Pierce Transit’s boundaries will be reduced by more than 200 square miles by mid-spring if the County Council does not reject the map unanimously approved by a Public Transportation Improvement Conference during a public hearing Thursday night.
The map excludes Orting, Sumner, Bonney Lake, Buckley, DuPont and sections of unincorporated Eastern and Western Pierce County, including all areas west of the Narrows Bridge except Gig Harbor. The move will reduce the agency’s 530-square-mile territory by 217 miles, or about 40 percent, and cost the agency millions of dollars in sales-tax revenue.
The redrawing of the boundaries was necessitated by budget cuts last year that resulted in the transit agency reducing and eliminating service to parts of the county.
The County Council has 30 days to terminate the revised boundaries – in which case they will remain as they currently are – and cities have 60 days to withdraw from the revised Public Transportation Benefit Area (PTBA). Otherwise, pending approval from the County Auditor and Department of Revenue, the new boundaries will take effect in 61 days.
“Silence is a ‘yes’ in this case,” said committee assistant Justin Leighton in a presentation that preceded public testimony at the transit agency’s training center. He added that the County Council cannot change the boundary lines from those being proposed. “It’s either all of it or none of it at all.”
The Public Transportation Improvement Conference, comprised of elected officials from most towns and cities in Pierce County, as well as the county itself, unanimously approved the map despite emotional testimony from bus riders, public-transportation advocates and other community members.
The mayors of Bonney Lake and Sumner spoke about the difficult decision to opt out of the PTBA because their residents do not want to pay for service that they are not using.
“Bonney Lake would prefer to stay in the boundaries if it had service,” said Mayor Neil Johnson. “Pierce Transit drew Bonney Lake out of the boundaries after it had service eliminated. This is not something Bonney Lake desires.”
Johnson added that his city may not see another bus for 10 years, so, in the meantime, “We need to save our citizens some tax dollars.”
Sumner Mayor Dave Enslow concurred, adding that the only bus that will be left in his city will be the one that goes back and forth to the train station in Puyallup.
“That’s it,” he said. “And that is why we reluctantly said that as much as we love Pierce Transit, why are we paying for something we’re not getting?”
But some residents were still hoping that officials would have a last-minute change of heart.
Kathy Hull of Sumner said that the more than 50 disabled people she works with at Vadis in Sumner must have access to public transit.
“I’m begging you, Mayor Enslow, to please reconsider withdrawing from the transit,” she said.
Hull added that having suffered a stroke 18 months ago gave her a new perspective. While she has since returned to work, those who will no longer be able to take a bus or shuttle will not be able to get to work, church – or medical appointments.
“Just because this isn’t impacting you doesn’t mean it won’t someday,” she said. “You may need to use public transportation.”
Deborah Yusaf of Spanaway choked back tears as she spoke of having to pay for cab rides several times a month now that she is unable to rely on Pierce Transit’s shuttles.
“It costs me over $100 to go where I need to go,” she said. “I’m essentially homebound.”
Other speakers expressed support for the new boundaries.
“For many people in our community who depend on buses every day, we need to move this forward,” said Andrew Austin, field director at Transportation Choices and a member of the Save Our Buses steering committee. “To attract people to live and work here, we must keep moving forward and restore bus service to the communities that need it the most.”
Chris Karnes of Tacoma said that as a longtime bus rider, he has seen the effects of service cuts, and while they “haven’t been pretty,” public transit in Pierce County would be unable “to move forward without passing this map tonight.”
Despite concerns that Auburn would lose service since neighboring Sumner dropped out, officials said they have created a corridor to prevent the city from becoming an island.
Buckley Mayor Pat Johnson said that her town, on the other hand, had no choice in the matter. Being close to the King County line means that residents will still be able to get bus service from Metro Transit, but there will no longer be a shuttle option.
“Even if we weren’t an island," she said, "we would probably be opting out."