With presidential elections typically turning out pro-transit voters, Nov. 2012 is a logical choice for Pierce Transit to return to the ballot to return service to pre-recession levels. But there’s a real risk that history will repeat itself unless the service boundary is redrawn - and soon. Here’s why:
- Unincorporated Pierce County and far flung towns have repeatedly demonstrated that they do not support any further taxes for transit, as evidenced by three consecutive transit votes since 2007. There is some evidence showing that voters in such areas have become more hostile to transit votes over time.
|There are 163 "transit-hostile" precincts in Pierce Transit's service |
boundary that have rejected every transit vote since 2007.
- Service to outer suburbs and unincorporated areas is not cost-effective for Pierce Transit to provide. In October, the final 15% service cut will effectively cut out Pierce County east of Puyallup, the Key Peninsula, and unincorporated mid-county, helping to reduce per rider costs by a staggering 44%, while at the same time preserving more than a million rides per year versus a plan that included those areas. Keeping these areas while trying to go the ballot again requires large subsidies per rider, making frequent and attractive service difficult to provide.
- Revenues from outlying areas don’t justify retaining them (previously covered). In fact, the expansiveness of the current service territory was built around the assumption that “more area = more cars” and “more cars = more car tab fees”. That is no longer the case as Pierce Transit has not collected any revenue from car tabs since 2000 and over 70% of Pierce Transit’s revenue now comes from the sales tax.
- Transit taxation without transit service. In October, large areas that are taxed by Pierce Transit will have no local, express, Shuttle, or special event service at all. The situation is bound to become politically untenable very quickly, resulting in more political polarization, which will jeopardize support for any potential transit ballot measure.
- Due to the recession by October, Pierce Transit will be 42.7% smaller than it was back in 2008. Service cuts have meant fewer living wage jobs in Pierce County. They have also resulted in less access to jobs and education, while also putting Pierce County at a competitive disadvantage for new economic development.
- Voters in the City of Tacoma support new taxes for transit by healthy margins - even during special elections in off years, but it can’t balance out numerous precincts in unincorporated Pierce County that consistently vote against public transit service.
- There is a need for new investments in transit service. Pierce Transit planner, Tina Lee, indicated at a City Council study session that Pacific Avenue is a corridor ripe for bus rapid transit. Bus service that is competitive with automobile travel attracts more riders and helps to conserve operating dollars in the long run, but it can’t happen without the infrastructure that levels the playing field for transit. While King County Metro, Intercity Transit, and Community Transit have been investing in transit options with sales tax rates of 0.8% or 0.9% sales tax rates (or higher), Pierce Transit has languished at 0.6% since 2002.
- The process for revising a new service area is likely to take around five months (source: TNT). It takes a several months to put together a new ballot measure and to campaign for it. That leaves a shrinking amount of time for the process to get started. The Pierce County Council could convene a conference of cities to hammer out a revised service boundary that works.