Three and a half months ago, the Metropolitan King County Council, in a bipartisan effort, came together to pass via supermajority the $20 Congestion Reduction Charge. This two-year car tab fee is designed as a stopgap funding measure to prevent drastic cuts to Metro bus service while the agency restructures itself to become leaner and more efficient, and the legislature can arrange a stable long-term funding source.
While the vote to establish the fee was not unanimous, the dissenters did so only on a question of process. The principles espoused in King County Metro’s Strategic Plan for Public Transportation, incorporated into the CRC ordinance, received the strong, public endorsement of every single member of the Council, along with Executive Constantine and Metro GM Desmond. King County has thus publicly committed itself at every level to make the bus system more cost-effective and ridership-oriented. Without that promise, the CRC’s stopgap funding would not have been forthcoming, and without the fulfillment of that promise, we can expect no further help from the legislature.
Fast forward to a month ago, when Metro released the Fall 2012 restructure concept. This proposal is one of the boldest Metro has ever made public, and represents a distinct break from the downtown-oriented legacy network, towards one built on a modern understanding of what makes for cost-effective and well-used bus routes: connecting dense urban centers with frequent, direct and reliable trunk routes, and providing excellent commuter service to neighborhoods without enough ridership to justify all-day service.
Inevitably, these things come at a cost. Some riders will be inconvenienced by having to walk further to get to their stop or having to transfer; some neighborhoods will lose midday service; a very small fraction of the population will lose access to transit altogether. Those riders affected have genuine complaints, for which the public service change process provides a valuable opportunity to explain to Metro staff how their ideas may play out on the ground. But there are voices not heard at public hearings: those of the thousands of riders who will benefit greatly from the changes; and those of every King County resident whose tax dollars will go much further towards improved mobility, emissions reduction, and congestion mitigation.
Seattle Transit Blog believes it is now time for King County Metro to uphold its end of the bargain, by moving ahead boldly with a restructure comparable in scope to the conceptual proposal; if this restructure were to become the mere substitution of RapidRide C and D for Routes 54 and 15, it would be a failure. Leadership means steering organizations through difficult and unpopular decisions for the greater good. Metro staff have publicly shown us how our bus system can be improved: we look now to Metro management, the Executive, and the Council to provide the leadership to make it a reality.