King County is warning that could face a dramatic reduction in bus service by 2013 as Metro tries to close a projected $60 million deficit.
Because of a drop in sales tax revenues blamed on the Great Recession, transit planners have proposed reducing or eliminating all but one of Mercer Island's eight regular Metro bus routes. Taken as a whole in terms of bus service hours, approximately 30 percent of Metro bus service would be eliminated.
Weekday bus service to First Hill and along West and East Mercer ways would be completely eliminated, and routes 203 and 204—which run daily—will be consolidated into one route. Commuter express routes to regional job centers University of Washington (Route 205) and Seattle's First Hill (Route 211) would also be eliminated, leaving only Route 216's morning service to downtown Seattle (see below for details).
The proposed reductions are part of a system-wide reduction of 17 percent in service by 600,000 hours of annual bus service, based on Metro's revised budged for the 2012-2013 biennium. King County Metro spokesperson Rochelle Ogershok says the proposals would affect four of every five Metro passengers.
"Metro has in recent years taken numerous steps to reduce costs, such as gaining labor concessions and implementing fare increases," she said. "There have been numerous things we have done to maintain service, but more needs to be done."
The proposed cuts are not finalized and are still subject to a process of public review, but are based on a new transit strategic plan that was adopted unanimously by the King County Council on July 11. Immediately before the County Council is a proposal to reduce service by 100,000 hours in 2012, resulting in the elimination of Route 201—which only runs three times a day and connects South-end Mercer Island West and East Mercer Way to the North-end. The larger cuts would occur if funding can't be found by 2013.
Metro Service Planning Supervisor David Hull said that the new transit plan guidelines are putting a disproportionate amount of cuts on Mercer Island because nearly all the Island's routes have low "productivity" measures (that is, the routes are in the bottom 25 percent of all Metro routes). Productivity is measured in terms of the number of passengers per platform hour (a platform hour equals one bus on the road for one hour, whether it's hauling passengers or not).
Based on the number of service hours, a reduction of 4,000 hours—or approximately 30 percent of bus service on Mercer Island—is proposed.
"If your service is not used, then your service could be eliminated," he said. "It's not intended to be an equal cut."
King County Executive Dow Constantine offered a stop-gap solution by proposing a temporary $20 "Congestion Reduction Charge" on vehicle licenses for each of the next two years to maintain current levels of service. The State Legislature passed a law that allowed local governments to approve fees for congestion reduction for a two-year period.
"It's a temporary band-aid, if you will, with the hope that a more sustainable funding package would be adopted over the next years," Ogershok said.
With only a traffic-clogged Interstate 90 to connect it to two major urban centers—Seattle and Bellevue—Mercer Island has recently enjoyed several commitments by public transit agencies to improve infrastructure, such as the EastLink light rail project and the expansion of the . City Council is currently pushing Sound Transit for additional funding to build another park-and-ride facility in the Town Center and has spent another $70,000 to hire a construction consultant who would determine the best possible location for it.
Reacting to the proposed cuts, said it would reduce the local quality of life and that many Islanders will be left with little-to-no access to critical public transportation.
"We need these routes," she said. "Without them, more people will be forced into cars, further crowding our roads and restricting movement for many Islanders including seniors and youth. We need King County Council to retain services at the current level."
A crowd estimated by King County staff of about 1,000 attended a July 12 hearing in Seattle on the cuts. A vast majority of those in attendance opposed the reductions. King County Councilwoman Jane Hague—who represents Mercer Island and is a member of the transportation committee—wasn't there, and her absence did not go unnoticed by those seeking to throw some political elbows.
"Jane Hague didn’t bother to show up and hear their concerns," said Port of Seattle Commissioner John Creighton, who is . "Jane Hague’s failure to lead has resulted in unnecessary costs and placed the County in an untenable position."
Hague was present at several other committee meetings on the issue, including a July 6 hearing in Kirkland.
Bus service on regional transit agency Sound Transit—which is facing serious budget issues of its own—and custom bus routes partially paid for by schools and businesses are unaffected by proposed cuts.
The King County Transportation Committee will hold a final public hearing on the proposed legislation on Thursday, July 21, at Burien City Council Chambers, 400 SW 152nd St., starting at 6 p.m. The full County Council will meet on July 25 to consider an ordinance approving a Congestion Relief Plan—a prerequisite for Council action on a Congestion Reduction Charge—and an ordinance cutting 100,000 hours of Metro bus service effective February 2012, the first step in reducing bus service by 600,000 service hours.
Proposed Mercer Island bus service cuts:
(Ed. Note: While County Councilmember Jane Hague wasn't at the July 12 Seattle hearing on this issue, she was in attendance at earlier committee meetings, as recently as July 6. This story has been updated to reflect that.)