Pierce Transit feeling the pinch

// Tax increase being considered

Pierce Transit may eliminate bus service across much of the county by 2012 if it does not come up with additional revenue. Many of the service cuts would be in suburban areas, but Northeast Tacoma is one area identified as possibly losing service as the agency continues to struggle with a sharp decline in sales tax revenue, which makes up 70 percent of its budget.

One possibility for staving off such drastic service cuts is a three-tenths of 1 percent sales tax increase. The agency's board would have to approve placing it on the ballot for voters to have the final say.

Tina Lee, senior planner for Pierce Transit, gave an update to Tacoma City Council during its March 2 study session on the agency's efforts to ride through the recession.

In the past few months, the agency has reached out for input from elected officials and the general public through a series of presentations and meetings. Lee said future service cuts or tax increases will not move forward without more public input.

From its founding, in 1980, through 2006 the agency's sales tax revenue grew at 6 percent a year.

That figure nosedived by $40 million in three years, during a period when high gas prices drove huge numbers of people to begin riding the bus. Pierce Transit has raised fares, cut staff and pared back some routes with few riders. Unless something changes, it faces "significant service-level reductions" by 2012, according to Lee.

Those could include reducing 51 routes down to 23 and scaling back on para-transit, which serves mainly the disabled and elderly.

"A lot of shuttle service would be eliminated," Lee said. Routes that run every 30 minutes now could change to every 60, she added.

Pierce Transit is considering ways to be more efficient. One proposal would disperse some of the downtown transit hub, currently on Commerce Street, to nearby streets. Another would divert more routes to start or end at Tacoma Dome Station, which Lee admitted is pretty maxed out now.

According to American Public Transportation Association, more than 80 percent of public transit agencies in the nation are experiencing flat or declining revenue.

"Almost every transit agency is facing this type of situation," Lee said.

Public meetings are scheduled for 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. on April 1 in Tacoma. For information on locations, visit www.pttomorrow.org.

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