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Press reset button on mass transit for cities losing buses

Post by TNT Editorial Board / The News Tribune on Nov. 11, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
November 11, 2011 3:45 pm

This editorial will appear in Monday’s print edition.

Should residents of cities that no longer receive Pierce Transit bus service still have to pay the sales tax that funds the agency?

If you live in the one of those cities that lost bus routes due to the transit agency’s contraction, your answer is likely to be something along the lines of “Heck, no.”

Now it looks as if the Pierce Transit board is on the same page. It is expected to vote today (see box) on whether to start a process that could lead to redrawing its taxing district to exclude communities whose residents are taxed yet receive little or no service.

It would have to convene a Public Transportation Improvement Conference comprised of a County Council member and elected officials from the county’s cities. The group would discuss boundary revision proposals and take public comment before changes are adopted.

Shrinking the taxing area to exclude Buckley, Orting and maybe even Bonney Lake (which still has one bus route, to the Sumner Sounder station) makes sense, and the transit board is right to get to work on it.

The exclusion of Bonney Lake, Buckley and Orting would mean a loss of about $2.6 million to Pierce Transit’s budget, about 4 percent of its total sales tax revenue. To make up for that loss, the agency might have to make more cutbacks. After the defeat in February of a proposed 0.3 percent sales tax increase, Pierce Transit cut service by 35 percent and laid off employees.

Adjusting the taxing district to more closely reflect the agency’s core service area might make it easier for Pierce Transit to win voter approval of a sales increase.

But if the transit board goes for a new tax measure – which would come on top of one just approved by county voters to fix the 911 system – it should make sure the agency is operating at peak efficiency and has done everything in its power to control expenses and labor costs. Doubts about its commitment to cost control helped sink the February measure, as did the fact that it was reaching for the maximum possible tax.

A smaller request – perhaps 0.2 percent – might well have won, and it would have demonstrated that the agency was not simply out to maximize its revenue in a harsh economy. After the defeat, the board chose not to return to the voters with a more modest request; its insistence on all or nothing has hurt the people Pierce Transit serves.

As for the communities that have lost all or most of their buses, they might consider contracting for what they need – either with Pierce Transit or with private providers. Transit services more carefully targeted to the disabled, elderly or other specific groups could be more cost-effective for those cities than the bus routes they’ve lost.

Transit meeting
Today’s Pierce Transit board meeting, which is open to the public, will begin at 4 p.m. in the Training Center’s Rainier Room, 3720 96th St. S.W., Lakewood.

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