I’m not convinced that 40/40/20 — the policy where 80% of new service is sent to the suburbs, to gradually “correct” the disproportionately intensive service in Seattle — is a particularly great injustice. However, “not a great injustice” is not the same thing as good policy, and Metro has enough objectives to worry about that a purely artificial numerical target doesn’t make it easier to achieve the things we should actually care about. And in fact, it was a common sentiment in the King County Executive race that we should do away with this rule.
Unfortunately, the buck stops with the King County Council, and there are effectively four Seattle seats and five suburban seats. I think discussion on this issue has been far too policy-oriented and not focused enough on naked political concerns.
Any alternate formula for expansion or cuts, viewed in isolation, has to pass a simple test: do five or more Council members see this as helping their constituents, or not? In this effort we’re helped by the fact that Metro serves a fairly complicated set of divergent policy objectives. I see three basic strategies:
- Get to five. If you’re going to shift the formula to favor urban areas more, make sure to tweak it so that when you run the spreadsheet five districts come out ahead. That would presumably be the four Seattle-heavy districts, plus either District 5 or 6.
- Trade it for density. An intriguing idea championed by both Ross Hunter and Fred Jarrett during the executive race was to tie bus service to density. As Greg Nickels is fond of pointing out, people here hate density and hate sprawl, so accepting density in your neighborhood is viewed as “taking one for the team.” I think that’s the wrong attitude, but it can be used to good purpose. It’s important that this density is beyond what’s already envisioned in the regional plan. Otherwise, you’re asking opponents to give something for nothing.
- Trade something unrelated. Adding density is easy for me because I’d like to see it whether or not buses came with it. If that doesn’t suit you, it’s a big policy universe out there. In isolation, Reagan Dunn isn’t going to vote to reduce bus service to his constituents. On the other hand, there are certainly issues his constituents care about more than bus service. If Seattle councilmembers trade his vote on Metro policy for more logging rights or whatever*, we might have a deal.
Of course, if you’re the kind of person that wants to see Seattle get disproportionately more bus service you’re probably also the kind of person that doesn’t want whatever it is they’re bargaining for in Enumclaw. But that really just brings us around to the question of “are you a transit advocate or aren’t you?” If you support transit expansion to the extent that it doesn’t interfere with any of your other political priorities, I think the answer is “not so much”.
*Reagan Dunn is an example; logging rights are an example I made up.