The proposed buck stops here — or, it likely will.
Sound Transit Chief Executive Joni Earl agreed this morning with a contingent of Pierce County officials on the transit agency’s board of directors that the idea needs more study.
“We raised our concerns that the study (to support the new Link fare) was not deep enough,” Tacoma City Councilman Jake Fey said today. “Joni was of a similar mind. She’s going to recommend the change (for no fare) in the (proposed Sound Transit) budget.”
The idea for the new fare for the 1.6-mile light rail system in Tacoma was among a host of recommendations floated last month as part of Earl’s budget proposal for the regional transit authority, which is now grappling with a widening budget hole amid the tough economy.
Facing a $3.9 billion budget shortfall over the next 13 years, Earl proposed a $1.1 billion budget for next year that, while actually higher than the current budget, jettisons some key plans of the voter-approved “Sound Transit 2” program.
That initiative seeks to establish a high-capacity transportation system throughout central Puget Sound within the next two decades. But, as the recession has cut into Sound Transit’s projected revenues by 25 percent through an initially planned 2023 completion date, delivering all elements of the so-called ST2 program is no longer an option, Earl has said.
Officials for the regional transit authority have said that an underlying policy enacted in 1999 entitles the agency to charge Link riders for fares, but only after it’s determined that the revenues gleaned from charging riders would cover the costs of buying, installing and maintaining ticketing equipment.
A preliminary analysis indicated that revenues garnered from Tacoma Link riders would cover those costs, Ric Ilgenfritz, Sound Transit’s executive director of policy planning and public affairs, told Tacoma City Council members at budget update today.
But Fey and other members of the Pierce County contingent on the Sound Transit board – including Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy, Lakewood Deputy Mayor Claudia Thomas and Sumner Mayor Dave Enslow – raised concerns about the analysis at the board’s meeting this morning, Fey said.
Among other things, the group contended the analysis didn’t account for changed revenue conditions or factor in downtown Tacoma’s new pay-for-parking system — both of which could impact Link ridership, Fey said.
“We need time with the new downtown parking system to evaluate people’s behavior and revenues,” Fey said.
In order to remove the new proposed fare from the budget proposal, the Sound Transit board would need to adopt a formal amendment, Fey and others said.