For four years, Ken Hill has driven a Pierce Transit van 100 miles each weekday from his house in Orting to his work in Redmond and back.
The vanpool is convenient and saves him money. Because hes the volunteer van driver, Hill doesnt pay anything.
Its no wonder he opposes Pierce Transits plan to eliminate 40 vanpools including his to save the agency money.
Its a convenience for us because we can essentially go to the workplace, said Hill, a 63-year-old electronics technician. Its not like a bus where you have to do quite a few transfers to get where you want to go.
Of its 307 vanpools, Pierce Transit wants to cut 40 that start and end outside the agencys service area, which was reduced due to budget cuts last year. It expects another 35 vanpools will move their starting points to within Pierce Transits boundaries to avoid being cut.
All but five of the 40 vanpools including Hills could switch to another transit system, such as King County Metro Transit, according to Pierce Transit.
If Pierce Transits board approves the cuts today, Julie Hover will be left without a vanpool.
She walks two blocks from her home in Eatonville to ride 32 miles to Longmire in Mount Rainier National Park, where she works in environmental protection for the park. She catches the van at 6 a.m. and arrives home after work around 5:20 p.m.
Vanpools offer convenience while saving fuel and taking cars off the road.
Its nice to be a passenger, said Hover, 47. Its also very reliable.
The agencys board will consider a number of options for vanpools. They include:
• Requiring vanpools to either start or end inside Pierce Transits boundaries, eliminating 40 vanpools.
• Increasing vanpool fares from as little as $5 to as much as $55 a month per person, depending on the number of riders and commute distance.
• Preserving the 40 vanpools by letting riders pay more to cover 100 percent of the vanpools costs. Each passenger would have to fork out from $45 to $134 more per month. Thats on top of the across-the-board increase.
• Permitting all vanpools to continue operating as they are.
• Charging vanpools that cross the eastbound Tacoma Narrows Bridge the $4 toll the agency now pays.
Pierce Transit wants vanpool users and their employers both government agencies and companies to cover more than the 58 percent of vanpool costs they currently are paying, said agency spokesman Lars Erickson.
About 2,500 people ride Pierce Transits vanpools to a total of 158 workplaces.
Hovers is one of two vanpools running from Eatonville to Longmire for park employees. About 10 people ride in each van. The park pays for the vanpools through the U.S. Department of Transportation. Its enough to cover both the employers and workers portion.
Hover, whos been riding in the pool for four years, pays nothing. But shes willing to pay $45 a month, the added bill to cover the full cost of the vanpool.
Thats one option vanpool riders proposed at a public hearing last month. Some people who catch their rides outside the service area also asked to be grandfathered by the agency. Thats Hovers first preference.
As far as I know, most people who participate are willing to pay more out of pocket, Hover said. At this point we can only accept our fate. We have no other options.
Hover and Hill both live and work outside Pierce Transits boundaries, although both live in Pierce County and pay taxes there.
Requiring all vanpools to start or end within those boundaries would be consistent with current bus and shuttle service with the exception of service to the Federal Way Transit Center, Erickson said.
He said the policy change would save Pierce Transit money because vanpools outside the service area have longer routes that cost more money in gas and maintenance.
Overall, Pierce Transit plans to cut its bus and shuttle service hours by 28 percent in September due to the failure of a proposed sales tax increase last year.
Erickson said many of the riders who spoke out against changes at last months board meeting could switch their vanpools to King County Metro for a higher fare because their workplace falls within Metros boundaries.
They just dont want to, Erickson said. Its the inconvenience factor.
Hill leaves his house at 5:15 a.m. and arrives back home shortly after 5 p.m. He picks up passengers in Orting, Auburn and Renton. All but one person in the eight-member pool works for Zetron, a communications company in Redmond.
Zetron employees pay $37 each. Zetron pays up to $115 per person, depending on how many riders are in the vanpool, Hill said.
He wants Pierce Transit to grandfather current vanpools or require all vanpools to cover their full costs.
Hill said many people in the Orting area shop on South Hill, where they pay the current 0.6 percent sales tax for Pierce Transit. Voters rejected Pierce Transits proposed sales tax increases during each of the past two years.
Hill described the agencys boundaries as a bit arbitrary. Orting opted out and was withdrawn from Pierce Transits boundaries last year after the agency eliminated bus service there.
I dont feel what theyre doing is right, Hill said. Its kind of like youre punishing other people in Pierce County. They didnt get what they wanted so now theyre essentially making the other people pay a price for it.
Steve Maynard: 253-597-8647
IF YOU GO
What: Proposed vanpool cuts and fare hikes.
When: 4 p.m. today.
Who: Pierce Transit Board of Commissioners.
Where: Rainier Room, Pierce Transit Training Center, 3720 96th St. SW, Lakewood.
Info: piercetransit.org, 253-581-8000.