“Yeah, that’s great and all, but how are you going to pay for it?” Such is the buzz of a rhetorical torpedo which has sunk a thousand good ideas. The problem with this question isn’t its deeper truth—we live in a world of limited time and resources—but in how selectively it is deployed. Obstructionist deficit hawks fire it to block millions spent on transit and public health, yet silently allow policymakers to allocate trillions towards highways and war. It is not a question of whether we can undertake massive projects—especially in the state of Washington—but which to prioritize.
In contrast to my home state of Illinois, Washington shines as a beacon of fiscal stability: it consistently maintains healthy financial reserves, meticulously plans budgets according to comprehensive economic forecasts, and steadfastly controls its assumption of debts. These far-seeing practices have insulated the state from global economic instability, engendering confidence among bond holders and credit rating agencies alike. The state appears to consistently ask and thoroughly answer the question: “how are you going to pay for that?”
Scott Gutierrez, in a must-read, shares some statements that show why King County can’t have nice things. To prevent deep Metro cuts next year, the King County needs either 6 votes and no ballot measure or 5 votes and a vote of the people. No Republican are likely to vote for it, so to even go to the ballot all five Democrats have to stick together.
I take the bus to work, the 41 from Northgate. I’m a Metro user on a regular basis. But on the fee, I have an open mind about it. I want to balance the needs of Metro with the tough economy for folks,” said County Councilmember Bob Ferguson, who represents areas north of Seattle [sic] and has announced he’ll run for Attorney General next year.
“I’m not saying yes, I’m not saying no. But I don’t think it’s a slam-dunk. I think that’s fair to say.”
Councilmember Julia Patterson, a Democrat who represents suburban areas around Kent, Seatac and Tukwila, says its chances are unclear. She said it could hinge on how the Regional Transit Committee votes on a new 10-year strategic plan that guides how Metro allocates future bus service.
“People are holding their cards close until they see what happens with the strategic planning process and the elimination of the 40/40/20 rule,” she said. “If the process is fair and everyone agrees with the strategic plan, I think elected officials will be much more inclined to support the (the fee).”
So the emergency transit funding bill might get wrapped up in the subarea politics of getting rid of 40/40/20. And that plan is sitting the Regional Transit Committee, which is composed of both County and municipal officials, and chaired by Reagan Dunn:
Right now, Dunn said he leans toward supporting the [service allocation] plan, but could be the swing vote if the suburbs are able to convince him it’s not a fair plan.
If I had to have one or the other, I think I’d rather have the policy reform than avoid the cuts, but I could understand why some would feel otherwise.
Last month Pierce Transit announced the contours of the looming 35% service cut — 20% cuts on June 12th, and a further 15% on October 2nd. Disappointing for those in favor of a focus on good service in a few places over bad service everywhere, the plan incorporated the deepest cuts to core routes 1, 2, and 3, which according to T4W carry 60% of all system ridership.
It’s not immediately clear how that would be split between June and October, but the Pierce Transit Board is looking at ways to redirect the October cuts using productivity metrics:
Additionally, the Commissioners are exploring an alternative plan to implement the final 15% reductions, which will be implemented as close as possible to the originally scheduled October 2nd, 2011 service change. They asked staff to develop a plan that uses ridership and cost information to determine which routes and trips would help the most riders. A public hearing will be held on this new proposal at the June 13, 2011 board meeting, with possible adoption at the July 11, 2011 board meeting. Staff reductions are expected to occur no later than the end of this year.
When a system withers enough, it’s appropriate to give up on winning choice riders and focus on providing skeletal service to the transit-dependent. It’s not clear that PT is at that point, and it’s reassuring that the board doesn’t think so.
Erica C. Barnett unearths a very informative Metro report on how, using new service reduction policies, they would cut up to 600,000 annual service hours over the next few years.
However, this set of policies is not yet enacted into law. According to spokeswoman Rochelle Ogershok, the strategic plan is still in the Regional Transportation Committee, far from going before the full Council.
Nevertheless, the report is thought provoking. Ms. Ogershok was kind enough to forward this Excel spreadsheet, which goes into even more route-by-route detail. It’s a pretty painful document; in my own case, 2 of the 4 buses I use regularly would be eliminated*. To point out one other theme, a number of Southeast Seattle buses (7X, 39, 106) are truncated to become Link shuttles.
ST Express Bus Base. This project will involve constructing new ST-owned maintenance and operations capacity to accommodate up to 300 buses to support existing and future ST Express services. In the past all of ST’s buses have been stored and serviced at partner agency-owned facilities. This ST2 project was supposed to begin development of a siting study in 2010 but was delayed as part of the agency’s program realignment. It was authorized in January 2011.
According to spokesman Geoff Patrick, this is not a firm plan to construct the facility, but rather a Parsons Brinckerhoff study to work out the particulars. The Sound Transit board is interested in exploring to find “options for achieving cost savings in operating ST Express”, as Metro charges ST for service provision at an unusually high rate.
Patrick also comments that Sounder will “be part of the discussion.”
If ST ends up going through with it in mid-decade, the impact on riders will be mixed. If you ride Sound Transit buses, there ought to be more service than there would otherwise be. For Metro, overhead costs would be spread over fewer runs, so it’s likely to deteriorate the budget situation somewhat.
Edit: Too late, Publicola broke that Hague won’t vote for it. Note that Port commissioner John Creighton, running against her, is way better on transit.
Now that emergency transit funding for Metro has passed the legislature and is on its way to the Governor, the next step is for the King County Council to implement the new $20 vehicle license fee.
It’s a good assumption that the four Seattle county council members will vote for this – but we need six total votes. Here’s a nice map of the districts so you can see who represents where. Julia Patterson, who sits on the Sound Transit board, represents the 5th district and is quite likely to vote for service, as the population she represents is highly transit dependent.
The sixth vote will probably have to come from the 6th district – Jane Hague. A lot of people in Bellevue could lose service due to Metro cuts, so it’s possible she’ll vote for it. She’s also up for re-election this year, challenged by current Port commissioner John Creighton. Creighton returned a call just now saying he’d support the fee, but would also support finding other savings – including getting rid of 40-40-20.
The best thing you can do right now is email your county council member to say “please vote for this!” A lot of the time, the Seattle council members don’t hear much of this from transit advocates, because we assume those votes are simply safe. The more they hear, the more import they’ll attach to transit issues, and the closer we get to them saying “gosh, maybe we should build some permanent transit infrastructure…” – an easy way to do that right after the jump. Continue reading “Now, Quick, To The County Council!”
This morning, the final version of the emergency transit bill passed out of the Senate and is now on its way to the Governor. The bill would allow the King County Council to implement a $20 car licence fee to fund transit, which would raise $67 million for Metro. The house version of the bill included Reuven Carlyle’s (D-Seattle) amendment that changed the requirement to a simple majority rather than the two-thirds majority put in by the Senate. Two days ago, the conference committee appointed to reconcile the Senate and House versions of the emergency transit bill produced a final copy. The final version includes the two-thirds majority, which means six instead of five county council members have to approve the fee. The House passed the reconciled bill yesterday.
The two-thirds majority agreement is not good news for transit, but the bill making it all the way through is, especially with the number of potential road blocks it encountered. In the end, one Republican Senator voted for the bill! Dan Swecker, from Centralia, sometimes breaks with his caucus when he disagrees. He’s on Senate Transportation, so he’s definitely knowledgeable about the bill. I have an email to his office to ask why he liked it.