Some softening of transit cuts

The Pierce Transit Board of Commissioners, taking some of the sting out of the service cuts that will take effect this fall, have voted to provide limited bus service on Saturdays and Sundays.
They had previously decided to eliminate all weekend runs as part of the cutbacks that are a result of the defeat in last November’s election of a tax-increase proposal to fund bus service.
Pierce Transit’s current schedule provides 417,000 service hours per year. The revised schedule the commissioners approved Feb. 11 will reduce annual service hours to approximately 300,000, or a 28 percent reduction. The original cuts that were adopted in January would have limited service to 275,000 annual service hours, a 34 percent reduction from current levels.
The partial reversal of the initial cuts came as a result of the agency receiving $6.2 million in revenue through two Federal Transit Administration grants and congressional approval of the Alternative Fuel Tax Credit. In addition, over a 10-year period beginning this year, Pierce Transit will extend the use of its buses from 14 years to 16 years and cancel some planned improvements to its maintenance facilities, freeing up $19.5 million that had been earmarked for capital costs. The combined financial factors will add $25.7 million for bus operations through 2022, officials said.
“We have been working very hard to find these savings,” said Lynne Griffith, Pierce Transit’s chief executive officer. “Given the strong need for service in this community and the repeated desire of our board members to find a way to provide service on the weekends, we feel this is the right choice.”
Seniors, students and others who depend on transit service to get to appointments, schools and jobs are expected to suffer from service reductions, which include no buses on holidays and, on weekdays, less service after 7 p.m. and during mid-day hours of 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
Transit officials say current levels of service would have been preserved if voters had approved Proposition 1, a proposal to add three-tenths of 1 percent to the sales tax in Pierce County. Had it passed, the additional tax revenue would have gone to Pierce Transit.
Almost all transit routes will be affected by the cutbacks. Officials said the primary impacts are:
• On weekdays, 36 routes operating 1,250 daily trips, limited service at night and mid-day.
• On weekends, 24 routes providing 456 trips on Saturdays and 17 routes and 271 trips on Sundays, but limited service after 7 p.m. and mid-day.
• Elimination of Route 62, which serves Northeast Tacoma, and no restoration of special service for major events like the Washington State Fair in Puyallup.
• Reduced or elliminated paratransit service for people with disabilities.
Only voters living within the transit benefit area could cast ballots on the tax proposal last year. 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, 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 those efforts to preserve service levels were negated as ridership rose to record levels, according to transit officials.