King County Council preserves Metro Transit service
August 16, 2011
By Warren Kagarise
NEW — 10:30 a.m. Aug. 16, 2011
King County Council members, after tense deliberations Monday, enacted a $20 increase to vehicle tab fees to halt a proposed 17-percent cut to Metro Transit bus service.
The council passed the 11th-hour agreement in a 7-2 decision — the supermajority needed to enact the fee outright, rather than sending the measure to voters. The fee — billed as a congestion-reduction charge — is due to take effect early next year.
The crucial support for the deal came from councilwomen Jane Hague and Kathy Lambert, both Eastside Republicans. Lambert represents Issaquah.
(The council is nonpartisan, although members often caucus along party lines.)
“No one wants a new fee, but the alternative is far worse,” Lambert said in a statement after the council decision. “Without interim funding, cuts to bus service will be substantial, particularly in the lower-density neighborhoods on the Eastside. This will put more cars on the road, clogging our freeways and bridges and leaving all of us idling in standstill traffic.”
Hague and Lambert sought reforms to Metro Transit in exchange for support.
“Without this compromise on funding for Metro, we all would pay more for gas, spend more time commuting, and lose some of our quality of life,” Lambert continued. “Transit cuts of this magnitude will further undercut our fragile economy, and we can’t afford that risk. I am proud that this compromise agreement will return value to our citizens.”
In addition to enacting the vehicle-tab fee, the agreement calls for Metro Transit to phase out the free-ride zone in downtown Seattle in October 2012 and use smaller buses on less-popular routes as cost-saving measures. Metro Transit estimates eliminating the downtown Seattle free-ride zone should save $2.2 million.
The deal is meant to soften the impact of the economic downturn on cash-strapped Metro Transit. The sales tax revenues the agency uses to fund service plummeted due to the anemic economy.
Metro Transit planners considered eliminating Issaquah-centric routes 200 and 927 in the proposed 17-percent cutback.
The agreement also calls for the transit agency to offer $24 in bus tickets to people paying the vehicle-tab fee. People uninterested in the tickets can instead donate the balance to almost 150 human-services agencies.
Hague lobbied state legislators to permit the County Council to enact a temporary fee to shore up funding for mass transit. Gov. Chris Gregoire signed the legislation in May.
“The new CRC package that the council adopted today will directly benefit my constituents on the Eastside,” Hague said in a statement. “In this era of partisan bickering at the federal level, we at King County have bucked the trend. Thanks to efforts made on both sides of the aisle, this new legislation offers real reform for Metro. More importantly it creates jobs, and keeps businesses and people moving.”
Councilman Bob Ferguson praised the decision to enact the fee.
“As a regular bus commuter on the No. 41, I understand the importance of bus service to our region and our economy,” he said in a statement. “I look forward to sharing the good news with my fellow bus commuters on my way home this evening.”
The other Issaquah-area representative, Councilman Reagan Dunn, chastised the council for enacting the fee deciding against putting the measure on the November ballot for voters to decide. Dunn is chairman of the Regional Transit Committee.
“I’m deeply disappointed that the majority of my colleagues found it necessary to deny the people the right to vote on this very important matter,” Dunn said in a statement. “There have been numerous votes on car tabs through the years and the people expect to have a say.”