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Small turnout defends transit routes

Only two islanders attended a public hearing on Kitsap Transit service cuts Wednesday, but both came to discuss on-island commuter routes.

Commuter Cindy Lund took the day off work to attend the afternoon meeting, while Julie Schulte attended to represent her husband, who commutes using transit.

Lund and Schulte said they would prefer a bump in fares rather than buses disappearing.

“We don’t mind paying more fares,” Lund said. “But we still need the service, and we appreciate the service.”

Kitsap Transit Service Development Director John Clauson is holding a series of public meetings this month to gather input on service cuts proposed to compensate for a projected budget shortfall of $3.5 million in 2009. Service reductions and a package of cost-saving measures will likely be voted on at a Dec. 16 transit board meeting.

The Wednesday meeting was the first held on Bainbridge. A second is scheduled for Dec. 10, and an extra meeting has been added for Dec. 11.

Proposed reductions that could impact islanders include the removal of one Route 90 bus serving 5:20 a.m., 7:55 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. ferries. Bainbridge stops would be absorbed by Route 91 buses, which operate from Kingston to the island.

Originally it was suggested that island commuter routes serving the 5:20 a.m. and 8 p.m. ferries could be cut because of low ridership. After hearing from members of the public that removing the earliest and latest buses on the routes could leave regular riders in the lurch, Clauson said Kitsap Transit may instead cut a bus later in the morning and earlier in the afternoon to give riders more options.

All island routes, with the exception of the Route 100 “Winslow shuttle,” may all be shut down when ridership is low during the middle of the day. Along with trimming individual routes, Kitsap Transit is considering suspending service on Sundays, holidays and to special events like the Bainbridge Rotary Auction.

Fare increases are also likely.

Clauson said Kitsap Transit costs $1.50 to $1.75 per ride, but many members of the public have suggested rounding the number to $2. Monthly commuter passes could be boosted to more than $60. Reduced fares and ACCESS fares would also rise.

Schulte said her husband catches a commuter bus to reach the 5:20 a.m. ferry on Mondays, in order to make a mandatory work meeting. If the bus service was canceled he would likely have to hire a taxi, so he would be happy to pay a higher bus fare if it saved the bus service, Shulte said.

Lund said she would pay more for fares within reason. She recommended that Kitsap Transit work to improve park-and-ride lots and make local routes less redundant, and improve the efficiency of buses.

Lund said she hoped Kitsap Transit would listen to riders and be willing to implement suggestions reaped from the public meetings.

“I think the first way to accomplish something is to have the solution before you create more problems,” she said.

Kitsap Transit has been scrambling to find savings this year, as sales tax revenue declined for the first time in 26 years. The agency implemented a hiring freeze earlier this year in response to lagging revenue.

“Since then it’s pretty obvious that it is something that is not going to go away quickly and it’s something that we need to deal with more drastically,” Clauson said.

Kitsap Transit is now moving to cut back staff and its capital plan, along with service reductions. The agency is allowed to ask voters for a roughly 0.1 cent increase in sales-tax revenue, but the process for putting the proposal on a ballot would be long and costly.

Meanwhile, if revenue again falls short of projections next year, Kitsap Transit may have to dig deeper.

“If the economy goes down then obviously we’re going to have to make some course corrections midway through,” Clauson said. “If it goes bad, we may be back here in June saying, ‘Guess what folks, our crystal ball didn’t work, we’re going to have to deal with more.’”

Kitsap Transit will hold a public meetings 7 p.m. Dec. 10, and 2 p.m. Dec. 11, at the fire station on Madison Avenue.

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