Kitsap Transit board to cut service

With little notice to daily passengers, Kitsap Transit looks to regain footing lost from a $4.8 million deficit. It aims to do this by cutting routes, service and employees as soon as January 2009.

"One of my beefs is that I'm signed up for notices and never received the 'Hey there could be scheduling cuts and position cuts among the employees,' notice," said Dan Perez, a Kitsap Transit bus rider. "The only way I found out what's going on is some drivers have put some notices on the buses (Wednesday) morning but nothing came from Kitsap Transit Authority itself."

Kitsap Transit is proposing cost-cutting measures be accepted by the transit board of commissioners. A hearing is scheduled for 9:15 a.m. Tuesday at the Norm Dicks Government Center in Bremerton.

According to a proposed online budget plan, by Jan. 3, Kitsap Transit will layoff 11 full-time employees. In addition, 23 positions have already been eliminated because of a hiring freeze. Harborside, the main Bremerton office and the ACCESS reservation phone lines will shorten service hours, closing at 4 p.m. instead of 5 p.m.

As of Feb. 13, it's proposed all Sunday buses should be cancelled, along with some holiday runs. Cuts also are called for select morning and evening commuter runs to the first ferries, including Poulsbo's three No. 90 buses and two No. 91 buses that meet up with the 5:20 a.m. Bainbridge/Seattle ferry.

Others potential routes include the Mullenix No. 85 and 86 to the 5 a.m. Southworth ferry; No. 15 McWilliams and No. 32 Gateway to the 4:50 a.m. Bremerton ferry; and the Bainbridge Island commuter routes No. 93-106 to the 5:20 a.m. Bainbridge ferry, with the exception of No. 95, which already combined with the No. 100.

Kitsap Transit estimates the proposed cuts would affect more than 240 daily commuters. Cutting Sunday service affects 3,300 passengers. Cutting Saturday service also is proposed, possibly affecting 4,300 passengers.

Another cut of nine or 10 full-time operators is proposed, as is ACCESS limiting service to outlying areas to one round trip per day.

By March, a peak-hour surcharge costs passengers an additional 50 cents; for outlying areas ACCESS service charge doubles to $3 per passenger fare. Commuter routes listed above that aren't cut in February could be cut in March.

As of Wednesday, Dick Hayes, Kitsap Transit executive director, said he hoped to get notices to passengers by the end of the week regarding the proposed cuts and Tuesday’s meeting.

“It’s just a hearing. People can’t speak about it,” he said, in regard to the late notice to potentially impacted passengers. "We are shooting for a decision the second week in December, which gives some time to have public hearings."

As of press time no public hearing dates were set.

According to the proposed budget plan cuts, some efforts continue to gain ground. Feasibility studies for a passenger-only ferry boat from Bremerton to Seattle is listed in the proposed budget for 2009. However, the ferry failed the past two elections.

"All we are trying to prove is it can work," Hayes said. "The passenger-only ferry still is spending other people's money."

According to the budget plan, Kitsap Transit is required to pay $200,000 toward dock equipment but a future grant from Washington State Department of Transportation could replace that funding. Toll credits, Ferry Boat Discretionary funding and other equity covers test trials, wake research and purchase of vessels.

"It looks like the state is going to continue to take boats out of Bremerton when (a vessel) is needed. We just want to prove it's feasible," he said. "It's money, discretionary funds and we'll continue to have enough funds to keep our (bus) fleets up to date."

Another venture continuing to move forward is the implementation of the electronic Smart Card, which Kitsap Transit is responsible for a $300,000 match.

"To me it doesn't make sense where they are spending their money. We should take a look at where are they spending their money and is that why they are in this deficit," Perez said. "Is Kitsap County so big that we need to have a Smart Card right now?"

Rita DiIenno, president business agent for the Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) 1384 representing Kitsap, said the union doesn't agree with where they are proposing cuts.

"They are moving forward, continuing future dreams, while bleeding to death by cutting essential transit service that many low-income and regular passengers depend on," she said. "We, like everyone else in the world, recognize if revenue shrinks, we have to shrink our expenses, but you should first cut the nonessentials."

DiIenno said the ATU is coming up with alternative proposals to present to the transit board.

DiIenno said she questions the money put toward growing management included in the budget plan when Kitsap Transit is cutting its product, routes and service.

According to the proposed budget that reflects select service related reductions and fare increases, general administration is about $2,471,000, up 5.8 percent from the 2008 budget. However, customer service is projected to see a decrease of 23 percent and routed service, a cut of 10 percent.

DiIenno said she's asked for the administrative salaries since the end of July to see if there is extra flack higher in the ranks.

"They are required to provide that information to us," she said. To date, Kitsap Transit has not.

Upon the Herald questioning the salaries, Kitsap Transit provided salary ranges, but stated it's policy not to divulge individual salaries.

Because Kitsap Transit is funded by Washington state sales tax - according to their Web site it's about 82 percent — salaries are public record.

"There's got to be a reason why (Kitsap Transit) is losing so much money when (it's) growing in ridership. I've been riding the bus more than two years now and it's really swelled," he said. "If they reduce the ridership in the morning they are going to reduce those needing it in the afternoon. I'm going to be an earlier car on the road clogging up the road between Poulsbo and Bainbridge."

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