Transit war? Metro questions whether Seattle really owes money for ride-free zone.

Seattle passengers, like these boarding buses on at Third Avenue and Pine Street may face cuts in service.(Photo: Grant Haller)

Metro questioned whether Seattle really owes King County more money to operate the ride-free-zone, although some county council members earlier on Thursday proposed the city pay,  perhaps millions, to help bridge the transit agency’s $213 million funding gap over the next two years.

Additionally, King County Executive Kurt Triplett said he worried the proposal from council members Julia Patterson, Peter von Reichbauer, Reagan Dunn and Kathy Lambert, could create a “transit war” between Seattle and the suburbs. Triplett said he’ll be coming out with another proposal to fill the budget gap next week that he thinks is fairer.

Among the key points in the proposal made by the council members was:

— a 25-cent fare increase in each of the next four years;

— charging the City of Seattle more to offset the costs of offsetting the cost of providing free downtown bus service;

— killing plans to expand ferry service.

In a press release, Patterson, who represents SeaTac, said, “I am committed to fulfilling King County’s promise to all of our residents, which means retaining the integrity of voter-approved Transit Now by ending our subsidy to Seattle’s Free Ride area,” said Councilwoman Patterson. “During this financial crisis we cannot continue to provide benefit to Seattle residents, at the expense of the rest of the region.”

The Seattle P-I reported that the figure could be about $6 million more than the $400,000 figure Seattle is  now paying.

However, Jim Jacobson, the transit agency’s deputy director, said, the $400,000 figure is what Seattle owes, based on the formula that was agreed upon when the ride free zone began. A key factor, he said, is that most riders have really already paid when they ride in the “free” area, because they have bought bus passes or transfers.

The number of riders who truly are getting a free trip, he said, represent a “small number of riders.”

Another factor, he said, is that not having to wait while people pay their fares speeds up the buses and saves Metro money. That was also taken into account when the $400,000 payment was calculated.

Referring to a press conference, in which the council members unveiled their proposal, Triplett said in a interview, “I’m concerned about each side picking its thing. To go after the ride free zone, I worry, isn’t thinking regionally enough.”

He said,  “we need to avoid a transit war as we close the budget deficit. We need solutions that work for the suburbs and Seattle.”

On the other hand, Triplett noted that Seattle officials had earlier written the county saying Seattle bus service should be preserved as cuts are made. 

Triplett also worried what would result in a $1-a-ride increase in four years was “pretty hefty, particularly for people who are poor.” He said he too will propose a fare increase – but a smaller one.

Additionally, the council members’ proposal could pose some political problems in how bus service would be cut. Even though the plan would reduce the size of cuts needed from a projected 20 percent, cuts for 4-to-6 percent would still be necessary.

Patterson said the cuts would be applied proportionally by area. The PostGlobe was the first to report that Seattle officials argue that would mean more hours of bus service would be cut in Seattle than in  other areas, because the city has more bus service than other areas of the county.

Because the west subarea has 62 percent of Metro bus service, the transit agency’s policies call for 62 percent of cuts to come from Seattle and the rest of the west.

Instead of cutting more heavily used routes, Seattle officials say the cuts should be made depending on ridership.

However, Patterson, in an interview, argued, Seattle should get more cuts because it has more service. While riders in Seattle have a choice of buses they can take, she said, cuts would more severely impact suburban riders who sometimes rely on one route.

Seattle officials like City Councilwomen Sally Clark and Jan Drago have said that if Seattle has to take more cuts in hours than other areas, the cuts to be considered temporary. When the economy improves, the routes cut would be the first restored.

Patterson, though, said, restoring service should instead be done based on ridership.

Triplett said this week, he’ll likely propose the across the board cut, which would affect Seattle disproportionately. But he said restoring the service would be the first priority when Metro is able to add service in the future.

3 Responses to Transit war? Metro questions whether Seattle really owes money for ride-free zone.

  • Glenn:

    I don’t buy the argument that Seattle should have more cuts because they have more routes.

    What percentage of ridership comes from Seattle residents?
    What percentage of ridership comes from people who work in Seattle?
    What percentage of King County/Metro tax money comes from Seattle residents?

    Maybe it’s time for Seattle residents to fund a true intra-urban system for getting around Seattle instead of pouring money into routes to get people to and from the suburbs.

  • Ira Sacharoff:

    Oddly written article. Metro questions whether Seattle really owes the money, as if Metro were a person, and then referring to a “Jacobson” without explaining who he is.

  • Ira Sacharoff:

    Thanks for fixing it. Reads much better now!