Tacoma City Council unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday that urges Tacoma voters to support a ballot measure that would increase Pierce County’s sales and use tax to fund Pierce Transit services.
The measure, known as Proposition 1, was created after Pierce Transit’s board of commissioners passed a resolution in July that asks voters to impose an additional three-tenths of one percent sales tax in Pierce County to provide funding for transit services. The tax would increase from the current rate of six-tenths of one percent to nine-tenths of one percent.
Pierce Transit officials say the transportation agency has been hit hard by the recession and receives approximately 70 percent of its funding from local sales tax. It has reduced bus service by eight percent, implemented two rounds of employee layoffs, and has delayed capital improvement projects in an effort to save $89 million through 2012. It has also raised adult fares twice in two years. Still, the agency will face a $51 million shortfall by the end of 2012. Officials say passage of Proposition 1 preserves current service, provides more frequent bus service during commute times, provides service to DuPont and Orting, and ensures more direct routes. If the proposition fails, service will be reduced by 35 percent, weekend service will be reduced, and special event service will be eliminated.
During city council’s meeting Tuesday, several councilmembers and members of the general public spoke on behalf of the resolution and in support of Proposition 1. Here are some of their comments, which have been edited for space.
I. DAVID KEELEY, TACOMA RESIDENT
I don’t like taxes any more than the next person.
But when it comes to transportation, this is a sore spot for me because it’s my lifeline, my way of getting around. I do not own an automobile, I do not drive, I am not able to do so, so I rely on bus[es] and shuttle[es], and not so much cab[s]. I used to ride cabs when I was walking, but now I rely mainly on buses. That is what got me here tonight.
I just want to let you know that I am for this tax increase for the buses. I think we’re in the 21st Century and we don’t need to go back. This is going to hinder the disabled community, as well as other people who may not be able to take their car somewhere, and this would be a horrible mistake if this were to fail. So I am asking people to consider this and to please vote for this because it really — it’s really making me ill to think what would happen if it would fail. This is a good region to live [in] and I have been here six years, seven years now. The transit has improved greatly since I have been here and I don’t want to see it go back to what it once was, or even worse.
Please take my heed and consider this. I am also getting other people involved with me to put this thing to rest and to vote for this because we need transportation. I make trips to Seattle on the Sounder. I also use the buses frequently. I have a couple of doctors in Puyallup that I go to regularly. How would I get there if I am not able to ride transit? Also, I have a wheelchair repair over in Gig Harbor. Same thing. I take three buses to get there. If they are cut, how am I going to get over there to get my chair fixed when they do not make house calls? All these things hinge on this proposition, whether it fails or not, and I have got to have my transportation. This is like taking away my car keys. So please, this is important and this has got me out tonight to let you know about it.
Just consider how important it is for everybody. And I am probably speaking for a lot of people who would agree with me and I am sure a lot of you agree with me, too. I realize taxes aren’t popular and I don’t like them any more than the next person. But something like transportation has got to keep the city, the community, and things going. Otherwise, we have a stagnant community, and I certainly don’t want that.
II. DON IZENMAN, TACOMA RESIDENT
I have been legally blind for long enough. I haven’t driven in almost nine years. I get around on foot and bus exclusively. My wife and I live in North Tacoma and the place we chose to live was specifically chosen because of its availability of bus routes nearby. She works very near here and takes the bus to work.
If anybody has ever tried to get around by public transit on a weekend, especially if you are making multiple trips, you know what kind of a nightmare that can be. And I fear that if Proposition 1 doesn’t pass, Monday through Friday will look a lot like the weekends.
Since I have retired from real work, I have ended up on a number of boards of organizations having to do with disability issues and transportation issues, and some of those groups meet down here, some meet out by Tacoma Community College, and some meet in Lakewood. It is an adventure getting to all of them, but I pride myself on being able to do that with public transit and I hope I will be able to do that in the future.
III. CHELSEA LEVY, METROPOLITAN DEVELOPMENT DIRECTOR, TACOMA-PIERCE COUNTY CHAMBER
I am here to speak in support of Proposition 1 [and] Save Our Buses, and to encourage the council to endorse the resolution. The board has endorsed Proposition 1 because our leaders recognize the essential role transit plays in our economy and view it as an essential component to achieving the attractive and vibrant community we all want throughout Tacoma and Pierce County. More important, a valuable transit system provides important transportation for employees while reducing congestion. Many of our downtown businesses rely on the service for employees as an alternative to paying for costly parking.
As many of you know, Pierce Transit service will reduce routes and increase wait times, [which will make] taking the bus impractical for many and [increase] transportation costs for commuters and businesses.
Furthermore, service cuts will set our community back, making it more difficult for us to reach our goals for development, land use, and transportation.
The chamber applauds Pierce Transit’s efforts to trim almost $90 million from their budget from 2008-2012 and [is] confident they will continue to work internally and with union representatives to cut costs now and into the future.
Really, the cost of cutting service is too dramatic for our community and businesses and we just can’t afford it.
IV. ANDREW AUSTIN, STEERING COMMITTEE VOLUNTEER, PROP. 1 / SAVE OUR BUSES CAMPAIGN
I’m here on behalf of the Save Our Buses steering committee. We are a group of business, labor, environmental, social services, and normal community folks working hard on this proposition. More than anything, I want to thank you for looking at this proposition and taking a vote on it tonight. You have heard some really great and impossible stories today. Only a few things I would add is that, in terms of a city perspective [and an] urban perspective, if this measure doesn’t pass, it will set Tacoma back in terms of gains we have made around land use decisions, smart growth, accepting growth, and places we need. It is so important from an environmental perspective — in order to meet our greenhouse gas reduction goals — that we support this measure at the city and then approve it countywide. This measure, as you already heard, has such huge impacts for folks: people with disabilities in the community, senior citizens, people who get to work on the bus, and, more important, people looking for work on the bus. This is about economic growth in our city [and] region and it is so important that we come together to support this measure.
V. COUNCILMEMBER RYAN MELLO
The bus service gets people to work, class, school, the doctor, and the pharmacy, and we heard incredibly compelling testimony this evening [from] folks who absolutely depend on Pierce Transit as their lifeline.
Pierce Transit tells us on average they have 48,000 daily riders [who depend] on Pierce Transit to get to work, class, the pharmacy, and the doctor. In addition to that, 1,250 depend on Pierce Transit shuttles to get to the doctor, to wheelchair repairs as we heard from, [the] pharmacy, work, [and] so on and so forth. They have had two rounds of layoffs that amounted to 300 employees laid off due to the severe recession. Reducing management costs by 22 percent. Reducing service levels by eight percent. Delaying capital projects, new shelters. None of us like to stand in the cold and wet waiting for a bus and they have to delay those kind of projects.
So the [Pierce Transit] board — and three of our council colleagues serve on that board — have made tough decisions and dug deep. They can’t cut any more without severely eliminating service to people who are in critical need. And so without adding new revenues, we will see 35 percent service cuts across the board to Pierce Transit service, eliminating some lines, [adding] longer wait times, [and] bus[es] coming every 10 or 15 minutes. It would be 35 to 45 minutes to an hour that people [will] have to stand on the street corner waiting for the bus to come. No special weekend service to events like Puyallup Fair, where I am told 50,000 riders a day during the fair use the bus, and other events like Freedom Fair. The shuttle service the disabled community depends on would also be significantly impacted.
I hope that we vote in favor of Proposition 1 and really encourage our Tacoma citizens to endorse [this].
VI. COUNCILMEMBER JOE LONERGAN
What I have heard from folks I talked to is mixed results. Yes, it is a lifeline. Yes, we need this. But why are we voting on a permanent solution to a temporary problem? That is their perception of the situation and I would say to that perhaps we are. But what I have seen from Pierce Transit and the board in making some of the tough decisions that Councilmember Mello referred to is they recognize and are prepared through this time of hardship to move forward in a not-business-as-usual kind of way. They have really taken this to heart — and the feedback they have taken from the community to heart — and are working to improve the system and will continue to do that and continue to seek cost-savings and continue to prepare themselves and their transit system for what tomorrow really should be. And it will be an improved system and I am encouraged by that.
I would say that maybe this action comes a little late. We have had a lot of cuts, but I think that delay has really helped Pierce Transit, the board, their labor partners, and management to realize the gravity of the situation and to be prepared to make those judgments going forward, and that is encouraging to me.
I have always been a little irked that we’re paying nine-tenths of a cent to Sound Transit and six-tenths of a percent to Pierce Transit and certainly we see more benefits in our community to Pierce Transit. I am glad we will have some parity in that and that we will continue to see improvements. Not that this will be taken as a jackpot winning for the system, but they will continue to make improvements. So I am encouraged by that and I thank the board members, both past and present for their hard work and tough decisions including asking for concessions from the employees and having to make the tough layoff decisions when they were necessary.
VII. COUNCILMEMBER JAKE FEY
I think it is always important to put a face on a problem. We had a disabled gentleman here that testified about how it is important to him and how it affects his life, and we had another person who has a sight problem talk about that tonight. That is just scratching the surface. The state is facing some real serious cuts that are going to dramatically affect the lives of a lot of people. We don’t always see them, but we know that they are out there and that for people the bus or the shuttle is the choice they have. They may not have family to run them around. They don’t have the income to pay for a taxi. They are dependent upon whether they can get bus service.
I have occasion to ride the bus a fair amount. I know some other councilmembers do, too, and I am always struck by those faces and wonder about what their lives are like and could probably make a pretty good guess that I am underestimating the struggles that they have. So when people are in tough times like they are today, I think it is important for people to realize that there are less fortunate people that count on us. I ask for the people who are listening tonight to think about how it is for other people and that the three cents on a ten-dollar purchase, what that means to you.
As a [Pierce Transit] board member, we have gone through a lot of cuts and we will be prepared to make sure that all of the money that is collected is used well. But I ask you to think about the public and particularly the public that [isn’t] here [and] can’t speak for themselves [but who] really depend upon the service.
VIII. COUNCILMEMBER MARTY CAMPBELL
Like Councilmember Lonergan, I have heard mixed messages on this. People in the community saying a sales tax increase will be hard on us. I recognize that and sat down and did some math in my store: it will be an extra three to five dollars a day. But I can think of an extra 10 to 15 customers who I know come in on a bus and they are spending more than three to five dollars in the shop. I have been hearing mixed messages from people but I think we need to make sure our message is clear on this. The impact will be felt by everyone on this, be it disabled or those without cars who won’t have access or even those who have cars as many of those who use it for commuting get back on the highways and your commute time to work is longer because we have more congestion on our roads. I fully believe that this resolution affects the City of Tacoma moreso than some parts of our community and I know absolutely it greatly affects many people in our district and their opportunities for mobility. So I am proudly supporting this.
IX. COUNCILMEMBER DAVID BOE
This is about the most sustainable thing we could possibly do tonight. And I just think of my two teenagers who use Pierce Transit for mobility and to get them to appointments, get them to an internship this January out in University Place, and the ability to be mobile for all of our citizenry is really, really important. If there is ever a no-brainer, this is one for me.