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Residents Bid Bitter Adieus to Area Bus Service

What will locals do, now that most buses no longer run through Bonney Lake?

During Bonney Lake's last week of bus service, the mood was somber.

“It sucks,” said rider Steven Ilman as he waited for the 408 at the Bonney Lake Transit Center. “They're eliminating all these buses and people need them, use them now, to go to work, to get around.”

This past Sunday, Oct. 2, was the last day of service for a majority of bus lines in the Bonney Lake/Sumner area, due to deep cuts at Pierce Transit. Along the routes, yellow burlap ‘hoods’ hang on bus stop signs, telling passengers about the route closure.

Pierce Transit has been forced to make 35 percent service cuts beginning in October, eliminating 16 bus routes. In East Pierce, Routes 408 (connecting Sumner and Bonney Lake), 407 (throughout Bonney Lake), and 406 (connecting Bonney Lake to Buckley) have been eliminated.

“I don't see why there can't be at least one bus a day through this area,” said Mike Dustin, a rider on the 408. “Would it have killed them? They couldn't raise the price, huh? I would have paid it.”

Due to failing eyesight, Dustin can no longer drive. Even though his wife drives, he likes the independence that the bus offers him. “She likes to sleep in, and I can use my mornings to go to the library or the grocery store. Now if I go to Safeway, it'll be a two mile walk.”

In February of this year, Pierce Transit sent Proposition 1 to voters, proposing that there be a three-tenths of a percent sales tax increase to keep bus service at current, or in some areas, improved coverage. While it received about 45 percent of the vote county-wide, it only received roughly 33 percent support in the East Pierce precincts.

Gary Leaf, Facilities and Special Projects Manager for the city of Bonney Lake, voted against the measure.

“My daughter is disabled and it took her four hours to take the shuttle and connecting buses to Tacoma. With the proposed new service, she wouldn't qualify for even that anymore.”

Leaf’s family lives in Prairie Ridge. To get shuttle service, the house must be within three-quarters of a mile from the closest stop; theirs is eight-tenths of a mile away.

“The bus service, to begin with, was almost irrelevant to us,” he said.

In January, the Bonney Lake City Council voiced opposition against Proposition 1 and voted against it. In an official statement, the council declared that while the city was being taxed for transportation, the area was not provided adequate service to justify further city support. There have been talks of creating a citywide bus service, but as of now there are no firm plans to do so.

“The council is not too happy about service being eliminated. But in order for us to realistically run our own transit system we'd need to secede from the Pierce Transit tax area so we can use those taxes ourselves,” said Leaf.

Many Bonney Lake riders will be forced to walk miles everyday – several noted that commuter route 496 through Sumner will become their lifeline. The 496 is an express bus designed to take Bonney Lake residents to Sumner to link up with the Sounder train each morning and bring them back in the evening.

One rider, Erika Sorenson, will leave her house at 5 a.m. to walk three miles in order to catch the last 496 bus going down the hill in the morning. Another, Sharon McLimins, will begin leaving her house at 4:30 a.m., rain or shine. In order for South Hill resident Breanna West to get to work by noon, she'll take the 496 up the hill, which will get her there 3 hours before her employer, Applebee's, even opens.

Everyone Patch interviewed noted that even their own resourcefulness isn’t a guarantee they’ll get around in the future— in February, the 496 route may also be cut.

“I've absolutely thought about moving to another town,” said Sorenson. “It's hard though. My three kids grew up here, go to school here. It's daunting to think of moving us to Tacoma because of this bus elimination.”

Many people note that a lot of other riders, as of this late-September interview, have already moved to a different town or found jobs in another area.

A man named Warren rides the 408. He is a 70 year-old homeless veteran, who's lived in the Bonney Lake area for 15 years.

“This is going to mess me up, I don't like to rely on others to get me around, and I do go back and forth to Tacoma to get services,” he said.

Right now, with fair weather, he can ride his bike from Tacoma to Bonney Lake in half a day. He comes to the Bonney Lake area because he knows people who offer him the chance to shower and stay somewhere safe.

“Because of [bus service cuts], I may have to move out to Dash Point State Park,” said Warren. “We're at the end of an era here, I see how it's all going to start falling apart.”

Jeremy Staples, a Lake Tapps resident and fellow Pierce Transit rider, acknowledges the infrastructure decline is a hassle, but sees things differently.

“I'm optimistic. Compared to developing countries, compared to villages in Tijuana without good roads or running water, we're doing fine. At least we have a bus system to cut,” said Staples.

After saying this, a nearby bus rider shook her head in disagreement.

“I might expect more, but if you look back at history it's pretty much standard. We can seem surprised that there's lack of basic services and that so many people live in poverty in this country, but realistically when you look at our track record, it's understandable,” said Staples.

Another rider anonymously said they've been considering felonious activity in order to get a car.

“I've considered every possible alternative in order to get to work. I've looked for other jobs and not found anything. I've thought about moving but I'll lose $1500 if I break my lease,” said West.

“I've pretty much been forced to start driving a car, but as of now I don't have the money for the car – the insurance and gas, anyway. And my 13 to 15 hours a week of work isn't going to get me that money anytime soon. This is putting me in one of the worst positions I've ever been in in my life. I know I'm just one person, but what's going to happen to me if I can't pay my bills, if I lose my home? What's going to happen to all the people who are in my same situation?”

CoreyAnn October 03, 2011 at 05:01 PM
This is nothing new and I warned people voting against transit in the last election that this would happen. I'm one of the few that still remembers when there was a bus route in the 80s up Sumner-Tapps Hwy for those on the west side of the lake. Well in the 90s recession Pierce Transit's knee jerk reaction to lower funds is just to cut all of the service to East Pierce County. When I worked at Pierce College Puyallup in the late 90s I remember that we even had to stongly lobby because Pierce Transit cut their handicap service (of which allowed several disabled people the freedom to get around and even attend college). I hope that the City of Bonney Lake and possibly others in the region do ceede from Pierce Transit taxing and work on their own structure. Pierce Transit only caters to the Tacoma metro and I-5 corridor commuters. Take a look at Auburn. They had a need for a transit route and they worked with Pierce Transit to force them to allow King County Metro busses cross the county line just to get service to the Lakeland/West Hill area. Maybe working at bringing King County Metro would be easier than waiting for Pierce Transit to ever cater to the needs of commuters, non-car owners, and the disabled around the lake.
Kelda Miller October 03, 2011 at 11:46 PM
I have never lived in Tacoma nor owned a car and while Pierce Transit service can always be improved, it's not true that they cater to Tacoma. I thought it was excellent when there was every half-hour service from Federal Way to Graham, and the 409 will continue to connect downtown Sumner to Tacoma (albeit, not downtown Tacoma). And as of the latest bus changes, there is now service directly from downtown Puyallup to downtown Tacoma all day long. I don't think the fault rests with a bad Pierce Transit, but more with a culture that doesn't understand the importance of transit and walkable communities.
CoreyAnn October 04, 2011 at 02:01 AM
I had said that they focused on the Tacoma area and the I-5 corridor and you have proved my point (routes to Tacoma and routes to Federal Way). The service previous to the Sounder station build had NO buses past downtown Sumner and into East Pierce County. And they have consistently ignored the requests for north-south routes through the east corridors and instead move everyone to the west before making north-south connections. I agree that the community needs to understand the importance of mass transit and walkable communities! A walkable community is one reason why I LOVE Lakeland so much! And in terms of mass transit, there already is buy-in to the importance of the Sounder train for commuters. I just wish that people could see what a viable mass transit community could look like. I live 50/50 between west Lake Tapps and the Bay Area of California. Now granted there is so much more population in that area, but having public transit options like BART, Muni, ACE, CalTrain, A/C Transit, and even the upcoming CalHSR (high speed rail between SFO & LA/San Diego) there is a real buy-in by residents in California. But it comes with a cost! Until residents understand what mass transit offers not just the community, but also themselves, it will be hard to get citizens to pony up for it. And after watching money fiascos like with the Monorail and LINK who could blame them. We just have to keep working to extoll the benefits of a vibrant mass transit system! Keep up the fight!
Kelda Miller October 04, 2011 at 03:30 PM
Got it! And I think we're on the same page in a lot of ways but I'm curious what your dream routes are? I'm totally fine with going through downtown Puyallup and Sumner to get anywhere (plus it reinforces the relevance of downtown/local coffeshops while i wait, etc). And I'm trying to understand what routes you're looking for. For example, I can understand why there isn't a South Hill- Orting- Bonney Lake route. It's not a radial connection. But if there was more of a Puyallup-South Hill-Graham-Orting-Sumner loop that would make sense. My biggest wish is that downtown Puyallup, Sumner, Tacoma were connected well all day long and on weekends (like the Sounder route but not just commuter hours.) The 578 gets close, but not really functional most of the day towards Tacoma.
Kevin Hoskins February 28, 2012 at 07:30 PM
If there isn't no buses then we'll have to get horses to get us around and then the coast of Feed will skyrocket!

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