Save Our Buses, the measure to save Pierce Transit from having to cut local bus service by 35%, is having their campaign kickoff on Monday. The implications of losing this measure are pretty severe, but they could have been worse if it weren't for the agency's recent emphasis on cost cutting.
Here's a rundown of what could go down:
- Frequent routes would be slashed from 15 minute service to 30/45 minutes,
- Weekend service would be slashed,
- Regional connections to Federal Way and Olympia could disappear,
- Service to outlying areas may be completely discontinued.
The impact of a sustained loss of revenue of this magnitude would be like turning back the clock two decades and could jeopardize attempts by the City of Tacoma to ask voters next year to invest in its non-motorized Mobility Master Plan and streetcar projects. But enough doom and gloom, let's look at this issue more rationally.
What happened last time?
The last time Pierce County voters had a transit measure in front of them was in November of 2008. In Pierce County ST2 was about building for the future. It was about having more than we have today. It guaranteed more trips on Sounder commuter rail to Seattle, $80 million in matching funds to extend Tacoma Link further into Tacoma, enhanced express bus service, and right of way acquisition to set the stage for light rail to the airport.
Sound Transit 2, sailed to victory buoyed by positive votes in King and Snohomish counties, locking in a future of sustained investment in fixed rail transit for the Puget Sound region for at least the next 15 years. However, in Pierce County, ST2 narrowly failed.
Sound Transit Proposition No. 1
Source: Pierce County Auditor
|Sound Transit 2 election margins by precinct with an overlay of Tacoma's historic streetcar system|
The urban/suburban/exurban divide is alive and well in Pierce County. While numerous precincts in Central Tacoma and North Tacoma showed transit victory margins of greater than 400 votes, suburban Pierce County solidly rejected more investment in transit by margins greater than 50 votes per precinct. The sheer number of precincts in unincorporated Pierce County tended to balance the positive returns coming out of Tacoma, University Place, Lakewood, and Puyallup.
How Save Our Buses can win
In 2008, "Mass Transit Now," the campaign arm of ST2 offered only a handful of opportunities for grassroots volunteers in Pierce County to actively engage the public in discussions about investments in public transportation - and it showed. Most of Tacoma voted in favor, and part of that is because volunteers like me and Peter Jung took time out of our weekends to canvass neighborhoods in Central Tacoma. By supporting the Save Our Buses campaign, with our dollars and our time, by talking to friends and neighbors to encourage them to vote yes in February, we can be key to winning this ballot measure.
Messaging will be important. As opposed to ST2, Save Our Buses will have to be very clear in their messaging to folks that this is about keeping what we have, and making changes to use it more efficiently - through the evolving PT Tomorrow bus revamp.
It will be essential to focus on key, transit-supportive precincts in Tacoma, Lakewood, University Place, and Puyallup by encouraging turnout, registering voters, and raising awareness about the impending vote. By improving turnout by another few percentage points, we can preserve these vital services.
What's our plan B?
In the event that Pierce Transit's Proposition 1 fails, there will be a need for the Board of Commissioners to take decisive action. The agency will have to make immediate cuts to service and I would encourage the Board to look into reviewing the service boundary (which we've covered in the past and Intercity Transit did some time ago). People in Tacoma and Lakewood are willing to pay taxes to support public transportation, let's not let people who don't want transit and don't use it hold up the demand for those services. Arrangements in each affected community would need to be made for those with mobility issues.
The next step would be for Pierce Transit to return to the ballot, potentially in the municipal primary in September, but that would sacrifice months of valuable time and result in the loss of existing riders as people get fed up with the cash-starved system and begin purchasing automobiles to make their trips instead.
If that fails, it might fall on the municipalities themselves to try to come up with funds to keep transit service at decent levels through the use of Transportation Benefit Districts, as our northern neighbor Bellingham has with Whatcom County Transit. However, the revenue potential and delay time make these possibilities rather uncomfortable Plan "C's," and may jeopardize other worthy projects like implementation of Tacoma's forward-thinking Mobility Master Plan.