Photo by the Author

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.

25 Replies to “Pierce Transit Likely to Go Back to Ballot”

  1. I hope the 0.3% passes. This will help everyone who lives and work in the current service boundery. I do have a question. If the 0.3% dose pass, will the special event service to the Taste of Tacoma, The Freedom and The Puyallyp Fairs will return as well?

  2. Does ST providing all-day service to DuPont and Sumner put them on the hook to provide paratransit around the stations, and paying for it all by themselves?

    1. I think that because sound transit is considered express bus service that they dont have to provide that kind of service.

      1. The 578 will now be providing hourly 7-day-a-week service to Sumner Station. The 3/4-mile requirement may be for the corridor around the bus path, not just the station, or may mean ST’s full service area, so I suspect there is case law that has helped flesh out when all these regs are applicable.

      2. The “commuter bus exception” is in the ADA at Section 12143:

        This has generally been interpreted to exempt commuter bus routes from paratransit even when the agency also provides other bus or rail services. This is probably because of section 12143(c)(2), which says

        The regulations issued under this section shall require the provision of paratransit and special transportation services required under this section in the service area of each public entity which operates a fixed route system, other than any portion of the service area in which the public entity solely provides commuter bus service.

        The definition of commuter bus service has probably been litigated. The CFR reference I found by Googling is at subpart A section 37.3:;sid=288b980af1630a0f7455c5a3a7a28efa;rgn=div6;view=text;node=49%3A1.;idno=49;cc=ecfr

        The DOT’s interpretation is rather vague:

        The rationale that may be inferred for the statutory exemption for this kind of service concerns its typical characteristics (e.g., no attempt to comprehensively cover a service area, limited route structure, limited origins and destinations, interface with another mode of transportation, limited purposes of travel). These characteristics can be found in some transportation systems other than bus systems oriented toward work trips. For example, bus service that is used as a dedicated connecter to commuter or intercity rail service, certain airport shuttles, and university bus systems share many or all of these characteristics.

        Emphasis mine. Reading further, it seems unlikely that the DOT would consider anything designed to connect to Sounder to be subject to paratransit requirements.

        The 578 is sort of on the borderline, but given that airport shuttles (!) qualify as commuter buses under the DOT rules, I think ST is not going to get in trouble for this one.

        If the 578 goes to every 15 minutes that would be different. :-)

      3. The whole law about requiring agencies who provide fixed-route service to provide paratransit without providing them any money for them to do so is a big mess that is full of unintended consequences.

        The biggest example of this is CT’s cutting of all Sunday service. Under the law, if you don’t provide regular service on Sunday, you don’t need to provide paratransit service on Sunday, which means cutting regular service on Sunday saves money above and beyond the cost of actually operating such service.

        However, this law doesn’t make sense because the “need” for paratransit service on Sunday is based on the need of disabled residents to get places on Sunday, and regardless of whether CT is willing to fund regular service on Sunday, the “need” for paratransit service on Sunday is exactly the same (maybe more, because some disabled residents might have been able to ride a fixed-route bus for some trips, if it’s running). Paratransit needs to have a dedicated budget and should be a completely separate entity from regular service. Service-allocation decisions regarding regular service and paratransit should be made separately, and except for ensuring good connections between the two service types, such decisions should have nothing to do with each other.

      4. The problem which happened with paratransit is that more people were *permanently* eligible for it than the original lawmakers ever anticipated.

        The original paratransit plan was intended as a transitional program. For people in wheelchairs until buses were made accessible; for people in wheelchairs in areas with broken sidewalks until the sidewalks were fixed; etc.

        Paratransit programs are awful, so nobody would voluntarily use one if there were a better alternative. But it turned out that there are *far* more people who cannot walk to the bus stop, for various reasons, than anyone anticipated. There were a startlingly large number of dialysis patients who couldn’t walk or drive. (This really ought to be covered by some type of universal health care program.)

        Also, the awful sidewalk-free state of car-oriented subdivision development meant that it was often impossible or extremely unsafe for someone blind, deaf or in a wheelchair to reach a bus stop; much more often than originally anticipated by the lawmakers.

        In cities like NY which still don’t have fully accessible transit systems, of course, their paratransit costs are through the roof, but that really is their fault for not making their main system accessible.

  3. So, if the tax passes, and then Sumner decides to rejoin the service area, does the tax increase get applied in Sumner?

    1. Are they even considering this? What would have to happen? I hope PT makes it “expensive” for them. It’s like dropping your insurance only to apply for it when you need it.

    2. Yes – they would have to re-annexation back in by the vote of their people.

      So if it passes, sumner voters would have to vote themselves a 0.9% tax increase all at once. I doubt it be likely!

  4. I wish some of these posts gave a context for what a 3/10th cent increase means.
    That’s a 50% increase over current taxation for transit – a very large increase indeed. Will service increase by 50% too?
    Or, looking back several decades when the rate was 3/10th cent says taxes have risen 3x in two decades, plus population grew by Y amount adding more revenue, plus revenue increased by the CPI. So how many bus hours of service will that provide over the same period? Is it 3x more than before?
    More money for transit is only good if it gets you an equivalent increase in service and 3x the riders. Accepting less weakens your campaign.
    Not enough information is available to answer the question, which makes taxpayers queasy about pulling the lever marked YES.

    1. How would doubling the tax rate (I don’t think it actually does that) lead to tripling service hours and ridership?

      1. No, tripling the rate from 3/10 to 9/10 is 3x as much revenue TO Pierce Transit over several decades, excluding population, sales tax base, and inflation. It’s a fair question to ask how much service and how many riders over the same period.

      2. Bad math. The existing rate is .6 and it’s going up to .9, so that’s a 50% rate increase, so you should expect no more than 1 1/2 times as much service.

        Which you won’t get because sales tax receipts are down due to the recession, and you have to make up for that somehow. However, this should allow for some increase in service.

    2. 3/10 of a cent equals 3 cents on a $10 purchase.
      According to the Washington Department of Revenue site, much of Pierce county is at 9.4% (Tacoma itself goes to 9.5% July 1). So a .3% increase is hardly a “50% tax increase.”

      1. If they increase the rate of tax that goes directly to transit from 0.6% to 0.9%, that is indeed a 50% increase. The question of how much extra service that will buy is a reasonable one.

      2. That’s not a 50% increase in revenue. There are other sources such as farebox revenues state and federal government grants etc. It is significant though and many areas would see double the service they get now.

    3. Service in crease of 38%

      2012 tax collections for 2012 for PT is somewhere around 60 million. A 0.3% will add 28 million to their revenue. So while a 50% increase it will only represent 1/3 of total revenue.

  5. So what’s the big deal if it’s a 50 percent increase? If the voters say it’s OK, then it’s OK, right?!

    I hope that PT gets the mandate, I feel for those who aren’t able to get into routes and get on the road in a timely manner, i.e., the ones who are now cut off due to their neighbors voting against PT in the first place.

Comments are closed.