King County Metro will move forward on the first two of four rounds of planned cuts to transit service to manage a $75 million budget deficit.
After six weeks of political wrangling, the King County Council agreed July 21 to Metro’s proposal to cut poorly performing bus routes in September and to start planning for 188,000 hours of bus cuts in February 2015.
Metro has already outlined four rounds of cuts to take place this fall. The council’s vote accepts the proposed September cuts and asks Metro to provide reports later in the year to inform them on how the February cuts will be made.
Councilmember Rod Dembowski — along with Jane Hague, Kathy Lambert, Pete von Reichbauer and Reagan Dunn — pushed to delay as many of the cuts as possible, anticipating a better tax revenue forecast and other funding sources that could prevent some of the cuts to Metro.
The other four councilmembers — Larry Gossett, Larry Phillips, Dave Upthegrove and Joe McDermott — had favored passing all of Metro’s cuts at once, arguing that the county has already explored alternative funding methods and that the forecasts would likely remain the same or get worse. They also noted that the council can vote to save bus service later if additional revenue materializes.
Dembowski’s approach won out. Upthegrove, Gossett, McDermott and Phillips voted in favor, albeit reluctantly.
Upthegrove called the proposal “a turd” at a July 15 meeting of the King County Council’s Transportation Economy and Environment Committee, which Dembowski chairs.
“I don’t like it,” Upthegrove said. “I disagree with the policy approach, Mr. Chair. I disagree with your approach and tactics.”
King County voters in April rejected a proposal to preserve Metro buses through a 0.1 percent sales tax and a $60 car-tab fee. The measure would have saved an estimated 550,000 hours of annual bus service.
Without additional funding, Metro will eliminate 72 routes throughout the county and reduce or revise 84 other routes.
The Seattle City Council is considering its own funding measure, establishing a 0.1 percent sales tax and $60 car-tab fee for Seattle residents to preserve Seattle buses.