Without New Funding, King Co. Metro Faces Major Service Cuts

Nov 7, 2013

King County Metro will be forced to cut 74 routes and revise an additional 107 routes when temporary funding runs out next June, the agency said Thursday.

The board shows the bus routes that would be slashed under proposed cuts.
The board shows the bus routes that would be slashed under proposed cuts.
Credit Neil Giardino / KPLU

Metro said the cuts will affect more than 80 percent of its bus and DART routes, and result in some 50,000 fewer daily trips throughout the county. King County Transit General Manager Kevin Desmond said only 33 of Metro’s routes would remain “untouched,” but that doesn’t mean they won’t be affected.

“Now, ‘untouched’ is a relative term, because if we’re eliminating all of those routes and otherwise reducing service, those 33 routes—our biggest routes that carry the most people—they are almost certainly going to have more demand,” he said. “And many of those routes and trips on those routes are already very, very crowded.”

Metro will hold public meetings in the next three months to explain the proposed changes, which are outlined on the agency’s website

The sales tax-funded agency said its budget began taking a hit in 2008 as a result of the economic downfall. In 2011, the state Legislature and the King County Council approved temporary funding to maintain services for two years while state lawmakers work on a transportation bill. But the Legislature has not yet passed a transportation bill, and as a result, Metro will start to assume a $75 million annual shortfall in mid-2014, the agency said.

The sign in Spanish calls for additional funding.
The sign in Spanish calls for additional funding.
Credit Neil Giardino / KPLU

“We’ve run out of time. We’ve run out of patience,” said King County Executive Dow Constantine at a news conference before heading for Olympia to lobby for more taxing authority. "It is unconscionable that King County should be compelled to cut vital bus service. We have the capacity, we have the need, we have the will in this county. We just need the Legislature to free us—free us to succeed," he said.

Specifically, Constantine and the agency want the authority to ask voters to re-instate a motor vehicle excise tax to pay for bus service and road repairs. It would be a progressive tax based on vehicle value. The proposal was introduced as HB 1959 during the last legislative session and approved by the state House, but stalled in the Senate.

King County Council President Larry Philips confirmed it would cost about $150 per year for a car valued at $10,000, and higher for more valuable vehicles. Sixty percent of the money raised would fund transit, and the remaining 40 percent would pay for county and city roads.

In response to a reporter question, Philips acknowledged this could be a tough ask, with many families having multiple cars. But he said it's imperative that Metro service be maintained, because the potential cuts could be crippling and cause gridlock throughout the county if more people get back in their cars, even as demand for bus service continues to grow as the economy recovers.

"Buses parked, idled, not serving the public, going nowhere. Drivers laid off, not moving people to work and home again in the evening," Philips said. "Riders left stranded, passed by, buses very full, overcrowded. That is our pending reality, one we have held off for five years." 

State lawmakers convened in Olympia Thursday for a special session to discuss a transportation package in response to a labor offer by the Boeing Co. Gov. Jay Inslee said Tuesday he wants lawmakers to approve the bills in just one week in hopes of getting Boeing to construct the 777X in Washington. It includes a massive transportation spending bill that lawmakers have spent the better part of a year debating.