December 18, 2013
Vol: 20 No: 51

News

Bus riders, fearful of service cuts, speak out at Metro open house

Jana Demas, a Metro Transit planner talks to bus riders a recent public meeting.

Photo courtesy of Metro Transit

PUBLIC MEETING:

King County Metro will hold public meetings from 6-8 p.m. at Peter Kirk Community Center in Kirkland on Jan. 23, South Shore K-8 on Jan. 23, and Lake Forest Park City Hall on Jan. 27.

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Joan Bergman is concerned about bus cuts.

With her eyesight worsening with age, she already has trouble driving at night. With a husband who walks with a cane, transferring buses is troublesome, too. One of the reasons she and her husband originally moved to their Eastlake home was to be near the Route 66 bus line, which goes straight to Group Health Medical Center at Northgate.

But now she may lose her bus, along with 73 other bus routes, due to King County Metro’s $75 million budget shortfall.

“I think it’s a disaster waiting to happen,” she said. “Someone needs to speak up for older people.”

Bergman was one of about 40 bus riders who gathered at North Seattle Community College on a recent Thursday night to voice concerns and ask questions about Metro’s proposed cuts. These riders mingled with Metro staff and Transit Rider’s Union members, reading pamphlets, analyzing charts and writing comments on giant note pads.

Commuter Marci Burden examined a map of a revised bus route. Because parking at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, where she works, costs $200 a month, and because she prefers to read while somebody else deals with commuter traffic, Burden rides the bus to work every day. But like Bergman’s bus, Burden’s route is on the chopping block.

“I’ve come to complain and find out what my alternatives will be,” she said.

No matter what, commuting will become more of a hassle, Burden said. She summarized the difference between her current commute and her future commute as “one bus that’s always late versus two buses that are always late.”

Ref Lindmark, a Metro staff member, said he hoped to capture people’s anger on the note pads. However, he didn’t know where people should direct such sentiments. For that discussion, he suggested talking to Transit Riders Union members.

Dave Schuldt, who handed out Transit Riders Union newsletters, blamed Metro’s budget woes on the instability of sales tax revenue, Metro’s main source of funding. He also blamed Tim Eyman’s initiative in 1999 that decreased revenue from car tabs.

“The Transit Riders Union doesn’t know yet what to propose,” Schuldt said, but added that suggested options — raising car tab fees and sales taxes — would be problematic, since they burden poor people most.

After an hour, about 24 people moved to another room for a lecture. There, Marty Minkoff, a supervisor at King County Metro, asked who in the room rode the bus three or more times per week.

Twelve raised their hands. Next, he asked who used the bus as their only means of transportation. Six raised their hands. Finally, he asked how many people were “really shocked and angry” about the proposed cut to 17 percent of services. Ten hands flew up.

Metro has made every effort, he said, to avoid cutting bus service: freezing wages, increasing fares and even cleaning buses less frequently. Now, Metro is running out of options.

“These are very devastating cuts that would impact all riders,” Minkoff said. “Everyone will feel the pain.”

Although he suggested that the proposed cuts were already equitable, he said that suggestions about the proposals might lead to “minor changes.” 

And suggestions about funding?  Those, he said, should be directed at Washington’s elected officials.

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