Bus cuts will sever a ‘lifeline’ for people in low-income communities, riders say

May 21, 2014, Vol: 21, No: 21

Dozens of bus riders told the King County Council that proposed bus cuts would make life more difficult for people with disabilities, urban Indians, students and others.

Close to 100 people attended a May 13 public meeting to offer input on a proposal to cut 16 percent of countywide bus service beginning in the fall.

Convened by the council’s Transportation, Economy and Environment Committee, the meeting was the public’s first opportunity to influence a plan to eliminate 72 routes and reduce or revise another 84.

“Those who are disabled need [bus service] most, but we are being thrown under the bus,” said Linda Papaso.

Leaning her two canes against a lectern, Papaso told councilmembers that she lives in senior housing on Bellevue Avenue in Capitol Hill. She rides Route 47, which is slated to be cut in September.

She said the seniors in her building, many of whom are unable to walk, depend upon the bus. Losing it would create undue hardship for all of them.

“This bus is literally a lifeline of survival,” Papaso said.

Currently, Metro faces a $75 million annual shortfall. Transit officials say the only way to address the deficit is to cut bus service.

The cuts would be phased in over the course of a year and come in four stages: September 2014, February 2015, June 2015 and September 2015. Metro officials say they chose routes for elimination or revision that had low performance levels, or those that duplicated service or didn’t carry enough riders.

Shawn Middelton lamented the proposed reduction of Route 33, which currently serves Daybreak Star Cultural Center, a gathering place and spiritual home for Native Americans in Discovery Park.

“This is where we go to pray, to mourn our dead,” said Middelton, who works at Chief Seattle Club.

Shaving a section from the route would require people walk more than a mile, some of it up a steep hill, to reach Daybreak Star. The walk would be impossible for Native elders, he said.

He likened the county council to a tribal council, and he implored county councilmembers to fight to stave off bus cuts.

“Please stand up for your people,” Middelton said. “You’re supposed to represent us.”

The crowd roared its approval.

The county council had presented voters with an April ballot measure that would have paid for Metro transit, road repairs and improvements. Even though Seattle voters largely supported the measure, the majority of King County voters rejected it.

Mayor Ed Murray wants to tap into Seattle support of a transportation package by presenting his own plan to save Seattle service.

Murray announced on May 13 a transit funding plan to retain service in Seattle, along with important inter-city routes.

Nearly identical to the proposal that failed countywide, the mayor’s proposal would generate $45 million a year through a 0.1 percent sales tax increase and $60 car-tab fee.

The plan would also establish a $20 car-tab rebate for low-income vehicle owners.

The mayor hopes to place the proposal on the November ballot.

Even if Seattle voters approve the mayor’s plan, the vote will come too late to erase cuts slated for September.

Waylon Robert, a member of the Seattle Youth Commission, said some of the proposed bus cuts would leave Seattle Public School students and poor people in the lurch.

He said the school board recently voted to curtail yellow bus service for high school students. (The board said removal of certain school bus routes will depend upon how many student riders live in a given area.) The elimination of Metro Route 4, slated for February 2015, would make it tougher for students to get to Garfield High School, he said.

With recent studies showing that poverty is increasing in rural areas, he said Metro cuts would also have a negative impact on poor people.

“I ask that we consider young people and low-income people in King County,” Robert said.

Ramona Book-Lucas, one of the last to speak, said that reducing service on Route 8 would be a devastating loss for her. Seattle is a big city, she said, and it needs robust public transportation. Unless elected officials did something to save bus service, she said many people would suffer.

“We really need to get our big-city pants on,” she said.

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