by Tyler Mangrum
– The Capitol Hill Times –
Despite all the attention that mass transit received during the recent election, and King County Metro calling for a 15 percent expansion to cover service needs, Metro announced a round of budget cuts beginning in 2014 with a 17-percent reduction in service that will leave 74 bus routes cancelled, and 107 routes reduced.
The cause of the cuts comes from insufficient revenue generated by Washington State’s sales tax in the wake of the recession. Metro bus fares have risen steadily over the last few years to account for the decrease in tax-generated income, but without other forms of revenue in place, and emergency money from the state legislature set to run out, Metro now faces a $75 million budget shortfall.
“Temporary funding and reserves run out next year, and those were part of how we kept service running through the weak economy after the Great Recession,” said Metro Transit General Manager Kevin Desmond. “Recent economic growth is good news but doesn’t rescue us, as sales tax receipts are still below 2008 levels and remain a volatile source of Metro’s revenue. We’ll continue to push for stable funding to keep King County and the state’s economy moving forward, but time is running out. Metro must plan for service cuts to reduce costs and operate within our adopted budget.”
King County Executive Dow Constantine says that the “unprecedented” cuts may begin as early as June of 2014. After the cuts go into effect, 80 percent of Metro’s service would be affected, leaving only 33 Metro routes at their current level of service. Metro estimates that approximately 55,000 rides per day would be lost entirely, resulting in more traffic congestion across the region as well as leaving some areas with little to no access to mass transit.
For Capitol Hill, a neighborhood that sees some of the most frequent usage of busses in the county, the cuts would affect numerous bus routes in all directions. The cuts would result in a reduction in service for the 2, 3, 8, 9X, 11, 12, 43, and 49 routes, which Desmond warns will lead to more crowded busses operating at fewer times. The 4, 25, 27, 47, 48X, 84, 205, 211, and 265 bus routes would be deleted entirely.
City officials like Councilmember Larry Phillips, Chair of the Transportation, Economy, and Environment Committee, warn that the cuts would be a major step backwards for the region in terms of promoting economic growth by leaving numerous working-class people without other forms of transit from their jobs.
“Buses are on the chopping block throughout King County, severing people’s lifelines for getting to work,” Phillips said. “These drastic transit cuts move King County in the worst possible direction for mobility and a prosperous economy. Voters deserve to have a say about this, either by the State Legislature coming through on a transportation package in the current special session, or by King County finding other funding options.”
Although Metro Service Development Supervisor Victor Obeso has stated that service for neighborhoods with low-income and minority residents will be maintained “to the degree possible” by targeting routes with the lowest ridership, the Central District will receive some of the most route deletions and reductions when compared to the rest of the city.
“The drastic bus cuts we are facing are going to disproportionately affect those in our community who can least afford it,” said Larry Gossett, Chair of the Metropolitan King County Council.
Governor Inslee has called for a special session of the state legislature to allocate more emergency funds to help garner additional funds for Metro and avert the negative effects that a reduction in service would create before Metro’s budget is finalized this spring. However, while the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives has voiced support for expanding funding for Metro, the State Senate’s slim Republican majority is not expected to budge on any matter of mass transit funding.
“We are the economic engine of the state and have a need for stable and on-going transportation funding,” said Councilmember Jane Hague. “It is essential that we receive funding tools from the legislature so that voters are able to choose the levels of service they are willing to support.”