by MIKE ORR
The King County transportation committee held a public hearing last Monday on Metro’s proposed September 2012 service changes. Around thirty-five people spoke. Metro first proposed these changes last year, and in two rounds of public feedback it withdrew some proposals and adjusted others. STB reported on the evolution of these proposals, most recently on April 3rd.
The final list of proposed bus route changes, and how they differ from previous rounds, is in the Neighborhood information sheets at Metro’s Have Your Say website.
Interestingly, less than half of the speakers even mentioned the bus route changes. The rest spoke out against ending the Ride Free Area, and they said even more people would have signed up to speak about the RFA but they left when the registration lady told them it would be off-topic for this hearing. Two other people spoke about their dissatisfaction with ORCA cards.
I asked the Council to pass the package of changes, and to tell Metro it expects to see more extensive reorganizations next year. I praised the 18 and 50, which provide new crosstown service between Ballard and Fremont, and across West Seattle and Rainier Valley. I lamented the failure of the Queen Anne reorganization, which would have made the 13 frequent. I said that Metro needs the Council’s support for reorganizations, because when people speak up for the status quo, they’re often thinking only of themselves, while the people who would benefit from the reorganization often don’t realize it until it’s in operation, so they don’t know to speak up beforehand. I said the VA hospital driveway detour should be eliminated. However, I said the Fremont and Yesler-Jackson changes had less obvious benefit than the others, so it’s not as big an issue that they were withdrawn.
Of the other speakers, three or four spoke against the Queen Anne restructure; nobody besides me spoke for it. Two people objected to the minor restructuring of the 3N and 4N that did survive. (The 3N will be deleted and its service hours transferred to the 4N. One objection was the grade between the 3N’s tail and the nearest other bus routes. I walked around that area last summer when it was first proposed, and I thought the incline was mild.) A couple people said the 2N/2S and 13/2S should remain together because riders view them as one route and often travel from the CD to Queen Anne. One person said the 10/12 should remain together because otherwise the 12 will lose its only disability-accessible stop downtown. Two disabled people (one blind and the other in a wheelchair) urged the preservation of the 14S’s tail (on Mt Rainier Drive), saying they won’t be able to get around without it.
West Seattle reactions were positive, while Magnolia, Fremont, and Ballard reactions were mixed. One person said that putting the 5 on Dexter (which was withdrawn) would have improved connectivity between Queen Anne, Fremont, and the Zoo. Another person protested the loss of the 5-Northgate branch, saying it would hurt students and shoppers, and that the transfer stops were far away from each other. He suggested a minor change to the 18 as a compromise, making it run on N 85th and Greenwood rather than 15th NW and Holman Road. That would give Greenwood better access to Northgate, while Holman Road would still be served by RapidRide D. Two people agreed with me that the VA driveway detour has to go; nobody defended that detour.
A couple people complained about the loss of the 3:30am night owls for getting to early-morning jobs. One person suggested pushing the 2:15am trip to later, perhaps 3am.
As I said, only about fifteen people said anything for or against the September service changes. This suggests to me that people are satisfied enough with the final proposal that it’s no longer a big deal to them. Of course, the fact that opponents got their way when Metro withdrew several sections of it explains why they’re satisfied.
The RFA speakers all wanted the Ride Free Area to continue, and said it’s unconscionable to eliminate it, leaving the poor with no way to get around. Several of the speakers were homeless-advocates or social workers, so their appearance seemed to be a coordinated campaign. One person said that people in shelters in Pioneer Square need to get to social services in Belltown, and they need free transit, especially in bad weather, because they have to carry all their possessions with them (they can’t leave them at the shelter). Two people said a circulator shuttle would be OK as an alternative if it’s 15-minute frequent, and if it goes to Harborview hospital. (The current Ride Free Area does not include Harborview or First Hill.) One person said it should be a full-sized bus, not a van, so that it wouldn’t be stigmatized as “the homeless bus” and other people would be willing to ride it too.
Regarding the ORCA speakers, one person complained that the cards break too easily. She said it’s not her fault if the card is defective, and drivers shouldn’t give her static if her card is broken, and she shouldn’t have to pay a $5 replacement fee. Another said, to paraphrase, that ORCA should be canceled because it makes life more difficult, has no benefit, and was imposed on riders without them asking for it. Of course, ORCA fans will point out the benefits of inter-agency transfers and faster boarding. But a lot of poor and occasional riders never use anything but Metro, and speedy boarding seems less important to them than spending $5 for the card.
The transportation committee will discuss the service changes on Wednesday, April 25th, at 9:30am in the King County Council Chamber, on the 10th floor of the King County Courthouse. “Members of the public are welcome to attend and provide public testimony…. The committee is expected to refer the ordinance to the County Council for consideration and a final decision in May.”