The Wheels on Some of the Buses Won’t Go Round and Round

King County Metro Cuts Numerous Routes, Saves Others

By Oscar Stephens-Willis

Originally published in the November 2014 issue.

Have you noticed the bus cuts yet?

It’s pretty inevitable. You’re going to or already have. What with 72 routes being unceremoniously eliminated and 84 more being altered in some way (that’s a total 73% of all routes), King County area is currently seeing a total of 400,000 annual hours stricken away.

48% of reductions will be made to those services in peak periods and the facility to offer travel to an estimated 10.8 million people would cease. So far, 28 routes have already been removed from service with another 16 set to join them in the beginning of next year.

The 28 already axed routes were decided on in relation to priority 1. The service changes that will take place over 2015 (February, June and September) will be made with the 2nd, 3rd and 4th priorities in mind.

However, there is a glimmer of hope. The next two rounds of cuts, scheduled to take place in the early months of next year, have, at least for the time being, been cancelled due to a substantial amount of projected sales tax revenue in addition to a reshuffle of reserve funds within the King County Metro budget. The Seattle Times reported that sales tax collections revenue for this year is estimated to be a solid 32 million dollars higher than originally predicted, assuming consumer spending keeps up.

With the proposed cuts for February being temporarily aborted (assuming the projected sales tax income materializes), some could be forgiven to think that eventually the already lost services shall return to the roads. Once the money comes in, there’s no reason they shouldn’t, right?

Not so.

King County Metro is dousing dreams of possibly reinstating the first round of slashed service in September with the statement: “Per our service guidelines, probably not.

Of course there is a bigger problem than the disruption of the commuting of Seattle residents at a time when ridership is increasing. Beau Morton, Assistant Secretary for the Transit Rider Union points out that preventing the bus cuts might not be the total solution.

“While preventing these cuts is great,” said Morton “The County will do so by cutting in[to] Metro’s reserves, which is neither sound nor sustainable, and just kicks the issue down the road.”

A common misconception with these cuts is that they stem from a lack of bus fares. Bus fares actually make up a minority towards funding the buses, so the idea that the cuts are caused by people cheating the farebox and not paying isn’t really correct.

The Metro transit system is actually funded by regressive (disproportionately reliant on those with lower-income) sales tax, which incidentally is where the cuts originally stemmed from. As King County Metro states on their website: “Due to the inherently unstable and variable nature of that funding source, the amount of operating funds available from that source varies with the health of the economy.”

In short, the 2008 recession wrecked Washington consumer spending, reducing overall sales tax collections, and forcing austerity measures for public services such as King County Metro which depend primarily on that revenue.

“The cuts are taking place because Metro is forced to rely almost entirely on the volatile, regressive sales tax, and sales tax revenues have been way down since 2008 when the recession began. Until 2000 Metro had more stable state-level funding from a .3% motor vehicle excise tax (MVET). The MVET provided almost a third of Metro’s operating budget, but that tax was eliminated thanks to Tim Eyman’s I-695,” said Morton.

So what relevance does this have to you, the reader? How can you get involved, if at all?

Proposition 1 will provide funds to preserve the currently proposed-to-be axed routes. The proposal suggests that funds could be located by “imposing an annual vehicle-license fee up to an additional $60 per vehicle, with a $20 rebate for low-income individuals, and an additional sales-and-use tax of no more than 0.1%. Each would expire no later than December 31, 2020. Combined, they would raise approximately $45,000,000 annually.”

The passing of Proposition 1 could not only cease any implementation of the further cuts but also could bring in revenue to be used to bring back the Seattle-based routes that were canned in September.

But by the time you read this ballots will have already been sealed, mailed and cast. So hopefully Prop 1 will pass, and hopefully you voted to save the lovely green and yellow mechanical caterpillars that faithfully haul us around the city and beyond.

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