Pierce Transit board cancels planned service cuts

Staff writerJuly 31, 2013 

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A Pierce Transit bus arrives at the Stewart Street Transit Center in 2012. The Pierce Transit board of commissioners voted Wednesday to rescind service cuts that were set to take effect in September.

LEE GILES III — Staff photographer file, 2012

Pierce Transit board of commissioners rescinded Wednesday major service cuts planned to start next month, but they cautioned their vote only delays the inevitable.

The transit agency won’t slash service hours to 300,000 from the current 392,000 starting Sept. 29, a move that would have reduced weekend service and forced riders to wait longer to ride a bus.

But smaller service cuts are projected in 2015 once staff members get a better handle on the revenue numbers.

The vote was unanimous. Board members Don Anderson, Kent Keel and Steve Vermillion were absent.

The board voted in June to reduce service based on lower-than-expected sales-tax collections last fall and uncertainty because of recent volatility about what the numbers were saying when tax collections picked up at the start of the year.

Transit budget managers, who received May sales-tax revenue Tuesday, said collections are up 9.6 percent over the same period last year. They are now projecting an 8 percent increase in sales-tax revenue this year, much higher than the anticipated 1 percent increase when the 2013 budget was adopted last year. The adjustment allows the transit agency to hold steady through the first half of next year, they said.

“We don’t want to yo-yo service. That’s the last thing we want to do,” Kathy Sullivant, the agency’s finance manager, said. “We believe our latest projections accommodate that.”

Board members acknowledged that rolling back service cuts that have been advertised for weeks is a hit to Pierce Transit’s credibility. But they said their responsibility is to serve the residents who rely on public transportation and would be hurt if the agency didn’t call time-out to see whether the budget numbers improve or recede.

Puyallup resident Lee Renney testified that the board should wait to take action because there’s so many unknowns and the situation would be made worse if it had to make deep service cuts after telling the public they’re delayed.

“If you don’t mend the credibility with the public, you’ll have nothing, absolutely nothing,” he said. “That’s really sad.”

But Federal Way resident Alex Kvenvolden, a frequent user of Pierce Transit, said the primary job of the agency is to provide public transportation.

“Credibility is important, but it doesn’t get in front of our No. 1 priority,” he said.

Although voting with the other commissioners, board member Glenn Hull said he would “prefer to wait and be cautious versus moving forward and being wrong.”

“I worry that we’re making an emotional decision based on very short-term data. We’re sending a message to the public that we may not know all the facts. … We’re dealing with a public that already doesn’t trust us.”

Don McKnight, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 758 and a nonvoting board member, agreed with Hull but said waiting will cost jobs in the agency and in the community. The board vote also rescinds planned layoffs of 84 represented and nonrepresented transit employees.

Transit officials also stressed that service cuts are coming. Board members will revisit the numbers next year to provide guidance for the 2015 budget-setting process. Current projections show a reduction to 340,000 to 350,000 service hours from the current 392,000. The transit system’s annual service hours already have plunged from 617,000 in 2008

Christian Hill: 253-274-7390
christian.hill@thenewstribune.com
@TNTchill

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