For the thousands of people who ride Pierce Transit buses daily, there was some good news last week.
The agency announced that 2013 first-quarter sales tax projections were averaging higher-than-expected growth, and if the rate continued, the sales tax revenue would show an 11 percent bump for the 2013 budget cycle.
Because of the increase in revenue, the Pierce Transit Board of Commissioners will hold a special meeting tonight to decide whether or not to rescind planned service reductions that are set to take effect Sept. 29.
“It’s important for us to get together to see how comfortable we feel,” said Marilyn Strickland, the Tacoma major who is the Pierce Transit board chair. “It’s a relief that we won’t have to make those kinds of cuts this soon.”
The agency’s board approved a September service reduction from 399,000 service hours to 300,000 following voters’ rejection of a sales-tax measure that asked for an increase of three-tenths of 1 percent last November. Due to failures of sales-tax measures on last year’s general election ballot and in February 2011, the agency reduced its operating and capital budget by $136 million.
The recent increase in revenue may delay the planned reduction in service hours until as late as next June. Agency staff members said some formerly laid-off employees may be recalled.
Steve Vermillion, a Puyallup City Council who sits on the Pierce Transit board, said it’s positive news that the agency will be able to stay at its current service levels. But Vermillion also said he’s disappointed in how it came about.
“I’m disappointed in that we’ve held a lot of meetings and sat down with the riders; they expressed their concern, and we expressed our concern for their plight,” Vermillion said. “Then, all of a sudden, we reinstate (the service hours).
“Our credibility across the board has taken a significant hit,” he said. “We’re at the end of a Yo-Yo. That has bothered me as a commission member.”
Vermillion said he and the other board commissioners have required a certain portion of new increased revenue to go back into creative solutions and alternative modes of transportation. One example is the seasonal trolley system in Gig Harbor that is partially funded by local businesses.
Vermillion said he and Glenn Hull, the deputy mayor of Fife who sits on the transit board, have represented Edgewood, Milton, Fife and Puyallup and told the transit agency that they would be willing to pull out of the system if not enough service is given in the communities.
Vermillion said Puyallup City Manager Bill McDonald and Puyallup Mayor Rick Hansen also have been in regular communication with Pierce Transit regarding creative ways to bring better services to Puyallup.
Vermillion said one idea could be a circular bus route that would travel between Fife, Milton and Puyallup.
Vermillion said he and other Puyallup representatives will meet with Pierce Transit on Aug. 15 to discuss a plan of issuing a user survey to Puyallup residents.
Vermillion said survey questions might ask residents if they would use transit more if it were available, where they would go, and how frequent they would use it.
“I would be hopeful that a survey would be done by September,” Vermillion said.Reporter Andrew Fickes can be reached at 253-552-7001 or by email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter, @herald_andrew.