There's a Silver Lining for Seattle in Metro Cuts

By Erica C. Barnett May 5, 2011

Here's the bad news for Metro transit riders: If the county fails to approve a $20 vehicle license fee to pay for bus service (a fee that requires either a two-thirds vote of the King County Council---unlikely---or a majority vote by King County residents ), Metro is going to have to cut around 600,000 hours of bus service across the county. Even with the extra money, Metro estimates it will have to eliminate around 350,000 hours of service.

Here's the silver lining for Metro riders in Seattle: Because the county is using a new set of rules for slashing service (and, theoretically, for adding service, although that doesn't seem likely in the foreseeable future), Seattle and other cities won't have to bear the brunt of the cuts.

The previous system allocated service cuts based on which areas received the most service. Under that system, Seattle took about 62 percent of any cuts because that's where most of the service is, but received only about 17 percent of any new service.

The new system bases cuts on how productive a route is (basically, ridership throughout the day), on how well they serve low-income communities and communities of color, and on how well they serve all areas of the county.

What does that look like? Under the 600,000-hour cuts scenario, it would mean, first, totally eliminating more than three dozen "low-performing" routes that don't serve many riders (169,000 hours); reducing route frequency or eliminating night service entirely on routes that provide more service than necessary, like the 236 between Woodinville and Kirkland, or the 251 between Redmond and Woodinville (51,000 hours); restructuring routes all over the county to make them more efficient (256,000 hours); and reducing some additional routes that are performing well but not as well as others (124,000 hours). Those last two categories, particularly the final category ("Priority 4"), would impact some Seattle routes.

That's the worst-case scenario. Although Metro hasn't released the better-case scenario (350,000 hours cut), the numbers the agency has put out so far indicate that Seattle, and suburban cities like Renton and Bellevue, would probably fare far better than far-flung suburbs like Totem Lake, Kent, and Sammamish, where many routes would be cut entirely. Other cities, like Woodinville and Redmond, could see bus service reduced to every two hours (although they're also served by Sound Transit).

The worst-case scenario service cuts are available here; Metro will release a snapshot of what 350,000 hours of cuts would look like only if the county council or voters pass the $20 fee.
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