The King County Council on Monday opted to defuse outrage over Metro bus cuts by postponing service reductions until September and vowing to “explore options before implementation of future service cuts.”
In a unanimous vote, Councilmembers moved to keep up to 349,000 service hours on the chopping block, scheduled to be cut in September 2014 and February 2015.
More cuts in 2015 are to be worked out in biennial budget process – all with the goal of “keeping service in line with actual revenues.”
The transportation funding crisis was prompted by voters’ defeat of Proposition 1 in April, which would have created a county transportation district to fund Metro and roads with a sales tax and a hike on vehicle registration costs.
Following the defeat of that measure, the County Executive asked the Council to approve legislation that would reduce Metro bus service by 550,000 hours between September 2014 and September 2015.
Council Chair Larry Phillips, Council Vice Chair Joe McDermott, and Councilmembers Dave Upthegrove and Larry Gossett released this statement after Monday’s Council vote:
“We all want to keep buses running. Cutting service will impact our communities – and our economy. Yet we have an obligation to live within our means; it’s what voters told us to do in April.
“The legislation approved today was developed in the spirit of compromise and meets our need to better align costs with revenues by authorizing 350,000 hours of bus cuts. Despite some claims to the contrary, our economy is recovering – but slowly. The latest revenue forecast confirmed that Metro’s financial situation has not vastly improved. In fact, it’s slightly worse.
“This legislation is not perfect. But we have a bus system to run, and the people of King County deserve some certainty about whether their bus will continue to serve them. It is time to move forward.”
“We listened to the community and today’s action is responsive to the concerns that have been raised. I thank my colleagues and Executive Constantine for their hard work in forging today’s legislation,” said Councilmember Rod Dembowski, chair of the Council’s Transportation, Economy and Environment Committee.
Dembowski’s office said the ordinance approved Monday implements only the service reductions originally proposed for September of this year, with a focus on cutting bus routes that are in the bottom 25 percent of productivity in accordance with the County’s adopted Transit Service Guidelines.
The adopted legislation also authorizes 188,000 hours of service to be cut in February 2015, but does not approve the specific routes to be eliminated or revised.
The 188,000 hours would be adjusted based upon the recommendation of an ad-hoc committee created to review the July and August economic forecasts and additional financial data from Metro Transit.
When the service reductions in February are set, the County Executive would transmit a service reduction ordinance for consideration by the County Council.
The ordinance also calls for a report from the County Executive by Sept. 30, 2014, describing revenue and expense reduction options available to avoid service reductions proposed for 2015.
Officials said this report will build on existing work to identify further savings and additional revenue already underway by the County Council, including an independent audit of Metro's operations, finances and fund balance policies, changing fare policies to increase revenue, and a peer review of Metro.
The compromise acknowledges the need for additional community input and calls for community workshops on proposed transit reductions with affected communities and stakeholders. It also requires a report to be transmitted to the County Council with any future service reduction proposal, setting forth other options considered.
“During my administration, King County Metro has implemented dramatic efficiency measures and innovations, preserving service even during the worst of times,” Constantine said. “I will continue to fight not only to maintain but to expand transit service.”
The Executive recently announced a plan for Metro and Sound Transit to adopt a new approach to fully integrate bus and rail across agency boundaries.
County officials say they are putting the focus on the needs of customers, and better connecting Link light rail and RapidRide high-frequency buses to the entire bus network and other transportation modes for faster, more reliable trips and more overall mobility.