The early election results from Pierce County are not good. Andrew Austin of TCC broke down the district results, and found that it passed strongly in Tacoma, lost narrowly in Gig Harbor and Puyallup, and was slaughtered in the exurbs. PT’s reserves run out in 2012, so expect a 35% service cut over the next year or so.

Meanwhile, Jefferson County voters passed an identical tax rate increase to preserve their transit service. This will not only avoid a 22% service cut but actually allow modest increases in the coming years.

Two observations:

  • While there is no single reason the PT measure failed, I question any decision to put transit measures in obscure elections. Low-turnout elections are likely to miss young people, who are an important pro-transit constituency.
  • Fans of agency consolidation living in other counties should consider this result and the Prop. 1 results from 2008 and ask themselves if they really want their fates tied to the Pierce County electorate.

36 Replies to “Pierce Sinking, Jefferson Swimming”

  1. You’re right on- the inability to improve urban services is a good reason to avoid regionalizing local transit service. From OFM numbers, Tacoma represents only abou 27% of PT population. I don’t know their ridership, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s 60% of all transit ridership. In their desires to serve the “Pierce County Metro Area” they reduce their ability grow in hard times.

  2. Yes, there is a “single reason the PT measure failed”. Pierce is the only large population but reliably Republican county in northwest Washington. Republicans [ad hom].

    Is there a way to move Pierce County to Texas? I understand it would leave a hole in the Washington map, but maybe Puget Sound would just fill it in.

    We would need a causeway for I-5 and the BNSF tracks, though.

  3. So the question is (assuming this failed when the finalized results are in), how soon do PT service reductions begin?

    Also, could Tacoma do for PT what Bellingham did for WTA?

  4. I don’t think the general public is as informed about the subtleties of different transit in general. I think most voters see PT and ST as ‘Transit’, and not unique agencies on different missions.
    When they get ready to vote for more transit, the mind says, 6/10th to 9/10th is a big jump(50% is what the NO campaign kept touting), on top of just approving a 5/10th jump two years ago, on top of the 4/10th they’ve been paying since 1996, plus the 3/10th MVET that will now go on for many more years.
    Add in the negative publicity (Bonney Lake Council, and the big donors list of transit unions),10% unemployment and enough of the public’s swing voters decided to pass on this one.

  5. Pierce County consistently elects democrats to the state legislature, at least in the 27th and the 29th district. It’s not accurate to lump Tacoma-proper in with the rest of Pierce County and classify the whole thing as overwhelmingly republican.

    I do agree that it was a mistake to do this in a special election, particularly since we still have poll voting here in the solidly pro-transit central Tacoma area for general elections and a lot of the last-minute poll voters seem to be dems. Remind them at 7:10 on election day and they will turn out, but they’ve probably misplaced their mail-in ballot some time ago.

  6. Shame that PC Prop 1 lost, but there’s a lesson to be learned here: voters will only approve measures they will use (or will want to use).

    It’s blatant parochialism, but then so be it: based on the legislative district breakdown, the cities (district 27 and parts of 28 and 29) want transit, and the exurbs don’t (surprise!); PT should take this into account when gutting its service levels over the next 24 months. And when the time comes to restore some of the lost service hours, the planners really ought to ask themselves whether its more appropriate to add a low-frequency route to [insert Pierce Co exurb here] instead of adding service/routes to underserved areas of [Tacoma/Lakewood/UP/Parkland/etc.].

    If nothing else, I hope that PT emerges a better agency from this – better route planning, directed focus on the trunk routes and neighborhood connectivity, making sure that service is provided to the areas with highest ridership potential. It’s a tough way to enter that process, though.

    It’s hardly an ideal situation, but it’s a chicken/egg problem.

    1. I agree. Elections have consequences. The principle of cutting services based on tax referendum voting patterns should be extended statewide.

    2. But if the thinking of those in the exurbs is “I don’t get any service from PT, so whiy should I vote for this tax?”, cutting service to those areas would just make them more obstinate in the future.

      1. To put it more usefully, I think it’s better to cut off low-productivity suburban routes (continue trunk routes where they make sense) and forget those votes, have activists focus on turning out the urban vote.

      2. The public transit benefit area for PT isn’t the whole county, so you could eliminate the service and then shrink the district so that you forgo the tax revenue but don’t have to win the votes anymore.

      3. Theres a balence that needs to happen in some of these areas; are they generating enough tax revenue (at an increased rate) to adiquately fund the service provided to them. If they are not anywhere close to that level; and the community states they dont want service either through their elected officials and polling results than sessation of service and removal from the tax district should be discussed. Although i have a sneaky suspision that if you seriously started these discussions more than one jurisdiction would be pounding down the doors saying they wish to retain what service they have. Convincing the taxpayers of this may be another problem though.

  7. It’s sad, but predictable given Martin’s observation about low-turnout elections. There is a valid concern about increasing sales taxes. I’m sure you’ve all heard folks bragging about buying stuff on trips to Oregon to save on taxes; Increasing sales tax rates just strengthens the incentive to engage in tax avoidance behavior.

    Interestingly enough, Whatcom county receives a lot of shopping traffic, and thus sales tax revenue, from Canadians avoiding their even higher VAT (Value Added Tax).

    1. On top of that, locally-pumped-up sales tax can have an anti-TOD effect. “Outlet malls” (cheaper chain malls outside of urban areas), have become all the rage, and they are designed pretty exclusively around long automobile trips. It’s the tax evasion, lack of development regulations, and cheaper land that drives this anti-TOD.

      I wish we could come up with a better primary funding source than sales tax.

      1. Are you talking about factory outlet malls such as the one in North Bend? That one has been there for twenty years and it’s more of a “has been” than “all the rage”. The factory stores used to be cheaper than the malls (in base price, not just tax) but that’s no longer the case. Metro’s #209, the main bus route in North Bend, terminates there. I’ve also heard of charter bus excursions to factory outlet malls.

        Or are you talking about a new kind of exurban chain mall I’m unaware of? Besides the malls in Silverdale and Skagit County, which are primarily for people living in those areas.

      2. Seattle Premium Outlets up in Marysville by the Tulalip Casino is all the rage these days. Went I took visitors up for shopping I noticed a lot of BC plated cars and it was very busy. My guests bought a lot of stuff. In addition to the outlet mall and casino, there’s also a Super Wal-Mart. I was underwhelmed by the selection at North Bend, which was really quiet.

      3. How is Seattle Premium Outlets different from the North Bend place on the one hand and Bellis Fair on the other? Why are Canadians going to it? Is their VAT really so high that it’s worth driving a hundred miles?

      4. I’m no shopper so I can’t say about the prices but the selection at Tulalip is much greater than at North Bend or Bellis Fair. It’s like Bellevue Square vs Totem Lake Malls.

      5. Ah, Tulalip, I would go to ye for the MMA fights if there were a way to get there without a car, especially on a Saturday night.

  8. Pierce Transit is depressingly regressive for its size, not just on transit but on a host of issues. I’m not sure what to do about that, but it’s true.

    1. Actually i tend to disagree with that statement. While CT has no sunday bus service, and Metro has its own raft of issues PT has been swimming along quite well on its reserves with some modest cuts in service. Obviously reserves dont last forever but they have held out for some time. No transit agency is perfect, but for what the situation is, its a lot better in Pierce County right now than Snohomish.

  9. Pierce County has been encouraging sprawling development patterns for years. This has starved Pierce County cities of tax base (reducing their attractiveness) and created a countywide transportation disaster area. Now bus service is about to be cut while massive highway investments are piling up (I-5 expansion, Tacoma Narrows expansion, proposed cross-base highway, proposed SR-167 expansion). Sounds like a vicious cycle with no end in sight… let’s just make sure the public policy failure stops at the border.

    1. Also worth noting that the Pierce subarea elected to spend money on commuter rail to Seattle rather than starting engineering on a new Link line to eventually connect to South Link, or expand Tacoma Link as a streetcar system (with eventual connections to Link.)

      1. It also promised improvements to the existing Sounder service; lengthening platforms, extending trains and parking mitigation.

  10. Does anyone know if PT is the same boat as Metro where the suburbs are financially supporting the transit in the DT. I would expect that to be the case since Tacoma has relatively far less retail than the suburbs than Seattle vs King County.

  11. The problem here is that there was ever an election in the first place. The Pierce County Council should have implemented the measure and then if the public are disappointed with the saving of their bus service, then they can vote the perpetrators out, but in the meantime, see what frequent elections do…..

      1. Not to mention that the Pierce County Council has no authority over Pierce Transit. The Board is a federation of elected officials in Pierce County. There are two county council members and the county executive on the Board.

  12. I fear PT cutting Sunday service in order to save the 1-seat rides to Seattle.

    For starters, consider the 599 gone before its time. ST was considering that already, anyway.

    The two mid-day and weekend routes from Tacoma/Lakewood may have to be consolidated into one route: namely, just the 574, with adequate frequency to handle ridership levels (which will almost certainly go down). Lakewood/Tacoma off-peak riders would still have a “one-bus” ride to Seattle, albeit slower. For times of day when there is no Sounder service, it could just do the Commerce St loop and skip Tacoma Dome.

    At any rate, routes are going to have to be scavenged in order to save Sunday service, or maybe even just to save all-day weekday neighborhood service.

  13. Local service reductions i dont think will have any direct impact on ST service. Although i do think that communities that may loose some service will turn to ST to help supplement or replace the local service. Namely this would probally include rerouting or extending a route into town from a park and ride with a few added “local” stops to serve the area in need. Probally in some areas they would ask for more service as well, which since ST’s budget is already thin… As for the I-5 corridor, some kind of service rationalization needs to be done.

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