Scores Of Metro Bus Riders Urge King County Council To Save Current Service

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by Ralph Nichols

Scores of Metro bus riders urged King County Council members at a July 21 public hearing in Burien to impose a “temporary” $20 fee to avoid sharp cuts in their transit service.

All but a handful of those in the standing-room-only crowd who testified supported the proposed two-year car-tab fee, which Metro officials say is needed to avoid reducing service by 17 percent.

This was the last of three public hearings on the “congestion reduction charge” and the only one held in South King County. Most speakers, however, came from Seattle or were University of Washington students.

The King County Council is scheduled receive additional testimony starting at 3 p.m. Monday, July 25, after which they are expected to debate and vote on the proposed tab-fee increase. Those wishing to speak may sign up beginning at 1 p.m. at the courthouse downtown.

Six council members – a “supermajority” of the nine lawmakers – are needed to approve the new fee. But if, as some expect, the measure receives only five votes, then a simple majority can submit it to county voters on the November ballot.

King County Council President Larry Phillips began the hearing by saying “King County’s nationally acclaimed bus service is in a financial crisis.”

A sharp decrease in county sales tax revenue has resulted in a projected $1.2 billion revenue loss for Metro Transit between 2009 and 2015, Phillips said.

Despite the fact that Metro has implemented 34 audit recommendations “for a more efficient service,” including raising rider fares four times in four years, system-wide cuts of 17 percent will be necessary without additional revenue from this fee.

“This is the stark reality we are facing,” he added.

Victor Obeso, Metro Transit’s service development manager, said the proposed cuts would impact 80 percent of current bus riders, and displace nine million riders annually.

Without the new revenue, Metro, which is operating with a $60 million shortfall a year, will begin cutting bus routes and service hours in February, Obeso said.

Since most Metro planners ride buses to work, so “we understand how the difficult choices we make will affect our riders.”

Most of those favoring the fee increase were riders who rely on bus service for a variety of reasons, including car owners who save commute time and avoid parking problems with transit, persons who don’t drive, and handicapped individuals who depend on Metro Access vans.

Des Moines City Councilman Dave Kaplan and King County Councilman Joe McDermott, whose 8th District includes Burien and North Highline, both endorsed the proposal.

It was standing-room only at Metro's final public forum at Burien City Hall July 21st.

Microsoft supports the $20 car-tab fee, as do the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce and the South King County Chamber.

Rochelle Flynn was one of two Burien residents who, in supporting the fee increase, urged that Route 139 – the only bus from the Burien Transit Center to Highline Medical Center – be spared.

UW students said current levels of bus service are essential for the majority of students who commute from off-campus to attend class, noting that parking in the U-District is already scarce.

Similar views were voiced by students from Seattle University and Highline and South Seattle community colleges.

“We need public transportation. Without it we are stuck,” said a blind person who relies on Metro. Others with disabilities, including one with epilepsy and another who suffered a stroke, said buses are essential for their mobility.

“Please don’t cut service to those of us who need it,” said another, making a special plea to maintain current Access van service.

A West Seattle resident who owns a car said he doesn’t object to the $20 fee, saying “it is a basic right to have public transportation in a metropolitan region of this kind.”

But SeaTac City Councilwoman Pam Fernald, who said she understands “the necessity for Metro bus service to continue,” challenged “Metro to try harder before imposing more taxes or using fear tactics to threaten cuts in service.”

Noting buses are “the only means of transportation for many,” Fernald said “we should see more fiscal responsibility from the county,” especially in a recession, and asked for “figures and documentation on all of those cuts.”

“What will you come back and ask for” in two years if the economy has not improved by the time the “temporary” $20 fee expires, Patrick Robbins of Burien asked county councilmembers.

Robbins also challenged Metro to collect fares from the sizable number of daily riders who now get off buses without paying, and to operate fewer buses that carry more commuters – noting that he and his wife recently observed seven Route 120 articulated buses along Ambaum Blvd. and SW 148th St. in about 15 minutes, all of which were almost empty.

A sizable number of speakers, who identified themselves as members of the Freedom Socialist Party, other socialist groups and affiliated social-justice organizations, called for taxing the wealthy, big business and commercial property to avoid service cuts.

One called public transit “a right.” Another told council members “part of your job is to adequately fund public transit.”

And a speaker from Seattle Radical Women said “around the world people are fighting back against austerity measures,” including violent protests in Greece and Spain. “Break a law if you have to,” she said, calling “for more social services, not less.”

Brock Howell of Transportation for Washington, which he said has joined with Futurewise, a liberal activist Washington environmental group, submitted petitions with 13,000 signatures supporting the fee increase.

To see our photos from the event, click here.

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One Response to “Scores Of Metro Bus Riders Urge King County Council To Save Current Service”
  1. J Taylor says:

    Sadly, Metro/King County has rarely shown foresight and fiscal responsibility where mass transportation is concerned. Citizens have every right to know where every penny of their tax dollars are being spent, but our officials are becoming more and more secretive. I have lived in this area for over 25 years, and each time Metro asks for a fee hike, the scare tactic is the same–cutting South End routes. Yet a “Free Ride” zone in Downtown Seattle persists. Who pays for that?

    Also, packing meetings with paid Metro employees and UW and Seattle U students shows Metro is no striving for responsibility, but catering to certain interests.

    King county lost my support for their mass transit proposals when they ousted the Dinner Train in favor of a bike trail. That railroad line would have made a wonderful commuter route, yet that suggestion was ignored. And, sorry, but I cannot believe that this $20 fee will be temporary.

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