A few weeks back I wrote about the budget woes at Pierce Transit, the agency responsible for the majority of bus and shuttle services in Pierce County. With Prop 1 scheduled for the fall general election ballot seeking a sales tax increase of one-tenth of one percent within Pierce Transit's boundaries to help fund services, officials say if the measure fails to pass it could spell disaster for the transit agency.
Pierce County's Proposition 1 - a measure slated for November's general election, which, if approved, will increase sales tax by three-tenths of a percent in the Pierce Transit district - may make or break the struggling transit agency.
Fifty percent of Pierce Transit's ridership has a yearly household income of $20,000 or less, and 75 percent of riders have a yearly household income of $40,000 or less. In addition to standard bus service in the county, Pierce Transit is responsible for providing paratransit shuttle service for people with disabilities. And it all adds up. Thanks to the faltering economy and Pierce Transit's heavy reliance on sales tax, the agency has experienced four straight years of declining revenues, with only more of the same forecast.
Despite all of this, voters rejected an identical three-tenths of one percent sales tax increase in February 2011 that would have helped the agency maintain services and its service area. Pierce Transit currently collects six-tenths of one percent sales tax within its boundaries, with the authority to go up to nine-tenths.
"For some people who don't have access to transportation, this is their lifeline," says Tacoma Mayor Marilyn Strickland, chair of the Pierce Transit board of commissioners.
While the story posted to The Daily Weekly in late August, it's still collecting comments on our site. And, as is customary, not everyone is buying Pierce Transit officials' insistence on a sales-tax increase as the answer to the agency's troubles.
As commenter nilesgt writes:
If I lived in Pierce County I would be inclined to vote "yes" on the November measure, but I don't.
What I know professionally is that IF taxpayers vote "no" on more tax dollars for Pierce Transit, there are undoubtedly opportunities for a restructuring and rearrangement of PT resources to focus on serving transit dependent customers like yourself.
Transit leaders would be forced to decide how to allocate available transit resources differently than done now to keep serving transit-dependent individuals like yourself adequately. I firmly believe that there are other approaches to serving you besides what PT has done in the past.
"Give us more taxes or we cut service" is almost always what a tax-funded agency will tell the tax-paying public when resources become tight. But at the same time there are always restructuring options that will mitigate the impact of less money coming in. The restructuring option may very well require doing the agency's work with fewer employees.
Another point -- Pierce Transit taxpayers will have shelled out $300 million in taxpayer funds over 16 years to build Sound Transit's Lakewood extension of Sounder Commuter Rail by the time it starts boarding customers this fall. This new infrequent train eventually will supposedly serve ridership of 1,700 per day on one route that already is served perfectly well by buses that cost much less to operate and maintain than a railroad.
Taxpayers who think transit in Pierce County should be coordinated by one agency having the big picture of money and citizen needs may also think that the $300 million for the Sounder passenger railroad going two stations past Tacoma Dome would have been better spent by Governments to serve transit dependent riders throughout the County who are seeing service cut for lack of money.