Kitsap Transit tweaks proposed service reductions

The crowd was small but full of questions Tuesday afternoon as Kitsap Transit hosted a community meeting at Givens Community Center to present proposed changes to its routes and fares for next year.

“There is no way we can sustain our operations with the level of funding we are collecting,” said John Clauson, the agency’s service development director, explaining that since the passage of I-695 in 1999, the agency has depended almost solely on sales tax revenue, which grew by about 5 percent the last several years.

“December of last year was the first time we noticed a fairly significant drop in sales tax revenue,” Clauson said, pointing out that sales tax revenue for 2008 through Oct. 31 was down 5.4 percent. “And it’s anybody’s guess what the future holds.”

Because of the decrease, Clauson said the agency was facing a deficit of $3.5 to $4 million if it did not make any changes to its operations. Proposed changes include cuts to staff, hours and routes, the most dramatic of which is eliminating service on Sundays, which would included bus routes, ACCESS service and the foot ferry between Port Orchard and Bremerton.

“Shutting down the operations entirely produces the most dramatic savings per hour,” Clauson said. “And Sunday, with about 4,600 rides, is clearly the least used.”

He said the agency determined that there are “four main reasons people ride the bus on Sundays,” with the first being getting to church, followed by work, shopping and visiting.

At least one member of the audience said she used the bus to do her grocery shopping on the weekends, and was concerned about Saturdays being cut as well.

“That is a rumor — we are not planning on cutting both Saturday and Sunday,” Clauson said.

A man in a wheelchair said he did not know how he would get to church on Sundays without the agency’s buses, particularly ACCESS service, which can accommodate his walker and wheelchair.

Clauson responded by saying that the agency predicted some surplus vanpool vehicles might be available for churches to buy next year.

“With the rate increases, we are anticipating as many as 25 percent of the vanpools may drop off and those vehicles turned back in,” he said, explaining that the vanpool rates, which are based on size and miles traveled, have proposed increases from 28 percent to as much as 51 percent.

As to cutting service on holidays, Clauson said due to community response at previous meetings, the agency amended its plan to preserve service on holidays that many employees still work, such as Martin Luther King Jr Day.

Another change that Clauson said evolved from the meetings was to the proposed fair hikes. Instead of raising the base fare to $1.75, leaving the reduced fare at 75 cents, and increasing the monthly pass cost from $36.50 to $63, Clauson said the alternative offered to customers is now rounding the base fare to $2 and the reduced fare to $1, with a monthly pass for standard riders raised to $50, and for reduced-fare riders to $25.

The Kitsap Transit Board of Directors meets next on Dec. 16 at 9:45 a.m. at the Norm Dicks Government Center in downtown Bremerton, and is expected to vote on the budget at that time.

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