Andrew commented recently on how Metro’s budget shortfall may threaten RapidRide, and that sparked a little bus-vs.-rail war in the comments (perhaps anticipating the Seattle Times’s inflammatory headline this morning). Although there’s a lot of anti-BRT schadenfreude on this blog, the core assertion is relatively mild: that rail is vastly superior on certain corridors. Everyone here agrees that buses have a place. On top of that, we’ll have a long wait for a comprehensive rail system even under very positive assumptions. As a result, it’s proper to have BRT along some corridors that, in a perfect world, would be rail.
That said, I’d like to step beyond that skirmish and say that I think the implication that RapidRide is threatened by its own shortcomings is not the right way to think about what Metro is trying to do. Transit Now didn’t create a new agency to run RapidRide. Rather, it was an increase in Metro’s generic funding level, tied to a bunch of promises of what they would do with the additional funding.
As we all know, a variety of factors have conspired to wreck the budget projections that underpinned Transit Now. That doesn’t mean, necessarily, that RapidRide is in trouble.
Rather, Metro faces a general budget shortfall that’s going to have to be made up with some combination of revenue increases and service cuts. Because we live in the real world, the King County Council is going to pick from a menu of bad options by picking the most politically palatable ones, with a bit of actual technical analysis perhaps thrown in.
If you’re like me, you recently received a big Transit Now brochure in your mailbox. It’s clear that Metro has politically doubled down on RapidRide, which makes it harder for the Council to axe such a prominent promise. Beyond that, I can’t really say if the budget shortfall is likely to hit RapidRide or something less visible.
Instead of wringing our hands about RapidRide, the useful contribution is to be active in letting the Council know what your priorities are. Is RapidRide more important to you than some other bus service in your neighborhood? Would you rather see fares shoot up by 50 or 75 cents rather than see any service cuts? Let your councilmember know!
What’s not constructive is the statement “Please cut a service that doesn’t affect me to preserve that which I use.” For example, if you live and work in Seattle, “abolish 20/40/40!” isn’t useful. The service increases that it creates weren’t designed to serve you, so you’re not really making any tradeoffs when you oppose buses to North Bend. Similarly, Metro has capped out its revenue authority, so asking the County for higher sales taxes isn’t really helpful.
Personally, I’m in favor of steep fare increases to preserve all the service promises. But what are you willing to give up in the new economic climate? Less service, different service, or higher fares? Property taxes? Cuts to other (specific) parts of the county budget? Share your opinion in the comments.