Sherwin’s reference to Pierce Transit’s Prop. 1 yesterday reminded me that we haven’t properly introduced the measure yet. As luck would have it, PT has an exceptional website that concisely lays out what the impact of a yes vote and a no vote would be. There are also open houses from September 5th through October 16th at various points in PT’s service area. It might be a good place to drag your not-quite-as-excited-about-transit friends.

Anyhow, PT’s reserves have just about run out, and if the tax rate remains as it currently is, there would be a 53% reduction in service hours by 2014, including the elimination of all weekend, evening, and holiday service. The routes that remained would of course become less frequent than they are today.

In contrast, increasing the sales tax rate from 0.6% to 0.9% would not only preserve current service, but allow a 23% increase over six years. It would also restore special event service.

The website provides further details on the cuts PT has already made to both their service and their administrative costs, as well as the concessions the union has made.

Metro and Community Transit are positioned to attract choice riders, but for PT it’s the basic level of social service that is under threat. On the other hand, it’s surprising how little 0.6% buys these days.

50 Replies to “Pierce Transit’s Prop. 1 This Fall”

  1. Wow, I had no idea the situation for Pierce Transit was so dire.

    It would be sad if Washington’s 3rd largest city was reduced to very limited weekday only bus service.

    If this fails is it possible for Tacoma to pull out of the PBTA and start its own bus service like Everett?

    1. Tacoma is up a creek without a paddle. It may still be Washington’s 3rd largest city but it’s density, 3,900/sq-mi is the same as Bellevue’s. But it’s twice the land area totally lacking a dense DT core. The Metro area is 3,500/sq-mi almost the same as Lakewood’s 3,400/sq-mi. King County with all it’s resources can’t provide blanket transit to the eastside even with vibrant and growing jobs centers like Kirkland, Bellevue and Redmond. When they do get a gift horse like the money to extend Tacoma Link they shun the very area, the Tacoma Mall where all the people are that would use it to revitalize the downtown. Increasing the sales tax is pouring money down a rat hole.

  2. @Chris, the tax base in Tacoma would not be able to support the level of service they get today. If Tacoma did it alone their tax base would support very limited service let alone starting up its own transit service would include an enormous expense at start up capital. Tacoma benefits form connections form other communities and visa versa.

    1. The city of Tacoma just barely avoided huge layoffs in the police and fire departments last budget cycle. They’ve closed two public libraries and put the buildings in mothball. There’s no way the city government could do it.

      To put things in perspective, before Pierce Transit was formed in 1980, Tacoma ran the bus system — nearly all the routes had turnbacks at the city limits, except for a couple of little tails around University Place and Parkland. Most all of the routes were long loops that radiated out from the transfer point on Pacific Avenue. There were a couple of small-time private operators, the Lake Drive Transit Co. and Tacoma Suburban Lines that served the Lakewood area, but that was it.

  3. Someone in yesterday’s thread mentioned the overcrowded Route 1 that stops very frequently. I rode the 1 a few times and wondered. What’s keeping them from doing a stop diet? It’s so slow! The pedestrian unfriendly streetscape on Pacific Ave certainly isn’t helping.

    1. I’ve complained about this a million times. It’s an awful route for stopping. Every 500 freaking feet. At least kill stops on 6th Ave. No excuse.

      1. Yeah, +1000000 on the ridiculousness.

        As an alternative, maybe an express version of Route 1 with wider-spaced stops (e.g., TCC, 6th and Proctor, 6th and Pine, Tacoma General, 10th and Commerce, UWT, etc. down along the stretches I don’t usually ride)?

      2. There wouldn’t be any funds to support an express version, let alone current service levels, if Prop 1 fails.

      3. If I could vote for prop 1 a million times, I would. But I’ve just got one vote. I’ll be using it.

      4. I can see maybe hourly service out as far as PLU but 20 minute midday/afternoons to the Roy Y! “Attention Walmart shoppers, the bus to Tacoma Community College will be leaving in 3 minutes. And remember, PT provides bike racks but not gun racks.” :=

      5. Bernie, I, too could point out other spots on the semi-frequent routes that don’t deserve semi-frequent service. It makes for great ads to sway the ill-informed. Thankfully, nobody here has pointed out how wasteful it is to spend money on infrastructure for the bikers in Bellevue — both of them.

      6. Even with both of us lobbying I think it would be an uphill battle to swing a .3% increase in the general sales tax ;-)

    2. Crush loads + frequent stops + drivers who pull out too fast and brake too hard = No Bueno!

  4. Cancelling Saturday service could become a life-and-death decision for people on dialysis. No paratransit for two days means kidney centers will have to schedule Monday, Wednesday, and Friday to each be about getting all their paratransit clients through the system. Nobody who depends on paratransit will be able to miss their Friday appointments or miss their Monday appointments.

    1. In Cleveland, there are lots of Ambulette/medical transportation companies taking people to dialysis/cancer treatments etc. Is there not the same thing in the Tacoma area? I imagine that insurance would cover at least part of the cost.

      1. So, people who need dialysis to live three more days would have a large co-pay for an ambulance ride under the Cleveland model? Talk about ouch!

      2. It’s not an ambulance, it’s an ambulette. There’s a big difference (no emergency lights, no life support systems, etc. It’s more of a 1-2 person paratransit vehicle than anything else).

        I would have thought medicare would cover it with minimal copay.

      3. What makes you think people on dialysis can’t walk, drive or ride a bus just like the rest of the general poplulation? What’s the cost of county wide paratransit vs providing a few home dialysis machines; funding that directly address the issue instead of an infinitesimally small fraction that a general sales tax would address. This vote isn’t about trying to win The War on Poverty. You’re going to need a little better a lot better long sad story to be convincing.

      4. Bernie,

        I’m talking about dialysis patients who need paratransit to get to the kidney center, not all dialysis patients, in case the context wasn’t already clear.

        Home dialysis without a visiting nurse is also not for everyone, and that’s probably especially true for those who qualify for paratransit.

        Even for those who can take the bus, I’m glad the bus is there for them after they just got out of dialysis… anything to keep them from getting behind the wheel.

      5. I’m talking about dialysis patients who need paratransit to get to the kidney center

        Both of them? It’s a sad story you’ve concocted but we’re talking about an increase in the general sales tax which hits all poor people the hardest. I think voters are going to feel the tug at the purse strings stronger than the tug at their heart strings.

      6. There are several such services, but they do not come as cheaply as PT’s Shuttle service.

      7. Bernie,
        If you are poor which is worse: paying .3% more in sales tax or losing your job because you can no longer get to work?

        Today someone who is poor or who can’t drive can get by with the service PT provides. Eliminate Weekend, Evening and Night service along with cutting routes and frequency and means they might not have a choice anymore.

      8. Chris, another nice sad story but it’s not a valid choice. Most people drive to their low wage jobs. Maybe you don’t spend as much time in auto parts stores as I do. Most wouldn’t know the difference between their and there; or the more subtle difference between “drive” to work and “drive” to work. But most possess a “drive” to work rather than collect benefits.

      9. So, all we need to do is find some of these people who can’t drive, who Bernie seems to think don’t exist.

      10. I never said they don’t exist. What you need to come up with are some real numbers on how many people are affected. So far you don’t even have any anecdotal evidence of a single real person. Considering the level of knowledge and enthusiasm for all things transit the lack of a single coherent argument for why it would be good for Pierce County to increase it’s general sales tax rate speaks volumes. So far the only “reasons” are; social justice and it’ll bring the next Microsoft/Google/Amazon to Tacoma. That doesn’t really cut it for a failed transit agency that’s asking for a 50% increase in it’s rate of taxation.

      11. If you’re fed up with the crappy bus service Pierce County provides, you can always pack up and move to King County instead.

        Now, if half of the 2% of the Pierce County population (or whatever it is) that depends on the bus moves their home and job to King County instead, one must ask the question of what impact this will have on the Pierce County economy? Will it be more or less than the impact of a 0.3% increase in the sales tax?

      12. Dialysis patients who can’t drive, can’t use regular buses, and need public transportation are *startlingly* common. They’re enough to be a noticeable impact on the paratransit budget of *every single transit agency in the US*.

    1. Not a whole lot. The fares don’t come anywhere close to covering the cost of the service.

      Increasing the fare by, say, 50% would not come anywhere close to allowing a 50% increase in service hours.

  5. The ultimate problem, as Bernie alludes to, is that Tacoma is more like a suburb than a city. Across the board it votes more like Bellevue than Seattle (and on transit, Bellevue certainly votes better, so that comparison is unfair to Bellevue.) Add in a very large chip on the shoulder about Seattle and a pervasive attitude that urbanism and related development is a surrender to the snobs up north, and it’s amazing anything ever gets done there. Hopefully the demographics of the new transit area will allow the Yes vote to eke out a win and avoid a transit death spiral.

    1. Tacoma, with two solid Democratic legislative districts, votes like Bellevue, with two swing districts?

      1. Party politics might be more Democratic in Tacoma, but I’m thinking about both social and fiscal ballot measures (including transit measures. On those issues, Tacoma’s voting pattern looks like an inner suburb. And Bellevue’s not that much of a swing district even in terms of party politics. In the 41st and 48th districts, 5 of 6 legislators are Democrats (and that’s with the most recent election being a big Republican year). It’s not the 6 of 6 of the 27th and 29th, but it’s close.

      2. Tacoma is solidly Democrat because of it’s long ties to union politics (it was a mill town). But Tacoma is only 25% of Pierce County whereas Seattle is 31% of King County. That’s reflected in their respective County Council which is majority Democrat in King and consistently Republican in Pierce.

      3. The Republican majority on the Pierce County Council is a result of gerrymandering. Notice that they consistently elect Democrats for countywide office. For those who love to push districts, this should give you pause for thought.

      4. If anything it shows how county politics where a city that contains 1/4 to 1/3 of the population skews the overall make-up of the county. That’s gerrymandering. Too bad Google doesn’t go back as far as the Pierce County politics of the 60’s and early 70’s; gerrymandering would be the equivalent of today’s jay walking. Top ‘O the Ocean to ya Mr. McCarthy.

  6. I would pay the extra 0.3% tax. Preserving current service should be #1 Having a 23% increase over six years will help everyone. It would also restore special event service. Having this service is a good way to get to the events like The Puyallup Fair.

  7. I’m of two minds… (not about whether to favor the proposition, which I do, but about how much mental energy to invest in caring).

    I actually quite like Tacoma. It’s geography and its historic areas are quite dramatic, and beautiful in their own ways. It is the region’s underdog, down but definitely not out, which makes it worth rooting for. And it doesn’t hurt my support that Tacoma gets so much grief from the haughty-without-justification half-assed quasi-urbanites in Seattle.

    On the other hand, what is happening to Pierce Transit is the inevitable result of Washington State’s refusal to deal with its structural revenue deficiencies and aggressively anti-urban priorities.

    We’ve had a Democratic governor and Democratic legislative supermajorities through both flush times and tough times, and ending the reliance on sales taxes and supporting urban needs in the way the state supports rural needs have ceased to be pegged “political non-starters”. If the next generation goes into debt just to attend a public university, so be it. If Tacoma withers on the vine, so be it. We wouldn’t want to have to actually lead or anything.

    If Tacoma, with a history of voting for centrist Republocrats and against tax reform, bears the brunt of this political inertia, their lumps would be well-earned.

    1. Given the pervasive flat trends in sales tax receipts, Pierce Transit’s fate will befall many of the other PTBAs around the state. Even if you have a supportive electorate, once you hit that 0.9 percent ceiling, there’s nowhere to go but to cut service.

    2. Unfortunately, Washington is yet another state where the batshit-crazy Republican Party has too many voters to be considered irrelevant.

      If only it could be eliminated, you’d have the opportunity to meaningfully vote for a third (really second) party, and politics might start working.

  8. “We’ve had a Democratic governor and Democratic legislative supermajorities through both flush times and tough times, and ending the reliance on sales taxes and supporting urban needs in the way the state supports rural needs have ceased to be pegged “political non-starters””

    This here makes me ambivalent about the gubernatorial race. None of the structural issues around the taxing apparatus in this state has been addressed under Gregoire or Locke, and now I am supposed to give a Sh*t about Inslee?

    1. Even though Inslee may not be that great for transit, I’d still prefer him over McKenna any day. Remember, it is the position of the Republican party that any form of transportation excluding highways to move more cars and, of course, airports, deserves exactly zero funding at the state or federal level. They will grudgingly allow local jurisdictions to vote to tax themselves to fund a very limited level of service, but one dollar for transit (or even sidewalks, for that matter) coming from anything beyond the city or the county is just unacceptable to them.

      Until this position changes, and the GOP decides to take urban interests seriosuly, I simply cannot seriously consider voting for any Republican under almost any circumstances. Every once in a while, you will find an exception to this (usually the mayor of a really big, transit-oriented city that would never vote for him otherwise), but these exceptions are exceedingly rare.

      So, while Inslee may not do squat towards allowing transit to get more money, he likely at least favors preserving the status quo. Put a Republican in the governer’s office, on the other hand, and you have someone who believes transit is nothing but pork and benefits no one but the bus driver’s union – someone who will do everything he can to defund the service we already have.

      1. Until this position changes, and the GOP decides to take urban interests seriosuly, I simply cannot seriously consider voting for any Republican under almost any circumstances.

        This, 1000 times.

        The GOP has fundamentally written off urban needs and priorities, and denies for the sake of stated ideology that the symbiosis between cities and everywhere else exists. But they’re not above siphoning our generated wealth for other purposes.

        On the other hand, I wish that purported Democrats like Gregoire would have to work for their urban support once in a while.

      2. The GOP has fundamentally written off the needs of at least 99% of the entire nation’s population, actually; it’s just more obvious in urban areas.

  9. Been thinking about the what-if situations for a while now, on this subject. If this dratic cut did come to PT, would it make more sense for Sound Transit to say have Metro run all the weekend, and mabye even some weeknight ST Express service in Pierce County? This would save Sound Transit from having to staff up PT operations all weekend long, and theres probally enough extra equipment to do so, although Metro might have to adjust some staffing, however with cuts of their own… Also, a crazy idea i had, what if PT ended all local service, and contracted out with ST (whom would than contract back to PT) to only operate some express service in the county (and by doing so eliminating the ADA paratransit requirement??) such as an express version of route 1, 2 and 3, mabye bring back the old 582, mabye a line along meridian, and 112th st. With limited stops of course. Just random food for thought.

    1. I doubt it would effect the ST contract — Sound Transit routes are already a huge portion of Pierce Transit’s operations and there will still be enough ST coaches running around that you’d still need dispatch, maintenance, and service supervisors on duty.

      When the Seattle Express runs were first created, Pierce Transit contracted them out to Metro for a few years, but there is so much more out-of-county service now than there was in the early ’90s.

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