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Bus cuts are down the road for Vashon

Bus riders at the north-end ferry terminal load a bus on route 118, which is scheduled for service reductions, according to a Metro plan. - Susan Riemer/Staff Photo
Bus riders at the north-end ferry terminal load a bus on route 118, which is scheduled for service reductions, according to a Metro plan.
— image credit: Susan Riemer/Staff Photo

In the wake of last week’s failure of Proposition 1, some Metro bus cuts will come as early as this fall, while others, including those on Vashon, are not slated until September of next year.

Unless a funding solution is found before then, Vashon’s bus routes will likely see slight service reductions.

King County Metro announced last fall that without a new source of funding, it would have to reduce countywide bus service by 17 percent. After the state Legislature failed to pass a transportation bill that would have made way for additional funding, earlier this year the King County Council, created the Transportation and Benefit District, which put forth Prop. 1. The measure, if approved, would have provided $130 million in annual funds for buses and road maintenance and repair in King County. The measure called for a $60 car tab fee and one-tenth of a percent increase in county sales tax.

The proposition, however, was defeated last week, with 54 percent voting no in the April 22 special election.

Following its defeat, Metro’s General Manager Kevin Desmond said that while the agency had hoped to avoid service reductions, it would move ahead with the cuts. Because of improved sales tax revenue forecasts, Metro now plans to cut 16 percent of its service, instead of the anticipated 17 percent, and has put forward a plan accordingly.

“We must now move forward to reduce the system to our revenues, as any enterprise must do,” Desmond said.

Metro has proposed completely canceling 72 routes countywide and revising or reducing 84 routes, with initial cuts coming in September of this year and more slated for February, June and September of 2015.

On Vashon, according to Metro’s proposal, route 118, which runs between Tahlequah and the north-end ferry dock, and 119, which runs from Dockton to the north end, are both slated to lose one roundtrip in the morning and one roundtrip in the afternoon. Route 118 Express, which runs between Tahlequah and downtown Seattle via the ferry, will lose two of its runs during peak hours, dropping from two in the morning and evening to just one both times.

Route 116 Express, which does not run on Vashon but travels between the Fauntleroy ferry dock and downtown Seattle and is often used by commuters, will drop from 10 runs during the morning commute time to eight. In the evening peak hours it will drop one trip, going from eight runs to seven. With the exception of route 118 Express, all of these routes are some of Metro’s least utilized runs.

The C Line, the Rapid Ride Line between Westwood Village and downtown Seattle, had originally been slated for service cuts as well, but the route is unchanged under the county’s latest plan.

Other areas of the county, however, will see more drastic bus service reductions, and on a much earlier time frame. Jeff Switzer, a spokesman for the county Department of Transportation, said many riders will find more crowded busses, will sometimes get passed by at their stops and will face longer trips.

“Every rider is going to experience this a little bit differently,” he said.

Last week, County Executive Dow Constantine transmitted the proposed cuts to the King County Council, which is expected to act on the legislation by early June.

Before the vote, which is required in order to implement the cuts, the council’s Transportation, Economy and Environment Committee will hold three public meetings around the region, in addition to its regular committee meetings.

“The county has never seen transit cuts on this scale,” said committee chair Rod Dembowski in a Monday press release. “The public deserves an opportunity to learn how they may be personally impacted and to provide input to the council as we implement these reductions.”

Carrie Avila-Mooney, an aide to Councilmember Joe McDermott, who represents Vashon, noted that while the council has the authority to make changes to the proposed cuts and revisions, doing so would be difficult because many of the changes are related in some way.

“It is a very sensitive process,” she said.

She noted that the council has already reached out to some 15,000 people about this issue and understands many of their challenges and concerns. McDermott, she added, has stressed that the council will continue to work to find better solutions for transportation funding in Olympia.

State Sen. Sharon Nelson (D-Maury Island) said she also hopes that better solutions will be found there.

“The solution is more transit, not less transit,” she said in a recent interview.

Two years ago, Nelson said, the state House of Representatives passed a transportation package, but since then, the Senate Republicans have refused to bring a transportation package to the floor. If the Democrats take control of the Senate again, she said, the chances of passing a transportation package will be greater.

Many residents and drivers in King County will feel effects of the recent vote, she added, including elderly and disabled people who rely on busses to get where they need to go without the sometimes lengthy waits involved with Metro’s Access services. Drivers will feel the effects as well, she said, as more people will be on the roads.

“It’s definitely going to cause more congestion,” she said. “Our (commutes) are already bad enough. … It will mean more cars cramming up the West Seattle bridge.”

The need for transit funding goes far beyond King County, she added, as transit systems up and down the I-5 corridor have struggled financially ever since the recession hit.

Prop. 1 would have also provided money for roads, which Nelson added is critical.

“We have 70 bridges that desperately need funding,” she said.

Indeed, King County Road Services Director Brenda Bauer has said her agency will continue to focus its efforts on critical services and repair, but that roads will deteriorate more quickly than they would have with increased funding.

Prop. 1, however, clearly did not appeal to most voters, except those in Seattle and very near to it. King County Elections records show that out of the county’s 17 legislative districts, the measure passed in only five of them. In the 34th district, which includes Vashon, Prop. 1 squeaked by with 50.68 percent of the vote.

Shortly after the proposition’s defeat was announced, the Seattle group Friends of Transit announced an initiative to raise Seattle property taxes to pay for bus service within the city.

At the county, Constantine said he welcomes their efforts, but said for now, the county must move ahead with service cuts.

For detailed information about the planned service reductions and changes, see metro.kingcounty.gov.

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