Issaquah councilman shapes bold reform plan for Metro Transit
November 16, 2010
By Warren Kagarise
Report urges transit agency to rethink bus routes
King County Metro Transit should rethink how the public transit agency transports riders and maps bus routes, a regional transit task force has recommended.
The recommendations in the Regional Transit Task Force report represent a potential roadmap to long-standing differences related to Metro bus service.
Issaquah Councilman Fred Butler, a longtime expert on regional transit issues, served as a member of the 28-member task force.
“The task force really developed the overarching policy direction,” he said. “The future work is developing the specifics to implement that, and the specific criteria that will be used.”
Butler also serves as a member of the Sound Transit board and the King County Regional Transit Committee, the advisory group to the King County Council for mass transit issues.
Instead of adding or reducing service based on geographic formulas, the plan calls for service to be linked to productivity, connections to job markets and demand for transit.
“These recommendations help meet the goal I first set last year: to allocate transit based on what makes sense, rather than on arbitrary political divisions,” County Executive Dow Constantine said in a statement. “Rather than quarrel over an ever-shrinking pie, we need to work together to provide bus service that is productive and meets the needs of the entire county.”
Next, Constantine plans to incorporate the recommendations into a strategic plan to be sent to the County Council. The council is expected to take final action on the framework by mid-2011, so the recommendations can shape the development of the next transit budget.
Butler and other task force members logged eight months to produce the report in semimonthly meetings on Mercer Island.
The discussions focused on how to ensure geographic and social equity through Metro routes. Members recommended directing buses to job and population centers.
“It was probably a graduate-level course in transit systems and operations,” Butler said. “We looked at every aspect of it. We started out with what I would call Transit 101 to understand the Metro Transit system.”
The process resulted in spirited discussions among the elected officials, business leaders, representatives from nonprofit organizations and labor groups, and Metro riders.
“While everyone may not have been 100 percent pleased, it was a consensus report,” Butler said.
The task force presented the plan Nov. 5. The document is expected to form the foundation of a unified regional effort to petition the Legislature for a system to provide the majority of public transit dollars through a more sustainable revenue source, rather than sales tax dollars.
Otherwise, Metro — the ninth-largest bus system in the United States — could face deep service cuts in the years ahead. If additional stable revenue sources cannot be found, Metro faces a yearly operating deficit of $117 million by 2015, resulting in 600,000 fewer hours of bus service.
The report recommends continued efforts to reduce operating costs at the transit agency. Metro has already implemented steps to save money in response to a county audit.
The report also stresses the role of public transit as a tool to support economic vitality and land use.
“The task force’s work balancing the interests of individual stakeholders with the interests of the region and the Metro system as a whole is truly remarkable and exemplary,” County Councilman Larry Phillips, Environment and Transportation Committee chairman, said in a statement. “I look forward to working with my colleagues to implement their recommendations.”
Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.