Proposed Metro service reductions meeting tonight

Don’t forget tonight’s public meeting on proposed bus service cuts by Metro Transit in the wake of severe budget problems, which we reported on last week.

Metro Transit is asking the King County Council for a temporary $20 annual surcharge on licensed vehicles as a stop-gap measure to maintain bus service. Metro has announced that if the council doesn’t approve the surcharge, it will have to cut up to 600,000 service hours – or 17 percent of current bus routes – in 2012 and 2013.

Due to the dramatic recession-driven drop in sales tax revenues, Metro Transit is facing a $60 million annual deficit between revenues and the cost of providing current levels of transit service. That shortfall would require Metro to shrink service by 600,000 hours of annual bus service over the next two years, or 17 percent of the entire system, which is the equivalent of cutting all weekend transit service or all weekday commuter service.

The State Legislature authorized a tool that is available to King County to help maintain Metro service at its current level: a temporary $20 Congestion Reduction Charge on vehicle licenses for each of the next two years. County Executive Constantine has sent that proposal to the County Council as well as two other pieces of legislation:

  • An ordinance approving a Congestion Relief Plan, a prerequisite for Council action on a Congestion Reduction Charge.
  • An ordinance cutting 100,000 hours of Metro bus service effective February 2012, the first step in reducing bus service by 600,000 service hours.

These cuts would his Queen Anne riders hard, eliminating routes 2 (north of downtown) 4, 15EX, 18, 26, 28, 45, 81 and 82, and reducing and/or revising a number of others, including routes 1, 2EX, 3, 8, 13, 15, 16, 17 (regular and EX), 18EX, 24, 26EX, 28EX, 30, 31 and 33. Read our previous coverage for more information on how these changes will affect transit in Queen Anne and the greater Seattle area.

Tonight’s meeting is at 6 p.m. at the King County Courthouse, Council Chambers, at 516 Third Ave., Seattle. If you can’t make it tonight, there’s one more meeting at 6 p.m. next Thursday, July 21, at the Burien City Council Chambers, at 400 SW 152nd St., Burien.

If you can’t make it to one of the public hearings, you can submit your comments directly to the King County Council online. Transportation for Washington also has a form letter you can fill out in support of the congestion reduction charge.

Click here for a complete list of all routes (.pdf) and whether the proposal calls for them to be eliminated, reduced or remain unchanged. Click here for a map (.pdf) of all affected routes in Northwest Seattle.

Update on possible cuts to Queen Anne bus service

More information has been uncovered on the Metro service hour reduction scenario reported on two weeks ago. Under the scenario (.pdf), Route 2N would be eliminated, while the 2 Express would be kept and extended down to Seattle Pacific University and then Nickerson Street. Some of the hours cut from Route 2N would be put on Route 13. In addition, Route 4N would be eliminated, and those hours would be put on Route 3N, which would also extend down to Nickerson. Route 45, which connects Seattle Center with the University District through Queen Anne, would also be eliminated.

The “600,000 Service Hour Reduction Scenario,” as reported two weeks ago, is Metro’s initial look at what a reduction in service hours would look like if cuts had to be made.

“The whole idea of restructure is in this case to reduce the size of the system, be more efficient and not spend as many hours, but still try to provide service that meets the needs of the community,” said King County Metro’s Service Planning Supervisor David Hull. “This is not something that I as a transit planner am looking forward to. We like to see the system grow; we look to put more service on the street to provide quality service to more people … This is a process that is being forced because of our financial situation.”

If the King County Council decides that cuts should be made, there will be a process allowing the public to give feedback on actual service hour reduction proposals, said Hull.

The part of the scenario regarding Queen Anne routes, excluding the change to Route 45, is called “Priority 2,” which is aimed at restructuring service to improve efficiency. This is opposed to the first priority of reducing low productivity services (Route 45), and the lesser priorities of reducing higher‐productivity services and reducing low‐productivity services in all areas identified as underserved. The total cuts from Priority 2 amounts to a 255,000 reduction in hours, of which approximately 6,000 hours will be cut from routes particular to Queen Anne.

“We’re not trying to eliminate access to service [in the Priority 2 cuts], but perhaps requiring folks to change how they use the system… people might need to transfer or might need to walk a bit farther,” said Hull. “The concept is fewer routes going downtown, but they’re at a higher service level, and one thing the national studies show is that people are willing to walk farther to have more frequent service.”

Some Metro riders welcome these changes, like Bruce Nourish, a software engineer who lives downtown and works in Queen Anne.

“This proposal provides much better mobility from Lower Queen Anne, Taylor St, and Downtown to SPU and the north side of Queen Anne,” said Nourish in a comment to the previous story, adding, “Such systems, in general, provide similar mobility at far less cost, or much greater mobility at the same cost. I personally think this change is long overdue.”

Others, like Queen Anne resident and Metro rider Nell Beedle, believe some could have serious trouble with these changes.

“There are, in fact, very steep slopes and in some cases stairways that create physical barriers to access for less able-bodied riders,” said Beedle. “It’s not just about trip times for some folks; it’s also about physically being able to access the route.”

This is something Metro planners and administrators take into consideration, said Hull.

“We’re trying to limit the impacts, but we surely understand that we can’t cut 600,000 hours, almost 20 percent of our system, and not have impacts to current riders,” said Hull. “We understand that not everyone is capable of making a farther walk, that there may be individuals because of a disability or age that can’t make that walk.”

Federal laws require the King County Department of Transportation to factor in disadvantaged populations in their planning, and in the event that a disabled person is unable access public transportation, Metro provides assistance through their MetroAccess Paratransit program, said Hull.

One major factor that can keep these changes from becoming a reality is Senate Bill 5457, or the temporary $20 congestion reduction charge to help fund public transit. The bill was signed by Governor Gregoire on May 16, but it still needs to be passed by the King County Council, who will decide the matter later this summer. According to Queen Anne Community Council member Kirk Robbins at last Wednesday’s transportation committee meeting, two King County Council members have said it’s going to be a unanimous vote to put the $20 dollar charge for bus operations on the ballot in November, passing the matter to King County voters.

“[The bill] is a stopgap measure that would allow King County Metro to avoid reducing 17.5 percent of the system,” said Hull. “Even after taking numerous actions to reduce cost… we’re kind of at a point now that without additional revenue to sustain the system we got to make cuts.”

The measure would collect for about two years before expiring, during which time the state legislature would look for a bigger, more permanent fix to the transit funding problem.

“Without the fee, then these cuts need to happen sooner than later,” said Hull.

King County Council considering cuts to Metro Transit service in Queen Anne

King County Regional Transit Committee has a scenario on the table that would cut existing bus services to Queen Anne.

In anticipation of a possible budget shortfall, the RTC is discussing the “600,000 Service Hour Reduction Scenario” issued to the committee as part of the debate over the King County Metro Transit Strategic Plan. Routes affected in the scenario include Queen Anne’s Route 2, which would be re-routed from its typical turnaround at the top of the hill to continue down Third Avenue West past Seattle Pacific University, and Route 45, which would be eliminated entirely.

The RTC is expected to pass the strategic plan in mid-June, said King County Department of Transportation spokeswoman Rochelle Ogershok.

“At that point, the full King County Council will pick it up for debate, so that’s where we’re at, still in the context of discussion,” said Ogershok. “It’s too early to tell how that’s all going to unfold and what the specifics of any reductions would be.”

The scenarios, as part of the strategic plan’s service guidelines, are designed to give the RTC and county council members a sense of how the guidelines would play out, but there’s a lot to be discussed and done before any such measures could be approved, said Ogershok. Assuming the strategic plan and the corresponding guidelines get approved, a separate move to make the actual cuts to the Metro Transit would have to be made.

“Right now these are planning examples, but at some point if we had to make cuts it would play out as part of the budget process and then there would be a separate proposal for actual service cuts that would need to be adopted by the council,” said Ogershok.

Also at play is a $20 car license fee to help fund Metro Transit that was passed by both houses of the state Legislature in April, signed by Gov. Chris Gregoire Monday, and is currently waiting to be approved by the county council.

“This new revenue tool could postpone the need for reductions,” said Ogershok. “It all comes down to the revenue situation.”

The measure would only be a temporary solution while King County continues to work on new options, like “a broader, statewide permanent fix for transit,” said Ogershok. A council decision on the legislation is expected to occur later this summer.

Seattle Tilth rep. to visit Gilman Gardens Saturday

In the past two months the FRIENDS of Gilman Urban Gardens have converted a regular old median into a community-run cooperative garden, garnering attention from urban gardening author Darrin Nordahl and King County Councilmember Larry Phillips, who both dropped by the garden this week.

Nordahl, Councilmember Phillips, and Gilman Urban Gardens founder Charlie Hoselton help plant a tree. (Photo courtesy of Charlie Hoselton).

Tomorrow Saturday, May 8, the garden will entertain another special guest, Seattle Tilth‘s Natural Soil Building Program Manager Laura Matter. Laura will be at the garden from 10 a.m. to noon to chat with gardeners and community members about the project, soil building, plant watering, pest and weed control and anything else related to the art of gardening, according to Hoselton.

The Gilman Urban Gardens is currently working to install a sprinkler and watering system, and is planning on applying for a Neighborhood Matching Fund grant in the coming year.