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?”