Photo by Erubisu 27

Out of Pierce County comes the news that some cities are considering leaving Pierce Transit because they’re paying taxes and no longer receive any service:

The mayors of Bonney Lake, Buckley and Orting – three cities that have been vocal about their transit concerns – said they favor going through the process.

“I can take not having service. What I can’t take is being taxed for service I’m not getting,” said Buckley Mayor Pat Johnson.

It’s always sad when service levels shrink, but outlying areas are where attempts to save Pierce Transit with a tax increase failed most miserably.  Leaving the district would allow Tacoma and Lakewood to move forward with a more developed transit system.

Leaving the Public Transit Benefit Area, or PTBA, is a non-trivial process, as PT spokesman Lars Erickson explained to me over a year ago. It’s below the jump:

  • The Board of Commissioners convenes a “public transportation improvement conference”, consisting of one elected representative chosen by each city council within the county and an elected representative chosen by the Board of Commissioners.  The law also allows a “county-wide conference” to be convened by any two cities or by a petition of 10% of the registered voters within the county who voted at the last general election.
  • The Board of Commissioners delineates the proposed new PTBA boundary and notifies each city in the county of it.
  • Each city tells the Board of Commissioners if it desires to be within or outside of the proposed new boundary.  The Board of Commissioners then revises the proposed boundary to include or exclude each city as it desires.  This is the proposal to be considered at the conference.
  • The conference sets a date for a public hearing on the proposed new boundaries.  Notice of the hearing must be published for at least four consecutive weeks in at least one newspaper of general circulation in Pierce County.  The notice must contain the information set out in RCW 36.57A.030.
  • The conference holds a public hearing.
  • The conference may then adopt a resolution setting revised boundaries for the PTBA as it deems reasonable and proper.  The conference, however, may not adopt boundaries which will create islands of included or excluded land or which include only a portion of a city.  If the conference wishes to include land which is not included in the proposal, a new notice bust be issued and an additional hearing held.
  • RCW 36.57A.030 states that within 30 days after the conference adopts the resolution, the Board of Commissioners may veto “the establishment” of a PTBA.  Although not completely clear, by legal opinion this only applies to creation of a new PTBA as opposed to the modification of the boundaries of an existing PTBA.  On the other hand, Fakkema v. Island County could be read to suggest that the Board of Commissions has a veto over even the modification of PTBA boundaries.  In any event, the Commissioners may only veto the resolution if they find that the new PTBA either includes land which could not be reasonably expected to benefit from the PTBA or excludes land which could be reasonably expected to benefit.
  • Within 60 days of the establishment of the PTBA boundaries through the resolution, any city within the PTBA may withdraw from participation.

These steps make up the process for modifying the boundaries of a PTBA.  The effect of such change on a PTBA’s governing body, in this case our Board of Commissioners, is less certain.  RCW 36.57A.050 states that:  “within sixty days of the establishment of the boundaries of the public transportation benefit area the members of the county legislative authority and the elected representative of each city within the area shall provide for the selection of the governing body of such area, the public transportation benefit area authority, which shall consist of elected officials selected by and serving at the pleasure of the governing bodies of component cities within the area and the county legislative areas.”

28 Replies to “Pierce Transit Contraction”

  1. Once again, I have to ask, why doesn’t the City of Tacoma do its own ballot measure to increase bus hours (and throw in some infrastructure to speed the buses up)?

    That seems far preferable to making large swaths of Pierce County unreachable for the bus dependant.

    1. Because it wouldn’t solve the problem that the PTBA to which Tacoma belongs is currently half-full of people who don’t seem to care much about transit, don’t seem to want to vote for it, and aren’t receiving much or any direct benefit from it, following the last round of reductions.

      1. Bruce, by your logic, the Bellingham in-city subsidy didn’t solve the Whatcom problem, and the Seattle Bridging the Gap subsidy didn’t help Metro. Maybe we are misunderstanding each other?

    2. Brent,

      I don’t understand the mechanism you’re proposing. Should PT cut its productive routes to preserve unproductive ones, and hope that Tacoma will vote to plus up the cuts?

      Or should Tacoma vote to directly pay for suburban service those very suburbs won’t pay for themselves?

    3. PT has been pretty adamant that this is “their problem” and not the City of Tacoma’s. If the City takes action on a TBD and were to raise sales taxes and a VLF, some fear that PT will have a harder time passing a ballot measure that would raise relatively more funding from the PTBA boundary.

      I would be all in favor of a “Streets for All” type campaign in Tacoma, granted we could pass one. We’ve got more than enough unfunded bike-ped projects, but we’re lacking a Transit Master Plan to prioritize the transit infrastructure. Hard to do when you’re planning to cut 130 government employees.

      1. It also, as I noted above, misses the point that the current situation is politically unsustainable. These exurban areas are getting almost no direct service, and they don’t seem to particularly want service, yet they are legally part of the PTBA, and thus have political say in what happens at PT.

        Purchasing service hours for Tacoma is a bandage that does not address the structural problem with the PTBA.

      2. Yes, of course PT should shrink. But Tacoma has to do what’s right for itself in the meantime. Was Seattle really not buying bus hours before Transit Now? That seems pretty recent.

  2. ORCA acceptance is also getting reduced in Pierce County, as Intercity Transit responds to having to take over all service on the Olympia Express.

    Be prepared to pay with cash next time you want to get down to the Capitol.

    1. What I’m hearing is IT is too cheap and or lazy to get ORCA readers

      Not surprised they don’t want to take ORCA though nor do they want to get readers. Seems like us riders are being punished for PT’s discontinued Oly Express service

      1. Look on the bright side: With just one agency providing inter-county service, maybe they’ll be more inclined to time the service for transfers with ST buses that don’t involve 90-minute layovers.

      2. Which Thurston County route should Intercity Transit cut to pay for ORCA readers, infrastructure, and connecting to the network? How will they explain that to Intercity Transit voters, who get no benefit from it unless they ride to Tacoma AND transfer to PT/ST regularly? It says Intercity Transit is interested in joining the ORCA network systemwide but it hasn’t been feasable so far. I imagine that doing so would require the agreement of ORCA and all the existing agencies, and an assessment of how much it would cost Intercity and the existing agencies. Plus, ORCA needs to implement a day pass and week pass and visitor’s card before it gets to secondary issues like adding counties.

      3. Perhaps ST and IT should negotiate a deal to extend the 592 to Olympia (with a pay-in from Thurston County similar to Gig Harbor’s pay-in for the 595), with IT operating, basing, and maintaining the buses.

        I heard rumors in the past that something along those lines might happen.

      4. If IT goes it alone on intercounty service, don’t be surprised if DuPont ends up being the terminus of all OX runs.

      5. Mike,
        IT would get the benefit of lower cash handling expenses and reduced fare-box maintenance. That may offset some of the cost of adding ORCA. OTOH as a small agency they may not see as much benefit as say Metro or even PT.

        Also I don’t think it would be so much a question of cutting something for them as not adding something new. Though having to completely take over the Olympia Express I think has eaten much of the extra money IT had in its budget.

        Longer term I suspect it really depends on what IT sees as the future of inter-county express service and if they wish to annex to ST.

  3. Word is that those portable ORCA readers come at ridiculously (even scandalously) high prices, and would be a terrible deal for IT.

    1. Do you mean just for Olympia Express buses or for all IT buses?

      (Though I can understand why IT wouldn’t want to do it just for OX buses if it can’t get more return on its investment by getting full fare from inter-county riders.)

    2. Pretty sure the commuter buses will get PFTPs. There is some development work necessary to bring on another agency, and it’s actually more efficient to do a full system integration, but they’re hesitant. Hopefully they’ll come around.

  4. I’m certainly curious as to what an “acceptable” reduction in the service area would look like. Ideally, I would think the service area would include Tacoma, Lakewood, Parkland, Puyallup, and parts of South hill (along Meridian).

    1. Yes, that’s what it would include, although I don’t know the exact boundary. Tacoma votes for PT taxes, Lakewood and Puyallup are medium, and the area east of Puyallup votes against them.

  5. A larger issue involved with shrinking the PTBA boundary: it also reduces the amount of sales tax revenue the agency will receive to run the current reduced level of service, making further additional service cuts possible.

    (Hypothetical example: Let’s say a 3-city PTBA brings in 100% of current revenue. Now let’s say that city #3 successfully withdraws from the PTBA, and the new tax boundary brings in 70% of current revenue. There’s now a new revenue gap that has to be addressed.)

    1. If shrinking the PBTA boundary cuts out the anti-transit-tax folks out, it makes a tax increase approval more likely, thus offsetting the loss. It worked in Thurston and Clark Counties.

  6. As for shrinking the PTBA,
    i think that some of the extranious areas of the county, that were probally added at one time to help collect MVET fees should be removed. These include areas such as the Key Penninsula, Areas North, East, South of Sumner, East of Spanaway to Graham, and the military bases. All these areas are either difficult to serve since they are generally rural/sprawling in nature, pedistrian un-friendly in al respects, recieve service but dont contribute to it (no sales tax on post), and dont recieve/have low ridership. I think that Pierce County itself could help fill in the gaps, by providing small van line, or working with local school districts better utilize school buses off hours (, and overall better coordination of existing programs and choices county wide. There are oppertunitys to contract with connecting services to extend some service from outside the county to destinations inside the county (Work with Mason Transit for Belfair-Purdy via SR 302, Metro for Emunclaw-Buckley via SR 410 (its 5 minutes away literally!)). As for JBLM, I think the military needs to provide for its own. There are three fine transit centers at either end of the base (Lakewood Mall, Lakewood Station, and DuPont Station) from which bus/van lines onto the post could be ran from.

    Finally, It will be intresting to see what impacts shrinking the PTBA will have on Sound Transit. If the afforementioned areas are removed from the local PTBA, that would leave many of those areas inside the Regional Transit Authority. Would those areas come knocking on doors at Union Station demanding replacement bus service? Sound Transit has such a wide variance in route structures, while all express in nature they simply cant say “we dont do that”. The 522 for example runs on a state highway, but its stops are more local in nature, vs., say the 594 which makes a few stops in Downtown Seattle, than a few in Downtown Tacoma, and Lakewood and runs closed door express inbetween.

    And looking on WSDOT’s website, I found this intresting PDF about regional mobility grant funds.
    In there, it says that Intercity Transit was awarded funds for 2 projects “Tumwater/DuPont/Lakewood – Expanded Express service” and “Seattle Express Bus Service”. Also there was an intresting line item for a Community Transit project titled “Sunday Service”

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