Pierce Transit reductions to stay; more cuts are set for October
KRIS SHERMAN; Staff writer
Still scrambling after a refueling station explosion that has cut bus service 20 percent, Pierce Transit said Monday that it will make the cuts permanent in June and reduce service an additional 15 percent in October.
The transit agency warned before voters rejected a sales-tax increase last month that it would have to slash service by more than a third if it didn’t get additional revenue. But it didn’t plan to begin phasing in those cuts until October.
Now agency officials say their hand has been forced to move up the timeline because of a Feb. 28 explosion and fire that destroyed their natural gas refueling facility in Lakewood.
The incident put local buses on an emergency service plan, which will continue through June 11, Pierce Transit spokeswoman Jessyn Farrell said. That plan already represents a 20 percent reduction in service from pre-explosion levels.
The permanent cuts begin June 12. They will differ somewhat from the current emergency schedule; many details remain to be finalized.
But it certainly means fewer buses on routes, longer waits between scheduled arrivals and departures, and some service that will disappear completely.
The cuts will include:
• Permanent elimination of Route 207 to Joint Base Lewis-McChord and Route 60 to the Port of Tacoma. Neither is operating now.
• Less midday service, with many routes running hourly instead of more frequently.
• Major cuts in weekend and evening service.
There will be an emphasis on core service that gets people to work and school, CEO Lynne Griffith wrote in a memo to employees Monday.
The cuts are necessary because the agency’s recession-battered revenues can’t keep up with expenses, transit leaders say. On Feb. 8, Pierce County voters turned down a request to raise the sales tax three-tenths of 1 percent to further help fund bus service. The agency already collects a 0.6 percent sales tax.
The failed ballot measure was just the beginning of a rough February for Pierce Transit and its riders.
Since the Feb. 28 Lakewood refueling station mishap, buses have been filled at facilities in Tacoma and Sea-Tac. With the extra travel, it takes longer for them to refuel, Farrell said.
The agency put 147 buses on area roads during peak hours before the explosion; it’s now down to 113, Farrell said. Hours of weekday service have dropped from 1,989 to 1,583, she added.
The hours of service will remain the same come June 12, but the route times and configurations will be different in some cases. Some routes will disappear completely, she said.
A series of hearings is scheduled next month for members of the public to give the agency thoughts on the planned cuts.
The modified schedule that was adopted shortly after the explosion upset many riders. They complained that heavily crowded coaches, later starts and fewer buses on routes made it hard for them to get to work and school on time.
The agency subsequently made changes, such as adding buses on heavily traveled weekday routes at peak times.
Transit officials thought they could get service back to normal before the planned reductions were scheduled to take effect in October.
But news that it will take months to repair the refueling facility prompted the change in plans, Farrell said.
Fire officials determined there was no foul play involved, but private investigators are still working to pinpoint the cause, she added.
“This is a very, very complex system,” she said. “It became clear that even under the best-case scenario, it will be months before we have it repaired.”
Kris Sherman: 253-597-8659
PIERCE TRANSIT HEARINGS
Pierce Transit plans a series of meetings next month to give the public a chance to weigh in on planned schedule changes. The transit agency board already has ruled the cuts must be made, but Pierce Transit’s code requires public input before they’re implemented.
April 11, 4 to 6 p.m.: Pierce Transit Training Center, 3720 96th St. S.W., Lakewood
April 18, 4 to 6 p.m.: Gig Harbor Civic Center, 3510 Grandview St.
April 21, 5 to 7 p.m.: Tacoma City Hall, first floor Council Chambers, 747 Market St.
April 25, 4 to 6 p.m.: Puyallup City Hall, 333 S. Meridian
April 28, 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.: Interim Justice Center, 9002 Main St. E., Bonney Lake