(What the bus network in our area would look like AFTER the cuts, IF they have to be made – click for full-size view)
11:01 AM: We’re at Metro Transit‘s SODO base awaiting a briefing on the cuts that are expected in service if there’s not what at this point would amount to a last-minute funding miracle – even as the Legislature starts its special session. Metro General Manager Kevin Desmond is here, and County Executive Dow Constantine is expected at any moment. We’ll update with details as they are announced. We have a stack of printed-out documents already, listing among other things (following list was updated post-meeting, with links to route-specific proposal info):
West Seattle routes among the routes countywide that would be deleted:
21 (click on the number on this page for info)
22 (click on the number on this page for info)
37 (click on the number on this page for info)
57 (click on the number on this page for info)
113 (click on the number on this page for info)
West Seattle routes among the routes countywide that would be “reduced/revised”:
Rapid Ride C Line – details
50 – details
55 – details
56EX – details
116EX – details
120 – details
125 – details
128 – details
131 – details
11:05 AM: Constantine begins by saying “Thank you for being here today, but we should not have to be here today.” He says the Legislature “has a unique opportunity to do what it wasn’t willing to do last year … let us prevent cuts to bus service … The size of these cuts is without precedent in the 40-year history of Metro Transit.” Transit service “is congestion reduction,” he said, adding that he is headed to Olympia in minutes “to present the case to lawmakers (who) need to act now – it will be dramatically more difficult to do so during next year’s regular session … I want our Legislature to be different from Congress; I want our Legislature to *work*.”
(11:08) Constantine says that this is a time for MORE bus service, not less, before he gives the mike to County Council Transportation Committee chair Larry Phillips, who points to the non-moving buses in the parking lot out the window (photo added) –
“That is the future (you) will see … buses idle, parked, not serving the public, drivers laid off … riders left stranded, passed by, buses very full, overcrowded, that is our pending reality … one we have held off for five years by a significant number of actions by (county leaders).” Service already is overcrowded and riders ‘are fed up with traffic and congestion’ so cutting service is ‘exactly the wrong direction for us,” Phillips warns. “Yet the council has no choice – we have to balance our budget …” He says the county already has found $800 million in efficiencies, fare hikes, one-time monies, etc., to “fill the (funding) gap,” but they have “no more way in which to stave off 17 percent cuts in service … now all that’s left is cutting service unless we have new revenue. The council would like to give the voters of King County that choice.” He adds, “If the Legislature does not act, we will have to explore other options. … People across King County are about to find out what not having a bus will mean to them.” Next, Metro GM Desmond will speak.
11:13 AM: Desmond begins. He goes into the sales-tax-funding mechanism that’s been in crisis for years. He reiterates that “we’ve been working for five years to keep service on the road” but a $75 million “challenge” remains. “Absent new revenue, we will have to proceed with an unprecedented downsizing of the system. … Instead of (doing that) we really should be growing the system.” He says there is documentation (we’ll add a link to that) showing why. He points to a chart showing that transit should grow by “almost 90 percent” by 2040 but “we’re falling behind, not getting ahead.”
**If you want to skip ahead, the Metro docs about cuts and more are now online here**
Desmond mentions a 42 percent increase in growth along the Alaskan Way Viaduct corridor, “most of that coming from West Seattle, Burien area.” He mentions that Rapid Ride is already “very very crowded” along the four lines launched so far. “As jobs continue to come to this very vital part of the United States, it will be a tremendous setback to the economy of this region if Metro Transit” has to make cuts like these. He mentions that employers offer transit passes a benefit “because they know the value of transit to their employees … in an incredibly competitive environment as they try to get the best and brightest to come (here).” Desmond mentions systems to the north and south that have “already cut a third of their systems.” He again mentions the $800 million that Metro has already ‘generated to help keep service on the road.’ (Added: Here’s the breakdown.)
11:20 AM: Desmond continues with a reminder that the Congestion Reduction Charge, which staved off earlier cuts, expires next year. “There is good news (though) – the economy is improving and our sales-tax collections have been growing somewhat faster than expected … but make no mistake, that increase doesn’t come anywhere near close to resolving our problem, especially in the context of the need to continue growing our system.”
Now, he gets to the proposed cuts. “The program calls for 600,000 hours or 17 percent of the system potentially to be reduced.” See them here. He says productivity, social-equity, and geographic considerations were involved in making the decisions. “All of the routes you’ll see … are ranked in tiers, high, medium, and low …” Most of the cuts, though, are “cutting deeply to the bone” in services ranked “medium.” Metro has 240 routes; 74 routes will “be deleted altogether, 35 percent of the system – the routes, gone. Another 107 routes, 50 percent of the routes, will have some kind of service reduction,” he says, either schedule changes or ‘pieces of a route’ might be cut off. (The walls here are swimming in pie charts, posters with route numbers and big X’s on them, by the way [photo added].)
He says, “The vast majority of our customers will almost certainly feel negative effects.” (Various maps are up around the room, too.) “42 percent of the reductions will be taken for peak-only service,” Desmond adds. “In many cases … many of the routes you’ll see deleted are well-used routes, but they’re very expensive to operate … if we don’t eliminate those services, we’d have to cut some place else.”
The cuts, he said, would add up to about 50,000 fewer transit trips per day – 14 million per year – and those are trips currently taking cars off the road; “with these cuts, we would estimate something like 20,000 or 30,000 more car trips on the road in King County … loss of these trips will slow highway travel …” (There’s another chart up on an easel detailing that – see it here. Lots and lots of numbers here.) Either the state would have to build more lanes “at a tremendous cost” or else the roads “won’t work any more,” and he warns that would affect industry tremendously. The cuts would “bring our service back to 1997 levels,” but since that time, King County has grown 22 percent in population, according to Desmond.
11:29 AM: Desmond goes on to mention the other funding/service loss – Alaskan Way Viaduct mitigation service added because of construction. “In order to keep Seattle moving … (the state) understood they had to (pay for more bus service).” That led to 7,500 seats, 150 daily trips, being added to the system. “That service contract expires prematurely in June of next year,” Desmond said, as has been noted before. They want the state to extend that “at least until the tunnel is open in 2016 … For West Seattle transit riders, we’ll have an instantaneous reduction of 11 percent of service in June, on top of the cuts that area of the county would experience through the systemwide reductions.” So, he says, they are kicking off an extensive public-outreach process. “We want our customers to understand how we made these decisions – they are objective and transparent and anyone can see the homework (behind them).” He says nine “large public meetings” will be held throughout the county plus “more than 30 additional outreach events” and they’ll be “open to other invitations.”They will have a van going around “on the fly.” And they want people to check out the website we linked earlier – kingcounty.gov/metro/future – to find out more about this, route by route, among other ways. They want to hear from you, Desmond emphasizes.
“When is all this going to happen?” he says you’re likely wondering. First, he says, they are hopeful the special session will result in action. If not – April 1st is when they’ll deliver the 600,000-service-hours-cut proposal to the County Council, depending on how their March economic forecast comes out, “based on our finances at that time.” By end of May/early June the reductions would be approved, and then after that, starting in September 2014, February 2015, June 2015, September 2015, is when the cuts would kick in, “by installment.” But “the timing can remain fluid,” Desmond said.
“In closing … we should be growing by half a million hours, 15 percent, to keep the county moving … I want to assure the public we’ll continue to take steps to be as efficient as possible .. but .. at some point the only way to balance the budget, is to affect the bus service. … We also urge the state to work with us to stave off the Viaduct-related cuts (too).”
11:37 AM: Desmond takes questions. First one – what EXACTLY are they looking for in a funding package? He says, what was recommended to the Legislature almost a year ago by a coalition of organizations. And he reminds, it’s not just about holding off cuts – it’s about allowing the service to grow. It was in HB 1959, which was passed last session (but died in the Senate). Councilmember Phillips elaborates on the voter approval that would be needed – this mostly is about the Legislature authorizing the county to ask voters to approve funding. He doesn’t have a specific sum; “right now we just need the authority to move forward and fill this gap.” What was asked about before equaled something like $150 per $10,000 of vehicle value. Desmond steps in to remind that the tax would NOT be just for Metro – voters would be asked for taxing authority that also would pay for local roads (the County Roads department, for example, is so low on funding, some roads are going into non-maintained status – those are county roads, outside the Seattle city limits, by the way, including White Center just south of West Seattle).
TAKE NOTE – Meeting schedule includes:
Youngstown Cultural Arts Center in North Delridge, 6 pm December 3rd
Elaborating on the traffic effects of bus cuts, Phillips says 90 percent of Metro riders are believed to have access to cars. Drivers are making a decision about their “congestion future” if they even get a chance to vote on potential.
P.S. We asked Desmond if the numbers on the documents include the potential expiration of the Viaduct-related service (which heavily affects West Seattle) as well as the other money – he says yes. A staffer says that overall, West Seattle would lose 27 percent of its current bus service combining the 17 percent potential funding loss systemwide and the Viaduct-mitigation money loss.
11:52 AM: Briefing’s over. We will add more links, more maps and other graphics directly to this to cut down on the amount of wading through the website that you would have to do otherwise. For starters – here is a direct link to the map showing potential service reductions in our area.
2:50 PM: We’ve added numerous links as well as photos/graphics above, with more information route-by-route. In case you missed the links in the comments, we also have some backstory – earlier this year, the stage for this was set by another announcement we covered as-it-happened – that link is here; six weeks later, we had a one-on-one interview with Metro GM Desmond answering some of the questions readers asked then (and are asking again now) – see it here.