Now that its boundary revision process is complete – eliminating service and taxation for Buckley, Orting, Sumner, Bonney Lake, DuPont, the Key Peninsula, and swaths of unincorporated Pierce County – Pierce Transit (PT) will likely go back to voters this year to ask for its remaining sales tax authority. (PT currently collects .6% sales tax, compared to .9% for Metro, Sound Transit, and Community Transit). Newly excluded areas have long voted heavily against transit revenue, and the odds of a new ballot measure passing are much higher under the newly shrunk boundaries. The new boundary is 30% smaller (292 sq mi vs 414) but retains 75% of the population (560k vs 750k).
At a public hearing last week, attendees expressed unanimous support in favor of returning to the ballot. Since the failure of Proposition 1 last year, PT has reduced service by 33% (417k annual service hours vs 622k) and reduced staff by 18% (866 employees vs 1,054). Most non-trunk service is now hourly and span of service is exceptionally poor, often ending by 6pm even in the densest areas. Raising the sales tax to .9% would likely allow the smaller service area to return to previous levels of service, with most routes on 30-minute headways and operating until late at night.
It is worth noting that PT has a more impoverished ridership base than either Metro or ST, with the TNT reporting that 56% of riders make less than $20,000 a year. Combined with very low densities and poor land use in Pierce County, this leaves Pierce Transit with an unfortunate incentive (or even mandate) to emphasize geographic coverage over frequency.
At the very least PT deserves the opportunity to collect sales tax at the regionally precedented level of .9%, as its residents do not deserve to be disproportionately disadvantaged relative to King, Snohomish, and Thurston (.8%) counties. STB will support PT’s efforts should they officially decide to go back to ballot.