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As Prop 1 trails, new plan to save Metro bus service in Seattle

King County leaders insist that bus service cuts are coming, that there is no ‘Plan B or ‘Plan C’ to save Metro Transit from what they call devastating cuts.

At last count, Proposition 1, a proposed $60 annual car tab fee and a one-tenth of one percent sales tax increase for roads and transit is trailing by 9 percent.

“About 550,000 hours of service doesn’t really mean much until you put it into context,” said Rob Johnson, Executive Director of Transportation Choices. “That’s about the equivalent of the number of buses that run in east King County, seven days a week.”

Pierce Transit offers about 425,000 hours of service, down from 600,000 hours at its peak before the recession.

“So, in essence, King County is going to be faced with reducing service by the amount of our entire agency,” said Pierce Transit’s Carol Mitchell.

Cynics might suggest that King County has a backup plan to protect Metro service. After all, look what happened in Pierce County. Pierce Transit was in a similar situation in 2012. It put a three-tenths of one percent sales tax hike on the ballot and it was voted down. But, the following spring, before transit cuts could be implemented, Mitchell said Pierce Transit realized that sales tax revenues were climbing and the cuts were not needed.

“We decided we would take the political hit and certainly there was a media outcry and a public outcry, and go back to the board and say, ‘Look, the sales tax is doing better than expected, let’s hold at 420 (thousand hours of service), rather than reducing service as we had planned.'”

Sales tax revenues can be difficult to project and King County concedes that bus service cuts might be slightly less than 600,000 hours.

“Council’s role will be to review that, to see if it’s going to be 550,000 hours or something different and where those services are being taken from, can there be some adjustments,” said King County Council member Larry Phillips. But, with no legislative funding and now, no voter-approved funding, Phillips insists there is no plan to save Metro from cuts.

“Plan C stands for cuts, and that’s where we are.”

But Friends of Transit has quickly come out with a proposal to fund bus service in Seattle, where Prop. 1 had support. Ben Schiendelman said an initiative calls for a six-year property tax increase, just in Seattle.

“Metro will start making cuts later this year, we’ll go to the ballot in November with this initiative, if we succeed, then those cuts in Seattle will be restored.”

The proposed initiative would raise $25 million a year and save Metro routes that are 80 percent, or more, in Seattle.

In the meantime, King County Executive Dow Constantine will likely tell the county council, Thursday or Friday, how he plans to execute Metro service cuts this fall.

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