Cuts in bus service causing some gray hairs

Pierce Transit riders will have fewer options for transportation when the agency makes service cuts this September.
Pierce Transit riders will have fewer options for transportation when the agency makes service cuts this September.
Pierce Transit’s plan to eliminate weekend bus runs and some weekday service by this fall as part of a 34 percent reduction in service is worrying bus-depending riders, including seniors.
“It will be a very big deal,” said Ken Gibson, one of the people who is trying to help offset the coming shakeup in public transportation.
Gibson, executive director of TACID (Tacoma Area Coalition of Individuals with Disabilities), is also a member of Citizens Transit Advisory Board, a community-based group commissioned by the Pierce Transit commissioners to work on ways to minimize negative effects of service cuts. No matter what the group and transit officials come up with, “this definitely is going to have an impact,” he said.
Pierce Transit’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. Since its action in January, the board has altered the plan by voting Feb. 11 to provide llimited bus service on Saturdays and Sundays. Under the new plan, total service is to be cut 28 percent instead of the original 34 percent, officials said.
The cutbacks could have begun in February, but the board decided to give transit users more time 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 in general.
“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.
Overall, the planned reductions include 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.
Clients of TACID’s Independent Living for Older Adults and Blind/Low Vision Services program are among transit users who could be most affected by the reduced transit services. The program works with individuals, families and caregivers to assure that as people age, they have opportunities to live independently and have the support and resources they need. It’s part of the non-profit organization’s community services focused on the disabled.
Many TACID clients depend on Pierce Transit’s shuttle service. Earlier cuts in that service resulted in a 12 percent reduction of shuttle visits to TACID’s center in Tacoma. “Those were people who were no longer coming to get the services they needed,” Gibson said, adding the next round of cuts will have similar impacts.
“There’s really almost no substitute” for public transportation to meet the needs of people like TACID clients, both seniors and other age groups, Gibson said. “A person with a Social Security income can’t afford a $10 taxi ride,” and rides from relatives or friends aren’t always an alternative.
He said“the vast majority” of 55-and-over clients with low vision or blindness “rely on shuttles,” which will be eliminated wherever bus routes are being dropped. People with doctor appointments may be left without transportation to and from daytime doctor appointments.
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 tax proposal. Communities that are part of the benefit area include Tacoma, Puyallup, Gig Harbor, Lakewood and Sumner.
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.
If voters had approved Proposition 1 last year,transit officials said, 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.
Transit officials and supporters of Proposition 1 have said that reduced service hurts people with limited or no other transportation options. 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.
Last September, as a result of some communities in east Pierce County being removed from the transit service area, Pierce Transit eliminated shuttle paratransit service in Sumner, Graham, the South Hill area of Puyallup, and Spanaway. Similar cuts were made near Gig Harbor.