Deep Metro Transit cuts could halt Issaquah bus route
July 19, 2011
By Warren Kagarise
Route 200 is on chopping block as transit agency faces steep service reduction
The proposed cuts to King County Metro Transit could create obstacles for commuters on cross-town trips, especially if the agency abolishes Issaquah-centric routes.
The steepest proposed reduction in Metro Transit service could eliminate Route 200 in Issaquah and Route 927, a link between downtown Issaquah and the Sammamish Plateau, as early as next year.
The proposal surprised riders aboard a Route 200 bus jostling from downtown Issaquah to the commercial core.
Paul Vranesh catches a Route 200 bus near Issaquah High School — not far from home — and rides to work along Northwest Gilman Boulevard.
“It would make me very upset if they took that away,” he said as he disembarked near the Issaquah Commons shopping center July 18.
The decision is up to the King County Council, as members consider a vehicle-tab fee as a stopgap against Metro Transit cuts in the near future.
Christina Martin, pregnant and due “any day now,” relies on the Route 200 bus for trips to doctors’ appointments and shopping at Target and Fred Meyer, stops along the route. The ride is free due to support from the city.
“Don’t take it away,” she said July 18, in a message directed to King County leaders.
The nine-member council is poised to decide on a $20 vehicle-tab fee to shore up transit funding July 25. In a majority decision, council members could send the measure to voters on the November ballot. Or, a supermajority of council members could enact the fee outright.
Metro Transit faces a $60 million budget gap due a decline in sales tax revenues. In order to close the gap, transit planners need to trim 600,000 hours from bus service — or 17 percent — through 2013.
King County Council public hearing
“When we talk about the 17 percent potential systemwide reduction, it’s not just 17 percent of the service,” Metro Transit spokeswoman Rochelle Ogershok said. “It ends up impacting four out of five transit riders.”
Tough choices ahead
Such impacts could mean commuters face more transfers, longer waits at bus stops and more crowded buses.
Issaquah City Councilman Fred Butler examined Metro Transit as a member of a regional transit group last year. Steep cuts to the agency could create headaches for commuters, he said.
“Would it be an impact to the citizens of Issaquah and the routes that serve the Issaquah community and Sammamish?” Butler added. “It certainly would.”
In order to limit such cuts, County Executive Dow Constantine proposed legislation to create the $20 vehicle-tab fee — billed as a congestion-reduction charge — for 2012-13 to generate funds for Metro Transit. If the fee is not enacted, Metro Transit plans to start widespread service cuts in February.
Issaquah City Councilman Joshua Schaer, Council Transportation Committee chairman and a representative to the Eastside Transportation Partnership, a regional group focused on regional road and transit issues, said the proposal prompted some concerns.
“I have some concerns, as did a lot of the ETP members, about how this fee would be implemented and what it means,” he said. “The first thing that comes to mind is the idea that it’s a stopgap measure and that it would only be on the books for two years.”
Still, despite broad support for Metro Transit service, some residents remain uncertain about the length of the proposed fee, he added.
“Look, we’re already paying sales taxes for Sound Transit. We’re paying sales taxes for Metro, and now you want to add — not a sales tax — but now you want to replace sales tax revenue with this other type of tax,” Schaer continued. “You’re mixing up apples and oranges, because you’re making up sales tax revenue through vehicle registration revenue.”
Metro Transit officials have raised fares, used reserve dollars, eliminated about 100 jobs, negotiated pay concessions from employees and canceled bus purchases to reduce costs.
The proposed cuts stole the spotlight July 12, as more than 400 people packed the King County Courthouse to oppose service reductions. County Council members also hosted a session in Kirkland on July 6. The next public hearing is July 21 in Burien.
“Having so much input definitely helps the decision-making,” Ogershok said. “With so many voices being heard, that’s always a positive thing when you’re talking about such steep reductions in service.”
Cuts to Metro Transit could also impact short-term plans for additional bus service in Issaquah.
Issaquah city leaders plan to extend Route 200 to the Issaquah Highlands and Talus in 2013. Meanwhile, Squak Mountain residents continue to advocate for more neighborhood transit options.
Countywide, “I would guess that we would have a smaller system. It would be a significant reduction — about a 17 percent reduction in service hours per year — and it would be less efficient,” Butler said. “Certainly, the era of the empty bus would be over.”
Warren Kagarise: 392-6434, ext. 234, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Comment at www.issaquahpress.com.