As the King County Council prepared to hear testimony (currently ongoing) about a proposed $20 vehicle license fee to pay for transit, King County Metro general manager Kevin Desmond sent out a letter debunking some of the claims made by the Washington Policy Center's Michael Ennis in an editorial this weekend. In a recent guest op/ed for the Seattle Times, Ennis argued that that 600,000 hours of bus service cuts Metro is considering would actually dovetail with the recommendations of Regional Transit Task Force and improve the efficiency of the bus system by eliminating underused, inefficient routes.

In his email, Desmond wrote that  "perhaps the biggest misconception being promoted by the WPC is the idea that innovative guidelines for the more efficient and productive allocation of bus service, developed by the Regional Transit Task Force and embodied in our new Transit Strategic Plan, somehow call for the massive cut of seemingly inefficient or duplicative bus service."
Nothing could be further from the truth. The WPC has it backward.

Nowhere does the Transit Strategic Plan or the Regional Transit Task Force recommend cutting 600,000 hours, or 476,000 hours, or even one hour of service for the public.

What both do call for is getting more productive and more efficient use out of each transit dollar by reducing or eliminating routes with fewer riders, restructuring corridors that may, for example, have both regular and express buses on the same route, and reinvesting those service hours into routes that more people would use—all while ensuring that geographic areas and pockets of low-income residents who heavily rely on bus service get a fair share.

The WPC twists those guidelines out of context as if they only apply to reducing the size of the system, as if you could simply whack the lower-producing routes and declare, “problem solved.” No, those guidelines call for reducing inefficient or redundant routes and reinvesting those hours in routes that more people would use.

  • If we cut 476,000 hours it would deny almost 8 million rides and force people to stay home or use their car if they have one. That’s what the WPC recommends.

  • If we instead reinvest low-productivity hours carefully, over time, in routes that more people use, that would represent a true efficiency. And that’s what the Strategic Plan and the Task Force in fact recommend. Ask the Task Force members.

That’s the problem with the WPC claim. It simply ignores the people who depend on our service. Metro is not Federal Express, nor should we aspire to be. People are not packages, to be shunted here and there.

Ultimately, the WPC believes public transit should be run like a private business whose only consideration is the bottom line. It’s a false premise. When revenues for a private business drop, it can cut back its staff and hours and let people shop elsewhere. When revenues for public transit drop, the public demand is still there, waiting for their bus.

When revenues for Metro fall off a cliff as they have, we can certainly “live within our means” and reduce service. That’s exactly the choice on the table. And that’s exactly the choice the public turned out in droves at public hearings to reject.

As we reported in Fizz this morning, the UW's Josh Kavanagh also took issue with Ennis's claims in a letter to the paper.
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