That “cartoon” is what Metro Transit executives used to wrap up their briefing for the Seattle City Council this morning. “Cartoon” isn’t quite the right word; the prospect of more bus-service cuts is no laughing matter, as they warned – the briefing was basically the same one that Metro general manager Kevin Desmond gave to news media four weeks ago (WSB coverage here), with one extra twist: The Legislature has now adjourned without approving a transportation-funding package, and there’s no guarantee it’ll do so in the special session that is set to start May 13th. If they don’t, Desmond warned councilmembers, “we risk taking a giant step backward … the impacts will be very, very significant, (putting) up to 70 percent of current routes at risk.”
If you missed the previous round of coverage and discussion: The problem is twofold – the “congestion reduction charge” to supplement Metro funding expires next year, and it can’t be extended or replaced without Legislature approval. Then there’s the state “mitigation” money that added bus service to help while Highway 99 construction was under way; though the construction’s not really over till 2019, that money expires next year too.
So, Metro has drawn up its list of the types of cuts it might have to make if one or both of those funding sources isn’t replaced. Never mind the fact, it’s pointed out, that the service shouldn’t just be holding steady right now, it should be growing along with the population and usage.
At City Hall this morning, though Desmond stressed that the potential scenario is still an “illustration,” not a definite “plan” (same basic list shown during the April 1st briefing – here’s the West Seattle and vicinity breakout), he said that if the Legislature’s special session ends without a solution to Metro’s money woes, they’ll have to start working immediately on a plan to cut/reduce service, to be brought to the public this fall.
(Route 21, photographed this morning on Avalon Way)
(See today’s full slide deck here – note the West Seattle page saying “Neighborhoods such as Arbor Heights, Shorewood, Genesee Hill and Beach Drive could lose all service.)
Bus riders aren’t the only ones with someone at stake, Desmond noted – cuts would put tens of thousands of car trips back on the road. He acknowledged that in areas such as West Seattle’s Arbor Heights and Beach Drive neighborhoods, where service was cut last fall, some already have gone back to cars, if that’s an option for them. And without replacement funding, that’ll already get worse, though West Seattle is by no means the only area that’ll be affected.
West Seattle-residing Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, who chairs the council’s Transportation Committee, called it a “sobering assessment,” adding that legislators “need to give us the options to find solutions to meet the region’s transportation needs.” He was particularly concerned about more cuts making the bus system less reliable.
After the briefing, both Rasmussen and fellow Councilmember Tim Burgess issued news releases including calls for the Legislature to take action to help Metro avoid cuts. Do note that this is not a call for new state money – it’s just a call for the Legislature to give local governments/agencies permission to ask their taxpayers in turn to approve potential funding sources such as motor-vehicle excise tax, a car-registration fee, and/or a gas tax.
Before the session in Olympia ended, we had been in touch with 34th District State Rep. Joe Fitzgibbon – a member of the state House Transportation Committee – regarding progress (or lack of it) on this issue, so we have a message out to him again today seeking comment on transit-funding prospects when legislators reconvene.
ADDED TUESDAY MORNING: Rep. Fitzgibbon’s reply:
While the primary focus of the special session will be the state operating budget, I definitely expect the transportation revenue package to be one of the issues that we discuss and try to resolve in the special session. There continue to be some differences between the Senate and the House on transportation revenue but we are working to come to an agreement so that we can pass a package, including a local funding option for Metro. The bills from the last session will remain alive in the special session.
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