work session to discuss the agency’s future and when to implement service reductions after the rejection of Proposition 1 in November, which would have restored access to essential services for seniors, the disabled, and people who rely on Pierce Transit by increasing the sales and use tax in Pierce County.

According to Pierce Transit spokesperson Lars Erickson, federal regulations require a detailed analysis of service reductions and a robust public process, which takes approximately six months. Based on financial updates and staff recommendations, the Board asked staff to prepare detailed timelines and service plans that implement reductions in either September 2013 or February 2014 for review at the Jan. 14, 2013 board meeting.

“Pierce Transit is still fighting for our riders and the public,” said Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland, who also serves as Pierce Transit Board Chair. “We continue to look for efficiencies, we’re making cuts, and working hard to maintain the highest quality of service possible. Bus service will continue in all of our member jurisdictions.”

“Implementation of cuts in either September 2013 or February 2014 means there will be many public meetings during the first part of the year,” said Pierce Transit CEO Lynne Griffith. “We hope there is robust public input as these plans go out to communities.”

It’s not the first time Pierce Transit has faced budget and service cuts due to a failed ballot proposition.

In June 2011, more than 140 people attended a public hearing at Pierce Transit headquarters in Lakewood to express their concerns over proposed service reductions following a ballot proposal that was rejected by voters in February 2011. In addition, more than 350 people provided spoken or written testimony on the reduction plan. The majority of people told the Pierce Transit Board how essential public transportation is to their lives and how devastating the proposed cuts would be: keeping them from getting to work, attending school, shopping, going to church, and visiting friends.

Still, Pierce Transit riders began to experience significant service reductions in October 2011, when bus service underwent considerable changes throughout the county. Weekday and weekend service were reduced, segments of some routes were cut, and in some cases entire routes were eliminated. Yellow bags began covering signs at the bus stops slated to be closed. Approximately 600 bus stops, including 35 with shelters, were closed. Following that, Pierce Transit Facilities Maintenance crews began physically removing the bus stops, including sign poles, shelters, and benches.

This overall 35 per cent reduction was necessary due to a $51 million budget shortfall brought on by the economic recession and the failed ballot proposal, according to a Pierce Transit spokesperson. Overall, Pierce Transit has made significant cuts in service since 2008 to mitigate the impacts of the recession. Nearly $111 million dollars has been cut or saved, including 43 per cent cut in bus service, elimination of special events service, sale of land and assets, and a 19 per cent cut in staffing, including 31 per cent in management, according to Pierce Transit officials.

In the months leading up to this year’s ballot proposal, the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber formally opposed Prop. 1, arguing the proposed tax levels would push sales taxes for Pierce County to the highest in the state. According to Chamber officials, Tacoma and Pierce County sales tax are tied with Seattle, King County and other cities like Kirkland and Redmond for the highest sales tax rates before the proposed increase.

But Tacoma City Council approved a resolution in October formally supporting Prop. 1.

Additionally, Pierce Transit and Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local #758 announced in August they reached a tentative agreement that called for no wage increases over the next three years.

Pierce Transit held a series of public open houses to inform voters on Prop. 1. In the end, the ballot proposition failed by a just 704 votes.

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