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Kitsap Transit board delays vote on service cuts

After running over its alloted time in the Norm Dicks Government Building Tuesday morning, the Kitsap Transit Board of Commissioners delayed voting on proposed further service cuts and instead voted to hold a special meeting to discuss them further.

“I don’t feel comfortable (voting on this) without addressing some of the questions (that were raised),” said Kathryn Quade, Mayor of Poulsbo. “How much was explored on the issue of raising fares?”

Quade was referring to a set of policies that would shape further reductions in Kitsap Transit bus service, which Executive Director Dick Hayes said are necessary because the agency “continues to experience budget problems (due to) the decline in sales tax revenues.”

The policies include eliminating some bus routes and combining others, having certain ACCESS bus run less frequently and reducing the hours that buses run on Saturdays. The policies do not address raising fares or reducing administrative costs, which some riders suggested at recent public meetings.

“I would be open to discussing fare increases,” said Hayes, adding that the last fare increase appeared to be responsible for the loss of about 5 percent of passengers. “We can look at different fare increases, but I fear with rising gas prices, we may lose even more passengers.”

Port Orchard Mayor Lary Coppola said he still had questions regarding ACCESS service, and “in light of the financial information provided today, I would like more information.”

South Kitsap Commissioner Charlotte Garrido asked if there was any effort to address some of the questions and comments made about particular routes, and said perhaps “we really do need to look at raising the fares?”

Regardless, Garrido said she felt that the information provided to the board Tuesday was too much to absorb in such a short timeframe.

“I move we have a special meeting to explore this complex situation,” she said.

Hayes agreed that an “extra meeting is essential,” and said it would be scheduled within two weeks. The board voted unanimously to hold the meeting, at which time several members of the audience applauded.

“It has become clear ...that this is a special year, as far as financial issues, and the more each of us knows, the better,” said board chair Christopher Snow, Mayor of Bainbridge Island.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, several members of the audience said the cuts would have a large impact on people’s lives, and they wanted the board to give careful consideration to them.

“I would like you to look for other sources of income like fees, or having smaller buses for routes with only a few passengers,” said Bonnie White, saying that Seattle bus riders were not seeing similar cuts. “We may not be as big as Seattle, but we still need to get to work. I’m willing to pay more in fares or passes.”

White also suggested that board meetings be held at night when more people could attend, and that she wanted “every member of the board to ride the bus.”

Ronnie Oswald, who helps employ disabled adults through her work at the Holly Ridge Center in Bremerton, said she was concerned that cuts to ACCESS service would force her clients to take routed buses or ferries to get to their jobs.

“Ninety-nine percent of the people we service come to and from work on ACCESS,” Oswald said. “They are not safe on a routed bus, they are not safe on a ferry. If you put them on there unchaperoned, that is an accident waiting to happen, and you are putting yourself and them at risk.”

Carol Farafontoff said her disabled son would have similar problems if he could no longer take ACCESS to his job.

“You want him to take ACCESS, then a routed bus, then the foot-ferry to get to work,” Farafontoff said. “He will not be able to work. If he could have ridden a routed bus, he wouldn’t have needed ACCESS for the past 20 years. I would like you to seriously consider the impact this will have on the disabled.”

Greg Jablonski of Bremerton said he depends on bus service after he suffered a back injury at work, and suggested that KT look at reducing the frequency of foot ferry sailings before cutting bus service.

“You guys keep hammering on the ferries, we don’t want it — we want more bus service,” Jablonski said, suggesting that foot ferries depart every 30 minutes instead of every 15 minutes. “I have to wait two hours for a bus; make them wait another 15 minutes for a ferry.”

According to Hayes, sales tax revenues have declined by more than 10 percent for the agency in the first half of 2009, and there “remains a substantial shortfall predicted for 2010 which requires service reductions.”

The changes recommended for December are expected to save approximately $800,000, and further changes for February are expected to save an additional $100,000.

“Are we anticipating more service cuts next year?” Port Orchard Mayor Coppola asked.

“I don’t think we can assure anyone there won’t be more cuts, but we are hopeful that this lasts us most of the way through 2010,” Hayes said. “I still think there will be service rearrangements, but hopefully no more cuts.”

Hayes said he hoped to schedule the special meeting within a week or 10 days, and that the public would be notified when it was scheduled.

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