As Metro applies its new, equity-focused framework, some North King representatives have questions
Beginning last year, Metro developed a “mobility framework” that expressed the values that would guide service allocation. Alongside technocratic measures like ridership potential, the new framework considers notions of economic and racial equity to correct longtime disparities in investment. An “equity cabinet” of representatives of various disadvantaged groups would shepherd the production of derived documents like the service guidelines.
Those derived documents don’t exist yet, but the framework clearly points to substantially more investment in places like South King County. And here the framework collides with the ongoing North Link bus restructures. Specifically, the 47,000 hours that used to operate Route 41 between Northgate and Downtown, now entirely obviated by North Link.
Some of those 47,000 hours are disappearing into a less ambitious Seattle Transportation Benefit District (STBD) that cuts taxes, and diverts resources to fare subsidies and West Seattle Bridge mitigation. But much of the rest is likely to end up in South King County. In response, Proviso 6 of the current King County budget legislation, introduced by Councilmember Rod Dembowski, withholds $5.4m (47,000 hours) from the Metro budget until the Executive produces a service plan that deploys those hours “in the project area” and meets several goals:
1. Maintaining the span and frequency of transit service in the project area to implement the goals for restructuring service in the King County Metro Service Guidelines adopted by Ordinance 18301 (“the service guidelines”) that “service restructures will have the goals of focusing frequent service on the service segments with the highest ridership and route productivity, creating convenient opportunities for transfer connections between services, and matching capacity to ridership demand to improve the productivity and cost-effectiveness of service”;
2. Enhancing transfer connections to Link light rail to implement the service guidelines’ goal that, when transfers are required as a result of a service restructure, “the resulting service will be designed for convenient transfers” and that “travel time penalties for transfers should be minimized”;
3. Restoring and enhancing east-west transit connections to facilitate travel within and through the project area and transfers to and from Link light rail; and
4. Including Seattle-funded transit service hours approved for the project area to the extent possible.
This proviso applies technocratic service allocation metrics, but does not mention equity, and all within the guardrail of not moving service hours out of the neighborhoods getting North Link.
In Tuesday’s Budget Committee public comment, transit activists came out against Proviso 6. Anna Zivarts, member of the Equity Cabinet and representative of Rooted in Rights, said that “we should be prioritizing providing service to the transit-reliant… this often means prioritizing service to areas historically underserved by transit.”
Katie Wilson of the Transit Riders’ Union said that it doesn’t “make sense to restrict these hours to the area around North Link” and that Proviso 6 set a “dangerous precedent” by blowing up a new framework that “balances ridership, regional growth, and equity” and avoids “struggle every time there are services to allocate.”
Kelsey Mesher from Transportation Choices Coalition added similar sentiments.
In an email yesterday, Mr. Dembowski said he intended only to require a report to explain the guidelines, not to actually retain the hours in his district, and that he would revise it today to be clearer. On the other hand, he clearly isn’t happy about losing the hours: “That’s a loss of about 10% of the service hours for the project area. It runs directly contrary to the equity goals in the mobility framework and pits economically disadvantaged and BIPOC communities in one part of the county against those same communities in another part. I believe that is oppressive and racist and I’m having a real problem with it.”
Dembowski added that “I strongly support the equity direction for providing transit service,” and that “The longer term solution is to bring more funding to the system and not pit communities in need against each other.”
His colleague, Councilmember Claudia Balducci, tried to strike a balance but pushed back against reserving service for particular areas.
“As we build out a very robust light rail system, I believe the restructure makes sense, as it eliminates duplicative routes and adds great local service around stations. That said, this discussion should happen in the planning process, when we have public input and can judge the proposal in its entirety, and not in the budget. We will have a discussion about updating the guidelines this summer. We should not make arbitrary cutoffs to keep hours in an area, but use the guidelines that apply to all of the county.”Claudia Balducci
There are four separate issues here: (1) the propriety of throwing sharp elbows to win resources for a district; (2) the re-injection of Council politics into specific service changes, rather than high-level planning objectives; (3) the relative merits of foregrounding racial equity, or more technocratic measures as the proviso does; and (4) the correctness, whatever that means, of transferring resources from Northgate to South King County in the context of broad service cuts and a ripening Link investment at Northgate. The last is muddied by the fact that the planning guidelines for the new framework are not complete.
The Budget Committee will take up this legislation, including the proviso, at 9:30am today.