Prop. 1, an initiative that asked for a 0.03 percent sales tax increase was rejected, leaving Pierce Transit (PT) without the funding it would have raised in revenue. Now, the significant cutbacks to service PT representatives had warned riders of are inevitable, but when will bus pass holders feel the decreases?
It depends, according to PT contact Lars Erickson. This December, two plans were drawn up with different cutback options, and a January 14th board meeting will determine which will be implemented. The two choices are similar in changes, but one will go into effect in September 2013, and the other February 2014.
As far as where exactly changes will be made, Erickson believed it’s “still too early to determine” but that weekend service will be eliminated and all routes will have much less frequent time schedules.
Helen Lincoln, a daily bus rider who attended public information sessions about Prop. 1 back in October, is concerned with public transparency once changes begin, hoping that “nothing gets cut that isn’t totally necessary.”
Erickson said that this transparency is a company goal, promising a “robust public process” that will “take into advisement questions and concerns” with many “public hearings to adopt a final plan.” Bringing information to the public includes a probable visit to the UW Tacoma campus in the near future.
With no major changes coming for the next several months, Erickson explained it is due to a labor agreement from PT’s biggest union that service can remain the same until a reduction plan is completed. Thanks to it, “our own ‘fiscal cliff’ as we say got pushed out a little bit, but we are still making significant cuts.”
When asked if any alternative cuts within the company could be made to lessen the impact on bus riders, Erickson said that PT began to find ways to trim their budget back in 2008, with “strategic reduction to service to maintain sustainability” that resulted in 11 million dollars in cuts and no pay increases for employees. Recently, a three year contract was signed by drivers agreeing to a frozen pay wage.
For Erickson, it is “too difficult to explain why” Prop. 1 fell through because it was “by such a small amount.” Out of 220,000 cast votes, it failed by 704. “We do not have a very diverse tool kit when it comes to revenue…We understand the burden on tax payers, but also the significance of a robust transit service.”
70 percent of funding comes to the company from local sales tax. With the rejection of Prop. 1, PT will “go to Olympia and work with legislature and other transit services to find new solutions.” All transit services rely on sales tax, Erickson said, leaving them with little options for finding other sources of funding or other political efforts that differ from those such as Prop. 1.
“Our goal is to move as many people as possible, but everyone will be impacted.” Erickson said of the eventual cuts to service.