King County Council reverses position; keeps 96% of Metro bus service on the road

July 24, 2014

Earlier this week, the King County Council unanimously passed an ordinance to preserve 96% of Metro bus service by only adopting a 161,000-hour service cut on September 27th. Metro provides about 3.5 million hours of bus service to King County.  King County Councilmember Rod Dembowski said the following about the adopted cuts (emphasis mine):

The ordinance 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 Councilmember also implied future cuts may be reduced entirely:

The adopted legislation also authorizes 188,000 hours of service to be cut in February 2015. This number may be adjusted based on new economic data; routes will be identified later. While all cuts to bus service are painful, Monday’s action puts on hold more than 200,000 hours of proposed cuts in June and September of 2015.

After voters rejected Proposition 1, the April 22nd ballot measure to increase car tab fees and sales taxes for buses and roads, County officials said they would cut about 550,000 hours of neighborhood bus service (about 16% of total bus service) over the next year. Throughout the Proposition 1 debate, WPC recommended constructive alternatives King County officials could use to keep bus service on the road. Our May 27th op-ed in The Seattle Times recommended that County officials could better use rising tax revenues, open a dialogue with union executives, utilize better budget management, and implement Municipal League recommendations to better serve the public.

The Council listened.

On June 9th, the County Council approved an alternative to cutting 550,000 hours of bus service. King County Councilmember Rod Dembowski’s ordinance said an “opportunity exists” to use rising revenues, reduce costs, and implement efficiencies to stop or reduce planned service cuts – but that plan was vetoed by the County Executive. Leading up to the vote this week, leaders continued to debate whether to impose unpopular bus cuts.

The Council’s newest ordinance preserving 96% of bus service is a step in the right direction. Yet the good work shouldn’t stop there. The Council should continue to work with union officials, find ways to operate within rising revenues, and continue to deliver current service levels without raising regressive taxes.