Proposed new Pierce Transit district boundary

With the failure of Pierce Transit’s Prop. 1 at the ballot last February, the agency has been scrambling to find non-cut options, the most promising one being a redefinition, or shrinking, to be more precise, of the current service area.  While Prop. 1 received rather generous support in Tacoma’s core urban areas, the vote was largely dragged down by anti-tax suburban communities.  As such, shrinking the boundaries is being sold as a win-win for everyone: more political support for PT, and no taxes for cities that don’t want to pay for transit.

At last, Pierce Transit’s Public Transportation Improvement Conference has come up with ideas for a new district boundary (PDF), with a bold purge of suburban communities like Buckley and Sumner.  Before the new district can be improved, however, the PTIC will host a hearing to solicit public input.  As usual, our friends at Transportation Choices Coalition are at the helm of organizing turnout.  The hearing is 6pm this Thursday, March 8th, at the Pierce Transit Training Center in Lakewood:

We are never going to have decent bus service in Tacoma and Pierce County unless Pierce Transit secures additional revenues.  The current map proposed in front of the PTIC will align Pierce Transit’s taxing district with where there is bus service, paving the way for more efficient service in the future and allow voters in Tacoma, Lakewood, Gig Harbor, and Puyallup to vote for transit revenue (again) and restore their bus service.

Voters in Bonney Lake and rural areas should NOT decide the fate of transit service in Tacoma and its suburban neighbors. Please attend this hearing and tell the PTIC to PASS THE MAP! Due to the schedule to get on the ballot, we need to this to pass at this meeting!

Of course, the biggest concern with excluding cities like Sumner and Bonney Lake, in particular, is the elimination of connectors that feed Sounder stations.  But given the existing momentum for that to happen anyway, PT doesn’t seem to have anything to lose with a contraction of its service area.  For more information on the boundary issue, Chris Karnes over at Tacoma Tomorrow has already provided excellent coverage.

21 Replies to “Pierce Transit Contraction Moving Forward”

  1. Not to quibble and perhaps it’s intended irony, but “Pierce Transit Contraction Moving Forward” is maybe a bit of an unfortunate headline?

    “Pierce Transit Recedes Into 20th Century” might be better. It’s all part of the Great Leap Backwards we’re undergoing as part of the wealth redistribution scheme.

    1. I had the same reaction Doug. I don’t follow PT that closely, so I may be all wet on this one.
      Did they even try to salvage a bad vote the way Bellingham did, by forming a citywide taxing district to restore Sunday service with 2/10th cent sales?
      WTA didn’t consider lopping off the cities of Lynden or Blaine as a result of one bad election. Bellingham sucked it up and provided for local funding for transit, bikes and streets in equal amounts when it became clear the countywide votes just were not there.
      Another question that arises with this is that the ST district now overlays a transit wasteland in the outlying areas of Pierce Co. Do they shrink their boundary also, provide some Sounder shuttle service to Bonney Lake, or just keep their mouths shut and let the taxes roll in as usual.

      1. Some of the cities being dropped from the PT district have already threatened to leave (most notably Sumner). PT is essentially saying “fine go”.

      2. Close the Sumner station. Let the recently rejuvenating little town fall back into its 1940’s slumber.

      3. Part of the problem is that Bonney Lake Actively opposed Prop 1, which I think caused a backlash of the board when they redesigned the service reduction to keep as much of the urban service as possible, which in turn caused the whole PTIC process to get kicked off. A domino effect to be sure, and now that this process has started I think some politicians saw a golden parachute to effectively reduce the hated sales tax for their constituents right around election time, and that has driven some of the demands to exit the PTBA. Some, are justified, others I think are purely based on election year politics.

        The new wringer in all of this, is the sudden and drastic rise of fuel prices in the past few weeks. Will this lead to some re-considering of who wants out of the PTBA. It’s easy to leave, but not so easy to get back in. And if these jurisdictions do leave, will they be knocking on ST’s doorstep for replacement service? Considering that Sumner has a very acute lack of parking, and Those in bonney lake who would lose their sounder connector would probably not be able to find replacement parking, without the bus shuttle, There may be a riot by the time the service is cut back and gas is creeping up to $5 a gallon.

        As a technical side-note, with some creative thinking i think something could be done on Sound Transit’s Part. First, there was a study to assess and resolve the parking situation in Sumner. I think the money was flexible, meaning it could either be spent on parking or operations. Perhaps this funding could be used to provide the missing sounder connector. Also, while I think having the 578 serve Puyallup every 30 minutes is a good thing, maybe it would be better to have only hourly service to Puyallup, and re-direct that other bus to go up to bonney lake. The two half’s would join in Sumner and you’d have half-hourly from Sumner onward. You would tie up some coaches in layovers, since you’d have two instead of one, although on the Puyallup end you may be able to extend the line up to at least the “red” lot, if not South Hill proper in the amount of layover time given. Just some food for thought.

      4. A brief history, as best recollected by me in the middle of the night:

        Even before the revenue shortage, PT had only 2 frequent, all-day lines in the entire system, (2) Lakewood/Tacoma and (1) Spanaway/Tacoma, both long milk-runs on major arterials. These lines ran consistently full or near-full into/out of downtown, on 40′ coaches, at 15 minute headways.

        After the revenue shortage and ballot measure failure, PT’s plan cut these two routes to the same 30-minute headways as the rest of the system, and used those service hours to preserve existing skeletal service in the suburbs. Systemwide, frequency suffered to preserve coverage. Riders (most of whom used one of those 2 frequent routes) revolted. An alternative plan which cut skeletal service from low-ridership areas in order to have 1 & 2 operating at 20 minute headways eventually won out. Systemwide, frequency was hit much more gently.

        It is mandatory to mention at this point that when you compare the district-by-district voting results from Pierce Transit’s failed ballot measure, and neighborhood transit ridership, they directly correlate. By cutting skeletal service to low ridership areas, Pierce transit was effectively cutting off the areas that voted no. But the areas were still technically in the service boundary, so they were still paying taxes into the system.

        Which leads us to the natural conclusion of the process, which was basically assumed the moment the alternative plan was chosen. Going through the political process of formally redrawing the service boundary.

        Funny thing: They actually got savings from cutting these routes far beyond the service hours of the routes themselves. Suddenly many suburban/exurban neighborhoods were no longer within 3/4 mile of fixed-route service, and thus no longer had to be served by their paratransit service, SHUTTLE. So SHUTTLE‘s corner of the budget got a lot better.

      5. Sumner’s going to be interesting. With the *only* transportation being at the Sounder station, land right next to the Sounder station will become very valuable, while the rest of the town will become very unattractive. Watch for serious attempts to rezone the parcels next to the station.

      6. I’m skeptical of a sumner upzone. It could happen, but I don’t think it’s practical unless sounder magically becomes all-day two-way, or Sumner becomes actually walkable near the station.

  2. Bellingham’s Transportation Benefit District contracts (pays) for the extra service from the WTA. Bellingham passed the sales tax increase, not other areas in the WTA.

    Pierce Transit is lopping off the areas that don’t bring in sales tax and have voted against increasing taxes. These are rural areas that are expensive to serve.

    1. This is precisely correct. If suburbs are transit hostile, contribute few sales tax dollars, and no riders it’s an easy call. That’s what a lot of these areas we’re dropping off are. In some cases cities are deciding to go because we cut off service (because it costs too much per rider). In other cases they were cut because such areas are sales tax poor and harbor voters hostile to transit.

      Tacoma has gone through the motions to form a TBD, but isn’t funding it with anything just yet. It would be great to fund some city-only service, but then again, we could just as easily use that money for stuff that speeds up transit on key corridors.

  3. Don’t worry. The affected towns have a great progressive State Senator, Pam Roach, to take care of them.

  4. I still have high hopes that Auburn will come to its senses and drop from the map after they are confronted with paying taxes into PT indefinitely. But that’s a battle that can be had AFTER it passes out of the PTIC on Thursday.

    It should be noted that the map cannot be modified to add cities back in without approval by the PTIC, which means that Sumner, if they chose to rejoin PT, will have to wait and annex themselves at a later point and have their sales taxes jump foreseeably 0.9%.

    1. Personally, I’d like to see Sumner and Bonney Lake Rejoin. Its kinda silly to have to major cities outside the PTBA when they are on the border and even in the RTA. Although i’d hope that PT is able to pass a sales tax increase before they see the follys of their ways and rejoin.

  5. PT’s future is actually looking pretty good.

    They’re running an all-CNG fleet at a time when the price of CNG is way, way down.
    Their new network has drastically superior farebox recovery.
    Their fleet is not exactly new, but is in good condition and relatively low mileage, so they don’t have a big impending fleet replacement coming up like Metro.
    Their new tax base is pro-transit and willing to support grand projects.
    And they have a lot of service hours hiding in their existing system, just waiting to be found. They’re a much smaller agency than Metro, and haven’t yet done all of the statistical analysis that Metro did to find efficiencies. It’s one of the cited reasons they didn’t get the same license-fee authority that KC Metro did. I bet you could find enough service hours in a Route 1 stop diet to put that route back up to 15 minute headways.

    1. It would not surprise me to see Sumner and Bonney Lake knocking on ST’s door for service improvements from them, especally in relation to the Sumner Station issue. Funding aside, it would be difficult for them to say no since some of their other routes have local service type componets to them with more frequent stops instead of only at major transfer points which seems to be the norm for Pierce County Routes.

  6. I suppose the important takeaway here might be that funding everything via property and sales taxes is a worn-out public finance fantasy. Sit on a three-legged stool missing a leg and crash to the floor often enough, maybe we’ll figure it out?

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