Isn't it Weird That

In last Monday's OOBT, we lauded Seattle Times columnist Danny Westneat’s compelling complaint about the holes in Metro’s bus service. We also saluted the way Seattlish 1) justly rebuked Westneat for ignoring class issues in his discussion of Seattle’s hit-and-miss bus system, and 2) pointed out that Westneat’s employer editorialized repeatedly against a ballot measure that would have preserved Metro service by increasing sales taxes and car tab fees.

Here’s the weird part: Rather than acknowledging that bus service requires tax dollars and good bus service requires more tax dollars, Westneat responded to our brief comment by calling for better service with less funding:

I got called a hypocrite by some for not noting in my last column that this newspaper’s editorial board had crusaded against the metro tax measure. Rather than complaining “that riding the bus is hard,” as [Seattlish] put it, why not call for more revenue to improve it?

“The Seattle Times is partly to blame for the very transit dysfunction that  Westneat vaguely credits to ‘government leaders,’” the local news website Publicola summarized. “Want a bus system that isn’t ‘terrible?’ Vote yes.”

Except that last spring’s measure didn’t offer better bus service. That’s why it failed. Nor is the one this fall offering to add any buses or speedier rides to more places. It’s a campaign for the status quo. Who is excited to vote for a status quo that is late 42 percent of the time?

This is a genuinely bizarre argument. In addition to suggesting that campaigns for basic infrastrucure should live or die based on whether they make voters "excited," Westneat appears to be saying that rather than keeping Metro afloat, Seattleites should be trying to expand and improve it. Those are nice sentiments (with which we wholeheartedly agree), but with what money? Given Metro’s funding crisis (which, despite an 11% improvement, still looms), Westneat is in the peculiar position of arguing that our wavering, critically underfunded bus system should expand service with no additional money. This is like a guy on a sinking boat saying, “We shouldn’t bother with plugging that hole in the hull. Also, why the hell can’t this thing sail any faster?”

This is like a guy on a sinking boat saying, “We shouldn’t bother with plugging that hole in the hull. Also, why the hell can’t this thing sail any faster?”

The technical term for this kind of argument is “magical thinking”—that is, suggesting that Seattleites can and should demand exceptional bus service without paying for it. We agree with Westneat that Metro can and should do better; PubliCola loves transit. But we also love policy discussions that deal with the real world, rather than vague populist rhetoric against “government leaders” (which ones?) and “the status quo” (a weasel-word phrase if ever there was one).

If you want bus service that isn’t “terrible,” vote yes for funding in November. 

Or figure out how to grow money on trees. (Good luck with that.)

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