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Less than feared, transit cut are still painful

Post by TNT Editorial Board / The News Tribune on Jan. 16, 2013 at 5:45 pm |
January 16, 2013 5:45 pm

This editorial will appear in Thursday’s print edition.

It’s all too easy to predict the effects of Pierce Transit’s service cutbacks scheduled to go into effect this summer: Many low-income workers, senior citizens and students will feel the pain of fewer routes and hours.

The agency’s board decided Monday to implement a 34 percent service reduction in late September rather than 36 percent by waiting until February 2014. A series of public meetings will take place first, which could convince the board to delay the cuts to the later date.

There’s not much difference between 34 percent and 36 percent, and the agency argues that so many low-seniority drivers are resigning that it will likely be short of bus operators by September anyway. So the timing probably works out better for the earlier implementation.

Either service-reduction figure is a considerably brighter scenario than the one Pierce Transit outlined for voters back in August, when it estimated that failure of the proposed sales tax increase on the Nov. 6 ballot would mean a catastrophic 53 percent cutback in service.

Even though the ballot measure failed, the agency now says it doesn’t need to make such a drastic cut because its revenues and expenditure picture have improved since that projection. Its taking in more from its existing sales tax revenue stream as the general economy improves, and its major employees union voted in late August to approve a new three-year contract with no cost-of-living increases. Union members also agreed to pay more of their medical costs.

Even so, a 34 percent service reduction will affect many. Weekend and holiday service will be eliminated, and there will be reductions in service for weekday evenings, at midday and peak hours.  Low-income workers who have no other way to get to their job sites on weekends will be hurt the most.

It shouldn’t have come to this. After Pierce Transit’s first ballot failure in 2011, it cut back its service area, excluding areas that overwhelmingly voted against it. But it didn’t adjust the amount of the tax increase – 3 cents per $10 – or react to the concern of many voters that it would be a permanent tax. Local merchants feared that the stigma of being the highest-taxed area in the region would hurt business.

Instead of a permanent sales tax increase of three-tenths of one percent, the agency should have gone for a lower, time-limited tax. That would have had an excellent chance of passing – the Nov. 6 tally was very close – and would have led to much more humane service reductions.

The agency should continue economizing and come back with a more modest ballot measure. Public transit is too important to too many people to do otherwise.

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