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King County Council Begins Tough Job Of Eliminating Bus Service

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King County Council members are proceeding with the unwelcome task of eliminating bus service. Metro already has a plan, but council members have the final say on how to parcel out the cuts in the most logical and equitable way. 

Metro Transit has to slash service by 16 percent after voters rejected a measure that would have boosted the sales tax and a car tab fee, and now the agency is moving ahead with a service reduction plan that was sketched out long ago.

Metro plans to eliminate 72 bus routes and reduce or modify 84 others, but the county council can amend that plan. At a committee hearing, some council members voiced concern about students getting to and from class.

"Is there an opportunity for us as policymakers as we review these system reductions to make a choice to prioritize certain routes that serve particular communities, say, technical schools, universities?" council member Rod Dembowski, chair of the council's transportation committee, asked. 

But council member Dave Upthegrove cautioned that it could get unwieldy making big changes to the proposal because nobody wants service cuts.

"It becomes a dangerous dance when we start developing new criteria apart from our adopted service guidelines," Upthegrove said. "It kind of becomes everything, a free-for-all."

Metro Transit executive Victor Obeso outlined to council members the thinking behind previously proposed bus cuts. He said lowest-performing routes will be the first to face cuts starting in September.

But he said there are many factors to weigh, such as whether the bus route is in an underserved geographical area. 

"It's a balancing act and a bit of an art that we have to test in the market. We've never undertaken this many restructures all at once," Obeso said. 

The county council will hold hearings on May 13, 15 and 20 to get input from the public on proposed service cuts. 

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.