Pierce Transit puts the brakes on cuts

9:57 am August 23rd, 2013

Cuts in public bus service by Pierce Transit have been headed off by improved financial conditions for the agency.
The transit Board of Commissioners voted July 31 in favor of delaying cuts that were scheduled to begin in two months. The action, taken in response to what transit officials said was higher-than-expected sales tax growth over the first five months of 2013, canceled the 28 percent service reduction plan that would have taken effect Sept. 29.
Transit officials said they will evaluate sales tax proceeds as part of a revised service plan that will be submitted later to the commissioners for possible adoption.
Revenue from the countywide sales tax comprises about 75 percent of Pierce Transit’s operating budget annually.
Tax receipts are showing unexpected but steady growth this year over the same period in 2012. The data lags two months behind distribution and wasn’t available to the commissioners when they voted in June to approve service cuts, officials explained.
Lynne Griffith, chief executive officer of Pierce Transit, said canceling the cuts that were coming in September will allow “time to see how the sales tax will perform for the balance of 2013.” The agency will base its 2014 budget and set service levels based on the tax revenue, she noted.
Pierce Transit had planned to cut service hours from 417,000 to 300,000 hours.
The agency will likely maintain service at about 392,000 hours through 2014, according to officials. Griffith said the service plan will be “based on a more complete financial picture.”
The proposed cuts worried seniors, students and low-income persons in general who are dependent on Pierce Transit for rides to jobs, doctor appointments, schools and stores. Among riders who were likely to suffer some of the most were the 55-and-over clients of Tacoma Area Coalition of Individuals with Disabilities (TACID) who are vision-impaired. According to TACID, they rely heavily on Pierce Transit shuttles, which will be eliminated wherever bus routes are being dropped. People may have been left without transportation to and from daytime appointments, officials said.
The impact could have been worse. In January, the commissioners approved even deeper cuts of 34 percent in response to voters’ rejection last November of a tax increase that transit officials said was needed to retain full service. A month later, the commissioners changed course by voting Feb. 11 to provide limited bus service on Saturdays and Sundays, which left the overall cuts in service at 28 percent.
The cutbacks could have begun in February, but the commissioners decided to give transit users more time to try to replace transportation that was scheduled to end.
In the 2012 general election, Proposition 1 –Pierce Transit’s request 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 and maintained current levels of service, according to transit officials.
Only voters living within the transit benefit area could cast ballots on the tax proposal. The benefit area includes parts of Graham and Spanaway, as well as Tacoma, Puyallup, Gig Harbor, Lakewood and Sumner. Eatonville and other parts of southeast Pierce County aren’t part of it.
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 ridership rose to record levels, according to transit officials.

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