The Pierce Transit Board of Commissioners voted Monday to tap its swollen reserve account to hire 35 employees and restore a portion of service hours decimated during the recession.
The hires would allow the transit agency to restore 59,000 service hours by the end of 2017, said Wayne Fanshier, Pierce Transit’s chief financial officer.
The estimated personnel cost for this year is $1 million, with much of the spending to occur this summer and fall. That’s when hiring gears up for a 15,000-hour bump in bus service scheduled for September and another 34,000-hour increase for March 17.
The agency hopes to add another 10,000 hours on top of that by September 2017.
The board also approved the purchase of seven new buses at a total price of $4.5 million to meet its service goals.
The added service would bring to 502,000 hours the agency provides on an annual basis. That’s still short of the 622,000 hours Pierce Transit provided before the recession dried up sales-tax revenues and five cities left the agency’s service area, taking revenue with them.
The specific routes to be added back or beefed up have yet to be identified, said Rebecca Japhet, a Pierce Transit spokeswoman.
The agency has hired a consultant to perform a “comprehensive service analysis” later this year, Japhet said. That will help the board decide where to increase service, she said.
The money to pay for the restoration plan will come from agency reserves, which now top about $110 million.
Fanshier said sales-tax revenues have exceed projections while the agency has spent less than it has budgeted for over the past three years. That’s led to a reserve fund balance of more than twice what’s needed, he said.
There also are plans to spend reserve money to repair the agency’s transit centers and spruce up nearly 600 bus shelters, many of which fell into disrepair as maintenance was deferred during the tough economic times.
Fanshier told the board that 399 of the agency’s shelters need glass panels replaced or other repairs.
“Now is the time to invest the dollars to bring things back up to the standards our community deserves,” agency CEO Susan Dreier said.
Pierce Transit Commissioner Ryan Mello, also a Tacoma City councilman, said he was glad to see service being restored, but he asked whether there was enough money projected to sustain the effort over the years.
Fanshier said sales tax projections are looking strong for at least the next six years.
“I am very confident we will not cut back unless the next recession happens,” Dreier said.