Legislature should support public transportation through revenue package

Pierce Transit’s resources and revenue have steadily declined for six years. At our last board meeting, we took action to cut 84 positions from the agency. This makes a total of 291 positions cut over the past four years.

These recent cuts result in nearly $6 million in savings, which is needed to balance our budget. Pierce Transit now faces an additional 28 percent reduction in annual service hours. At the public hearing, we listened to passionate comments from the state’s most vulnerable citizens who pleaded for services critical to reaching their medical appointments, the grocery store, work, and church, among other important activities.

As the economy struggles to recover, public transportation matters more than ever. An increasing number of Washington residents rely on transit to get to work and school. Employees, seniors and students will now have to wait 30 to 60 minutes and in some cases two hours for their next bus. Riders are forced to stand during long trips on packed buses.

Washington’s businesses and economy depend on the reliability of our transportation systems. When freight, employees and students all grind to a halt on highways and streets, so does our economy. Take away people’s ability to get to work and you take away their buying power.

Despite impending service cuts, there may be short-term relief if the Legislature decides to enact a transportation revenue package during this special session — a task that Gov. Jay Inslee has strongly encouraged them to complete.

As Pierce Transit board members, we strongly support the proposed transportation revenue package, which will provide temporary funding and local options to act as a Band-Aid for the agency. The package includes a one-time allocation of $3 million to restore some evening and weekend services for one year, and funding for Park & Ride improvements in Spanaway and Puyallup.

As part of the revenue package, Pierce Transit would also be authorized to create a transportation enhancement zone to allow the sales tax to be increased up to an additional 0.3 percent (three pennies for every $10 spent) in a portion of the district by public vote. The zone could be no larger than half of the service area, and would sunset after three years.

Even as a local option, it is only a temporary fix, with hope that the economy will continue to improve along with Pierce Transit’s revenues. Unfortunately, even with temporary funding and local options, service cuts will still need to be made.

While not a long-term solution, this could carry Pierce Transit and Washington’s citizens through next year. We strongly urge our legislators to support the proposed transportation revenue package, and we hope they will take the time to listen to the voices of those who rely on public transportation for their livelihoods. It is the most pro-business, job-creating policy decision to be made in Olympia this session.

Marilyn Strickland is the mayor of Tacoma and chairwoman of the Pierce Transit Board of Commissioners. Rick Talbert is the vice chairman of the Pierce County Council and vice chairman of the Pierce Transit Board of Commissioners.