Weekend rally shows support for Pierce Transit

Sustained high winds couldn’t keep a hardy crowd from turning out Saturday for a Bus Rider Rally in support of Proposition 1, Pierce Transit’s proposed sales tax increase that would protect public transportation services.

Pierce Transit officials, bus drivers and concerned citizens were on hand at downtown’s Theater Square to show their support.

Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU), Local 758 organized the rally. ATU is the largest labor organization representing transit workers in the United States and Canada.

The Pierce Transit Board of Commissioners has approved a resolution to place a measure on the Feb. 5 ballot that asks voters to consider an additional three-tenths of one percent in local sales taxing authority.

If approved, the additional tax revenue would replace funding lost when the state Motor Vehicle Excise Tax (MVET) was eliminated after the passage of Initiative 695 in 1999. MVET funds provided 38 percent of Pierce Transit’s operating budget.

A service reduction and a three-year plan using available financial reserves was put into effect. Those reserve funds run out at the end of the year.

Pierce Transit contends that with no additional funding, they will have to drastically cut local bus service beginning in 2003.

President of the Transit Union Peter Altmann and Chairman of the Committee to Preserve Pierce Transit Tim Strege spoke to the crowd during the 10-minute rally that began at noon.

“This is our opportunity to show our support,” Altmann exhorted, noting that without the proposition’s passing, about half of the current bus service will have to be cut.

According to Pierce Transit, local bus service would be cut by 40 to 45 percent, SHUTTLE transportation for the disabled would be scaled back by 20 to 25 percent and their would be a halt in the growth of vanpool services and Park & Ride lots.

Pierce Transit would also have to consider the elimination of weekend service, the elimination of many routes and less frequent service.

“This campaign is just getting started,” Altmann said. “This is the core that helps people know we need transit.”

Margaret Barnes, a 12-year bus driver for Pierce Transit, hoped such cuts wouldn’t be necessary, but said she didn’t have a feeling about whether the measure would be approved by voters. Others were more upbeat.

“Tacoma’s had a long history of transit support,” Strege said, after being introduced by Altmann.

With 15 million riders per year helping to keep 19,000 vehicles off the road daily, he said, “This is a great record.”

Traffic congestion is the number one concern of many Puget Sound residents, he noted, concluding that voting for the measure is in the public’s best interest.

“Pierce Transit is congestion relief. Everyone benefits,” Strege said. “Everyone who drives the roads benefits because Pierce Transit exits.”

Pierce Transit Chief Executive Officer Don Monroe – who did not address the crowd – agreed, pointing out that eight transit systems across the state have passed similar ballot measures to replace funding lost by the repeal of the MVET.

“I’m pretty optimistic,” he said. “We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback.”

This is the first time that Pierce Transit has asked for additional public funding since it was founded in 1979.