Grays Harbor Transit to cut weekend service, ask voters for a sales tax increase

After weeks of deliberation, the Grays Harbor Transit Board voted Wednesday night to cut all weekend service and place a 0.1 percent sales tax increase on the November ballot. The board also voted to eliminate transfers and slightly increase fares.

The decision follows numerous meetings and requests for public input, and Grays Harbor Transit General Manager Mark Carlin said that although he isn’t happy that the agency had to take such drastic measures, the board made the right decision.

The rest of the board, which consists of county commissioners and local mayors, echoed Carlin’s sentiment. With the cuts, eight Grays Harbor Transit employees will lose their jobs and Harbor residents who work weekends will have a harder time getting to work.

“It’s never fun to make decisions where jobs get cut, but we didn’t have any choice,” said Westport Mayor Michael Bruce.

Carlin said the service and rate changes should take effect Sept. 3, and will create a combined savings of $79,400 each month. The Grays Harbor Transit is currently losing about $79,000 per month.

Under the new service schedule, Grays Harbor Transit will no longer offer services on weekends or holidays. Currently, the transit system only offers trips to and from Olympia on holidays, so Carlin said few customers would be impacted by that change. Trips to Centralia will be completely eliminated from the schedule, but weekday service will remain otherwise intact. About 3,500 customers use the buses each weekday.

Carlin said that, if possible, he’d like to reinstate weekend service if voters approve the sales tax increase. However, restoring the schedule to full strength could take time.

“If we get the (increase) and if our plans we’ve put in place here save enough money to keep us in the black, the best-case scenario will be getting that service going again Jan. 1, 2015,” Carlin said. “Or maybe we’ll slowly phase things back in. But, who knows, maybe the economy will improve. So everyone should stay tuned, I guess.”

The only rate increase resulting from Wednesday’s decision would be a $3 increase in the monthly pass for general users, who currently pay $25 for a monthly pass. Transfers would also be eliminated, meaning riders will have to pay a fare for each trip.

Board members voted unanimously to approve the decision, but County Commissioner Frank Gordon said he would like to see more drastic changes, such as larger fare increases. He said riders should be willing to pay more than two dollars for a trip to Olympia.

“I sincerely believe that people who travel 40 miles for two dollars, that’s a great deal,” Gordon said. “I sincerely wish I had a rig that would drive that far for that price.”

Bruce was on the other end of the spectrum, and said he’d rather not increase the sales tax at all, but conceded to a compromise. He raised doubts that voters will approve such a measure. Aberdeen Mayor Bill Simpson echoed his concerns.

“I’m fearful that the .1 percent wouldn’t pass when we’ve got 14 percent unemployment,” Simpson said. “They’re all pinching pennies.”

Carlin said the board’s decision was bitter-sweet: tough cuts had to be made, but at least the agency should start to operate in the black. “I might be able to sleep tonight for the first time in several months,” Carlin said.