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Mercer Island Faces Massive Cuts to Metro Service

King County proposes the elimination or reduction of seven of the eight bus routes that service the island. About 30 percent of the current bus service hours would disappear if the proposal passes its public review.

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:

Eliminated: 201 (Weekdays) Route Map
North Mercer Island, West Mercer Way, South Mercer Island

Eliminated: 202 (Weekdays) Route Map
Downtown Seattle, North Mercer Island, South Mercer Island

Eliminated: 203 (Weekdays, Saturday, Sunday) Route Map
North Mercer Island, East Mercer Way, City Hall, Shorewood, North Mercer Island, Downtown Mercer Island

Reduced/Revised: 204 (Weekdays, Saturday, Sunday) Route Map
North Mercer Island, Island Crest Way, South Mercer Island

Eliminated: 205 (Weekdays) Route Map
University District, Montlake, First Hill Seattle, North Mercer Island, South Mercer Island.

Eliminated: 211 (Weekdays) Route Map
First Hill Express, Providence Medical Center, Harborview, Swedish, Virginia Mason, North Mercer Island P&R, South Bellevue P&R, Eastgate P&R

Eliminated: 213 (Weekdays, Saturday, Sunday) Route Map
North Mercer Island, East Mercer Way, City Hall, Covenant Shores, North Mercer Island, Downtown Mercer Island

(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.)

david July 16, 2011 at 12:36 AM
Thoroughly irresponsible and biased "journalism." Councilmember Hague was at the committee meeting in Kirkland (read: IN HER DISTRICT) and waited over a half an hour for the other council members who couldn't bother to be there on time. Mr. Creighton (who claims Kirkland as his hometown) couldn't be bothered to make an appearance either. Did you even bother to attempt to reach our actual councilmember for comment, or are you just stumping for John at this point?
Kendall Watson July 16, 2011 at 01:02 AM
Hi David, Fair enough, I'll add that in to the story. Thank you for the correction. I would note, however, that this story isn't about her. It's about the proposed reductions in bus service on Mercer Island and the guidelines that were approved on July 11 — after the committee's Kirkland meeting. Oh, and no, I'm not stumping for Creighton.
Ann Smith July 16, 2011 at 04:02 PM
Jane Hague represents the sixth County Council District which includes Kirkland where the first Transportation hearing was held. The fact that Creighton couldn't be bothered to attend the Transportation hearing in the district he wishes to represent, and then slams Council Member Hague at the Seattle Transportation hearing is off base. Maybe that is a more interesting story. It is also a perfect example of the disconnect of a Seattle resident (Creighton owns a home on Queen Anne that he lovingly remodeled) who moves into an extra room with his sister on the Eastside to run for office in a district with which he is unfamiliar. 
Jim Horn July 16, 2011 at 04:19 PM
I believe that if you published the cost per passenger trip on these routes your readers might react differently. It would be cheaper for the taxpayers to furnish taxi's for these riders than bus service. How long can we afford to furnish bus trips at over $30 per passenger trip at taxpayers expense? In fact some routes in metro cost over $100 per passenger trip. Isn't it time to look at costs while making route decisions?
Ann Smith July 16, 2011 at 04:24 PM
As far as the car tab charge goes, Metro has room for deeper cuts without taking buses off the road that are truly serving the needs of commuters and the public. It would also be nice if they would deliver on the last two tax increases before they look for additional funding. True fact: the commuters using metro and parknrides are not paying their fair share. Executive Constantine wants a working class Welder who must have a car to carry his tools for his job to subsidize the bus fare of a bank executive who buses in from his nifty mini-farm in Enumclaw. It is wrong headed thinking.

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