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Transit cuts and the victims | Letter
A state legislature that didn’t do the job they were elected to do has failed to designate sufficient funding for transportation in the state budget. There isn’t much new about that, but the aftermath of that failure to fund will be promised cuts in transit service throughout King County; more than 150 routes will be impacted, with 72 being eliminated altogether. The other 84 will have service reduced, running less frequently during the day or restricted to weekday “rush hour” service only. Unfortunately, the evening rush hour ends at 7 p.m.; I wonder how the populace would react if everyone, all family members, had to remain at home after 7 p.m. daily?
Thousands of individuals who rely on this transportation network for their only access to jobs, school, shopping and medical visits may suddenly find themselves without any options for public transit. Who are these people, and why does it matter? Those that will be hurt the most are the individuals who rely on transit because they have no other options. The working poor who can’t afford a car or must work at unusual hours, seniors who can no longer drive and people with all types of disabilities will suffer disproportionately, as they usually do when politicians are trying to decide which groups are least likely to impact their future re-election chances. Food-service employees, ushers at sports and entertainment venues, students attending evening school, health-care workers and others who work at odd hours will be on their own when it comes to traveling outside of “normal” commuting hours.
Those who will likely see little impact are the individuals who can drive their own cars to a suburban park-and-ride lot to catch an express commuter bus or van pool to their jobs during normal business hours. Check out any park-and-ride lot within 75 miles of Seattle and you will likely find it full by early in the morning. Thousands of suburban and rural King, Pierce and Snohomish county residents commute into the Seattle metropolitan area every weekday, with their employers making significant contributions to the city and county treasuries. Many of those employers subsidize commute costs for their employees, and those are funds that go directly to the support of transit agencies. The commuters spend their money on shopping, meals and entertainment, with significant tax benefits to the city and county coffers, as they have little or no transportation expenses. There is a reason why vanpool lanes are full of vehicles labeled with Metro Vanpool or employer logos. They don’t pay bridge tolls or HOT Lane fees, and avoid most of the frustrations faced by their fellow commuters who are making their slow way through morning and evening traffic jams.
Another negative impact that has not been discussed publicly is the reduction in paratransit service that normally accompanies any reduction in hours of fixed route transit operation or elimination of a transit route. Complimentary paratransit service is designed to provide next day door-to-door transportation to senior citizens and people with disabilities who cannot travel from their homes to a fixed route bus stop. Hours of paratransit availability follow the pattern of the nearest bus route and service is usually restricted to a service corridor within three-fourths mile of that route. Those who live beyond that distance may be ineligible for paratransit services.
When a bus route is eliminated, I would expect the same fate for the paratransit service availability for those who live within that service corridor. That poses a bigger problem for those of us who live in suburban communities, as paratransit service corridors are more likely to overlap in big cities where remaining fixed routes are closer together.
The legislature knew that if they failed to fully fund such critical items as education, transportation and other important programs, pressure to pick up the funding slack would be returned to the individual counties, communities, school districts or voters. Ideally, at least in the minds of elected officials, the public would gladly pony up a few hundred dollars per year, per family, to avoid cuts that might impact them personally. Thus we have seen this year’s series of failed initiatives, with even more coming this fall.
King County leaders have decided that a “divide and conquer” approach may work better than the failed countywide initiative, so have convinced the elected leaders of Seattle to float the same initiative again. This time they will restrict voting to Seattle, with other King County communities urged to take similar action, individually, in order to preserve their transit services. The arrogance of this proposal amazes me, as all county government and the services that government provides are supported by taxes collected from all citizens of the county. King County Metro is supposed to be a transit authority that serves the entire county, but the cuts being proposed for September would leave only a skeleton service or eliminate it entirely in some areas.
I pay property, gas and sales taxes, as do my fellow citizens, and we have an expectation that the communities where we live will continue to be of the highest quality. Deteriorating schools, a skeleton of a transit network, and roadways that are unsafe to drive upon will do nothing to attract the families, employers and businesses that have made this a great place to live. I imagine that those characteristics are present in Detroit, but there is no excuse for them being present in Washington state.
Cost-saving measures should begin at the very top of the executive management team. Rather than continuing to victimize those who can least afford it, I urge the legislature and county government to work together and perform the jobs you were elected or hired to do. Candidates hoping to get re-elected or replace those in office should keep in mind that I am not the least bit interested in their opinions on the federal health-care law or gun control. I want to know exactly how they can better my community, by doing the work that the office requires. If they can explain that to me they may have my support.
Mike Collins, Redmond