Kitsap Transit riders speak out at public forum

Torrens Talk

Money is tight everywhere. Consumer spending is down as people try to cut back on expenditures to make ends meet.

That scenario is causing havoc with our state and local government revenues. Sales tax monies play a significant role in the budget and when people buy less that goes down. And, when tax revenues go down, so does the ability to provide government services.

That is the heart of the budget shortfall that Kitsap Transit (KT) is facing. About 85 percent of the funding for Kitsap Transit comes from sales tax revenues. So, when people stop buying, KT needs to find ways to cut its operations.

To its credit, KT has hit the road to pitch their proposal and get feedback. They kicked off their “bus tour” in Poulsbo last Monday, Dec. 1, and will finish on Wednesday, Dec. 10, on Bainbridge Island. In between, there will be a meeting in Bremerton on Monday, Dec. 8, and in Port Orchard on Dec. 9.

At the meetings, KT wants to share its thinking and find out from the public what is viable and what is not. That is what happened at the meeting I attended this past Monday at the Poulsbo Fire Hall. I went there with my husband since one of the cutbacks being proposed dealt with the commuter run he takes to the ferry every day.

KT has done an exemplary job in providing service where and when needed. They provide the biggest bang for the taxpayer buck than virtually any other bus system around. KT has been a careful steward of the money, but that is no longer sufficient.

Now, they must look at raising fares and cutting runs. And, they want the public to help them make the decision as the public is the one who is going to have to live with it.

Given that, it was no surprise to hear the anger and frustration in various riders’ voices as they raised their objections and/or questions about the proposal. What was fascinating is that there was very little consternation over raising the fares.

Probably because the last time KT faced such drastic measures (the passing of I-695), their run was cut completely, the 20 or so people at the meeting, seemed intent on making sure that wasn’t going to happen again. Once it was clear that there would be buses for the run but not necessarily the same configuration of stops and runs, some of the tension relaxed.

There was also some confusion about the passenger counts which helped direct KT towards where to cut. That eventually got cleared up and resulted in even more tension being dissipated.

KT addressed many questions on how it operates, how it is funded and where the money goes. For some, it was enlightening to find out that a public budget does not operate the way a private business budget does. There are legal restrictions on how monies can be used and where they come from.

Others were frustrated with where KT must allocate its resources, such as ACCESS. That is a federal requirement with very little room to maneuver regarding service and fares. Despite the restrictions, KT came up with a very workable solution that, while cutting back the office customer service function, still allows for much of the ACCESS bus service to stay intact.

The overall proposal affects every aspect of KT and the fewest number of customers it serves. It is an attempt to be fair in spreading the pain. If the folks at the Fire Hall are any indication, KT is on the right track.

KT’s budget adoption is Dec. 16. If you have questions or concerns, now is the time to raise them. KT is ready and willing to hear whatever ideas you have, especially if they result in not making KT wield such a sharp knife.

Depending upon the economy, KT could be back with the road show late next spring. Until then, KT is doing its best to provide the best service for the lowest fares for the most people in Kitsap County. When you think about it, could one ask for anything more?

Val has been called a community activist — or agitator — depending upon one’s view. She contributes her time in the fields of arts, education, human rights, lacrosse, land use, politics and her Jewish community. Val has been an adjunct faculty member of OC since 1980 where she teaches political science and speech. She resides outside of Poulsbo with her husband and their pets.

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