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Update on possible cuts to Queen Anne bus service

May 31st, 2011 by Jesus Chavez

More information has been uncovered on the Metro service hour reduction scenario reported on two weeks ago. Under the scenario (.pdf), Route 2N would be eliminated, while the 2 Express would be kept and extended down to Seattle Pacific University and then Nickerson Street. Some of the hours cut from Route 2N would be put on Route 13. In addition, Route 4N would be eliminated, and those hours would be put on Route 3N, which would also extend down to Nickerson. Route 45, which connects Seattle Center with the University District through Queen Anne, would also be eliminated.

The “600,000 Service Hour Reduction Scenario,” as reported two weeks ago, is Metro’s initial look at what a reduction in service hours would look like if cuts had to be made.

“The whole idea of restructure is in this case to reduce the size of the system, be more efficient and not spend as many hours, but still try to provide service that meets the needs of the community,” said King County Metro’s Service Planning Supervisor David Hull. “This is not something that I as a transit planner am looking forward to. We like to see the system grow; we look to put more service on the street to provide quality service to more people … This is a process that is being forced because of our financial situation.”

If the King County Council decides that cuts should be made, there will be a process allowing the public to give feedback on actual service hour reduction proposals, said Hull.

The part of the scenario regarding Queen Anne routes, excluding the change to Route 45, is called “Priority 2,” which is aimed at restructuring service to improve efficiency. This is opposed to the first priority of reducing low productivity services (Route 45), and the lesser priorities of reducing higher‐productivity services and reducing low‐productivity services in all areas identified as underserved. The total cuts from Priority 2 amounts to a 255,000 reduction in hours, of which approximately 6,000 hours will be cut from routes particular to Queen Anne.

“We’re not trying to eliminate access to service [in the Priority 2 cuts], but perhaps requiring folks to change how they use the system… people might need to transfer or might need to walk a bit farther,” said Hull. “The concept is fewer routes going downtown, but they’re at a higher service level, and one thing the national studies show is that people are willing to walk farther to have more frequent service.”

Some Metro riders welcome these changes, like Bruce Nourish, a software engineer who lives downtown and works in Queen Anne.

“This proposal provides much better mobility from Lower Queen Anne, Taylor St, and Downtown to SPU and the north side of Queen Anne,” said Nourish in a comment to the previous story, adding, “Such systems, in general, provide similar mobility at far less cost, or much greater mobility at the same cost. I personally think this change is long overdue.”

Others, like Queen Anne resident and Metro rider Nell Beedle, believe some could have serious trouble with these changes.

“There are, in fact, very steep slopes and in some cases stairways that create physical barriers to access for less able-bodied riders,” said Beedle. “It’s not just about trip times for some folks; it’s also about physically being able to access the route.”

This is something Metro planners and administrators take into consideration, said Hull.

“We’re trying to limit the impacts, but we surely understand that we can’t cut 600,000 hours, almost 20 percent of our system, and not have impacts to current riders,” said Hull. “We understand that not everyone is capable of making a farther walk, that there may be individuals because of a disability or age that can’t make that walk.”

Federal laws require the King County Department of Transportation to factor in disadvantaged populations in their planning, and in the event that a disabled person is unable access public transportation, Metro provides assistance through their MetroAccess Paratransit program, said Hull.

One major factor that can keep these changes from becoming a reality is Senate Bill 5457, or the temporary $20 congestion reduction charge to help fund public transit. The bill was signed by Governor Gregoire on May 16, but it still needs to be passed by the King County Council, who will decide the matter later this summer. According to Queen Anne Community Council member Kirk Robbins at last Wednesday’s transportation committee meeting, two King County Council members have said it’s going to be a unanimous vote to put the $20 dollar charge for bus operations on the ballot in November, passing the matter to King County voters.

“[The bill] is a stopgap measure that would allow King County Metro to avoid reducing 17.5 percent of the system,” said Hull. “Even after taking numerous actions to reduce cost… we’re kind of at a point now that without additional revenue to sustain the system we got to make cuts.”

The measure would collect for about two years before expiring, during which time the state legislature would look for a bigger, more permanent fix to the transit funding problem.

“Without the fee, then these cuts need to happen sooner than later,” said Hull.

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