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Kitsap Transit hikes fares, cuts routes

Supporters of Kitsap Transit’s ACCESS bus service won a temporary victory Tuesday morning as the agency’s board voted to spare the program from service cutbacks as part of its ongoing efforts to remain financially solvent.

The board voted to increase fares by 25 cents and reduce some trips on its routed service, but it did not approve the staff recommendation to reduce Access service from five days a week to three to outlying areas.

For many of those served by the Access service, there are no other means of transportation available, the board was told by many supporters — including all three county commissioners and the mayors from each Kitsap city.

Larry Mack of the county’s Developmental Disabilities Advisory Board said that the service is vital to helping people with developmental disabilities become contributing members of society.

“If they can’t use Access, they go home,” Mack said. “They don’t work, they don’t play, they don’t go to medical appointments.”

There are other places the agency should look to before considering reducing Access service, he said.

“We are talking about a group of people that have no other choice but Access,” Mack said.

Bremerton resident Daryl Daugs told the board that it shouldn’t place the financial burden on those who don’t have any other options.

“They are a group of vulnerable senior citizens and people with disabilities who are going to be imprisoned in their own homes,” he argued.

Kitsap Transit was staring at a $200,000-per-month budget shortfall. That was cut in half in April when the board increased prices for Puget Sound Naval Shipyard passes, but that still left a $100,000 void that had to be filled in other ways.

Tuesday’s fare increases will bring in another $50,000 per month. Beginning Aug. 1, the cost of a bus ticket will rise from $1.25 to $1.50, $5 will be added to the price of monthly passes, and van pool fares will be bumped by 2 percent.

The transit agency is trimming $10,000 per month in administrative costs, leaving $40,000 it had planned to shave through service cuts, but Access was going to account for $10,500.

The picture painted by Daugs and others was enough to cause North Kitsap County Commissioner Steve Bauer, who serves on the board, to move that Access be spared from the chopping block, noting that there has been a noticeable increase in ridership because of skyrocketing gas prices.

“I think what we heard this morning is there are two classes of Kitsap Transit riders — those for whom it is optional and those for whom it’s a lifeline,” he said. “We’re struggling in society to help these people be independent. Going to work is not just good for them but for society. Somebody imprisoned in their home is not a picture I want to be fostering.”

There are other options, like peak fares and zone rates, that should be explored before considering any cuts to the Access service, Bauer said.

Bremerton City Council President Will Maupin said once the current financial crisis has been averted the agency should look at adding services instead of reducing them.

“In the future,” he said, “it’s going to look pretty good for someone to pay $5 to get somewhere on the bus instead of buying two gallons of gas for $15 a gallon.”

Maupin said the entire Puget Sound region is behind the rest of the nation in its public transportation services because of historically low fuel prices.

The fare increase passed 7-1 with Bremerton City Councilman Adam Brockus voting against it.

The service cuts were approved 6-1 with Poulsbo Mayor Kathryn Quade voting against them and Bainbridge Island Mayor Darlene Kordonowy abstaining.

Quade expressed concern about the cuts to service in Poulsbo, which had been raised by numerous constituents prior to Tuesday’s meeting.

The service cuts, mostly in the early morning and late evening and carrying just a few riders, will take effect on Sept. 7.

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