Pierce Transit Plans Trims to Olympia Express

April 29--Pierce Transit will cut its weekday Olympia Express service in half, and Intercity Transit is considering whether to pick up the slack.

The Pierce County transit agency plans to reduce service from 16 one-way trips each weekday to eight, starting June 12. The reduction is due to declining sales tax revenues and the defeat of the Pierce agency's February sales tax ballot measure that would have raised sales taxes 0.3 percent.

Pierce Transit's route serves Olympia, Lakewood, Tacoma and Gig Harbor. Intercity Transit, which primarily serves Thurston County, already makes 32 daily express trips along roughly the same corridor as the Pierce Transit express.

Intercity Transit is considering three options:

--Maintain existing Intercity Transit service but adjust some schedules and change some route numbers. Estimated cost: $12,644 per year.

--In addition to the first option, add two express trips in each direction to address service gaps. Estimated cost: $153,531 per year.

--Replace all eight trips that Pierce Transit will eliminate. Estimated cost: $393,762 per year.

The Intercity Transit Authority is expected to decide the issue at its next meeting, scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Wednesday at its headquarters, 526 Pattison Street S.E. The Olympia City Council is expected to discuss the topic at its next meeting, at 7 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall, 601 Fourth Ave. E.

Intercity Transit staff recommend the top two options. Option two would prevent some people from waiting for more than an hour for a bus due to the planned reductions.

"It fills the most significant gaps," said Dennis Bloom, planning manager for Intercity Transit.

Olympia City Councilwoman Karen Rogers said she prefers the second option, saying that most comments about the service cut came from the Pierce Transit area and "it's not fair to the Thurston County taxpayers" to supplement more of Pierce's service reductions.

Intercity Transit spokeswoman Meg Kester pointed out that most people at the public hearing held last week used the Intercity Transit express service. People use the Pierce and Intercity Transit express services interchangeably and are concerned about fewer alternatives for commute times, she said.

Fourteen people spoke at the public hearing and 37 people submitted written comments. They expressed concerns about losing service that gets them to Tacoma or Olympia in time for work.

The decision to reduce express commuter service, originally scheduled for October, was quickened after a natural gas explosion on Feb. 28 gutted the Pierce Transit administrative building in Lakewood, Kester said. The loss of the facility, used to fuel natural gas buses, forced immediate service reductions.

Meanwhile, voters in Intercity Transit's service area approved a sales tax increase of .02 percent last year, staving off service cuts.

"IT is not cutting any express service," Kester said. "The issue came up because Pierce Transit is cutting 50 percent of their express service."

Intercity Transit and Pierce Transit have long shared the responsibility of shuttling commuters between the two counties. At first, the agencies split the express trips 50-50 but the greater burden has fallen on Intercity Transit as Pierce Transit has cut, Kester said.

Intercity Transit now makes 32 daily trips to Pierce's 16 trips, for a total of 48.

An average of 627 riders a day use Intercity Transit's service, according to data from the first three months of 2011. The route is one of the agency's most popular, and reported standing-room only for 27 trips during the first three months of the year.

Kester said everyone who made comments will be contacted to help them adjust to the coming cuts. Kester said that the transit agency's vanpools are an alternative they may consider.

Matt Batcheldor: 360-704-6869 mbatcheldor@theolympian.com

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