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REGIONAL UNITY ON METRO CRISIS

When I was growing up on the Eastside, my father commuted to Seattle every day for work.  If our car was in the shop he had to catch the Greyhound at the bus stop in Eastgate.  There was no local or regional transit service available to him.

Today, Metro busses carry 112 million riders a year throughout King County.  You don’t have to catch the bus coming from Spokane to get to Seattle. 

About 70% of the riders step onto the bus in Seattle.  Nearly 40% of workers commute to downtown Seattle by public transportation.  And 20% of Seattle residents take the bus to work.  We all owe a debt of thanks to every bus rider who takes a car off the road, reducing congestion and our impact on the environment– thank you!

Metro is an amazing workhorse which makes it possible for many people to live, study and work in Seattle without the expense of owning a car.  A jewel of our system is the Metro dial-a-ride service that takes seniors and people with disabilities to medical appointments, grocery shopping, and other daily necessities. 

Transit Funding Crisis

Sales tax dollars pay for more than 60% of Metro’s operating costs. Farebox revenue pays about 26% of costs.  With the economy in a recession, Metro is collecting a lot less sales tax revenue and may have to cut between 400,000 and 600,000 bus hours, which means cuts of 20% or more from today’s service levels by 2015. These cuts will come at a time when traffic disruptions from the Viaduct and SR 520 Bridge projects and regional growth will have more people trying to get on fewer buses.

Bus service in Seattle accounts for 62% of all of Metro’s service. Early in this decade, the County Council adopted a policy called the 40/40/20.  When new hours of bus service are added 40% of the new service goes to the Eastside, 40% goes to South King County and 20% is provided to Seattle and neighboring cities to the North.  The purpose is to increase suburban transit service based upon where the sales tax dollars are raised

40/40/20 does not serve Seattle well. Ridership in Seattle was and is today much higher and raises more farebox revenue than anywhere else in King County.  Our busses are crowded.   Our neighborhoods are more suited to transit than the suburbs and we have the region’s largest concentration of employment in downtown.  Seattle residents use much more than 20% of the bus service, close to two-thirds of it in fact.

Faced with drastically reducing transit service, the County created a Regional Transit Task Force to develop recommendations for policies to guide cuts and adds to service.

The Task Force members were from cities around King County, transit riders, environmentalists, business, organized labor and social services.  I was honored to represent Seattle on Task Force.

After more than 40 hours of meetings I am happy to report that the Task Force has unanimously agreed on recommendations to the County that recognize the essential importance of allocating bus service with consideration of where riders are concentrated.  The Task Force recommendations are:   

1: Replace 40/40/20 with a system that allocates cuts and adds to service based upon the needs of communities and productivity of the system and which ensures social equity and service for residents throughout the county;

2: Use clear, objectively applied guidelines or metrics to allocate service;

3: Guidelines should be transparent, offer financial flexibility and better integrate service with the entire regional transportation system;

4: Establish performance measures to gauge Metro’s progress in providing service in a more cost-effective manner;

5: Continue implementing recommendations from the County’s recent performance audit while implementing cost controls;

6: Upon implementation of the recommendations, Task Force members will help seek state legislation for more dependable funding for transit; and

7: The Task Force recommendations should be the basis for a Metro mission statement and as a guiding force in the county’s new comprehensive plan.

The unanimous agreement by the Task Force member is an extraordinary showing of unity from cities and interest groups across King County.  We know that the success and health of our communities requires regional cooperation. Task Force members will now work to ensure that our recommendations are adopted by King County.

We can use this crisis as an opportunity to provide more stable funding for our transit system and more certainty that both Seattle and our suburban neighbors will have the transit service that is tailored to the needs of our communities.  For the report and other Task Force information please see the web site: http://www.kingcounty.gov/transportation/transittaskforce.aspx

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