Kent bus service cuts subject of public workshop

Doug Johnson , a service planner for King County Metro, explains how bus cuts in September will affect ridership on Kent’s East Hill during a public workshop Monday.  - Mark Klaas, Kent Reporter
Doug Johnson , a service planner for King County Metro, explains how bus cuts in September will affect ridership on Kent’s East Hill during a public workshop Monday.
— image credit: Mark Klaas, Kent Reporter

King County Metro Transit's proposed bus service cuts have many Kent residents concerned, some more than others.

Notably the elderly, the disabled and the poor.

For Kent's David Keysor, the possibility of losing his ride to important destinations leaves him downright angry.

He suggests King County take a good, hard look at itself when reducing bus routes to narrow a significant budget gap. Some cuts are imminent, others are subject to debate in the weeks ahead as county officials study the possibilities and weigh the consequences.

"Why can't (King County Executive Dow Constantine) take a 50-percent cut in salary and benefit packages. Politicians never do this," an irate Keysor told King County Metro staff at a public workshop at the Kent Senior Activity Center on Monday. "... Don't cut the routes, cut the salaries of the executives."

Keysor wasn't alone as other frustrated seniors sounded off on potential cuts.

"Without the bus," one wheelchair-bound woman said, "I am stuck, isolated."

Despite growing, all-time-high ridership, Metro continues to motor ahead without long-range, sustainable funding. Such a problem won't go away without service reductions, Metro staff explained.

Cities from all corners of the county stand to share the brunt of the cuts.

Metro faces an ongoing budget gap of up to $75 million, according to its website.

"There are going to be people who face a loss of service, who have to get on to other routes that may be in their neighborhoods if it's convenient for them," said Jeff Switzer, Metro spokesman. "There is a possibility they have to walk farther, that they have to travel farther, that they may be on more crowded service."

The King County Council approved the first 161,000 hours of Metro transit reductions, which includes Routes 152, 161 and 173 that serve Kent Park-and-Ride lots along Interstate 5. Those cuts take effect Sept. 27.

Using objective service guidelines, Metro identified the least productive routes and trips to cut first. In all, 27 routes will be eliminated in September. Thirteen routes will be revised to match available revenues.

According to Monica Whitman, city of Kent senior transportation planner, another 188,000 service hours are to be cut as early as February, with details to be considered in September, barring an upward trend in the county's economic forecast and review by an ad hoc committee.

"Specific routes have not been confirmed; however, a number of Kent East Hill routes are likely to be restructured," Whitman said.

More cuts in 2015 are to be worked out in the county's biennial budget process.

For now, Kent will lose three commuter routes by the end of the next month. But the rest of the routes throughout Kent will remain the same, Metro planners said.

Of the three eliminated, Route 161 serves riders along Kent's East Hill, originating from Lake Meridian and following Kent-Kangley Road, down 116th, 104th and 108th Avenue Southeast, through Renton and Tukwila and eventually to Seattle.

Without it, Metro officials suggest an option for riders. On the East Hill, Route 169 will provide alternate service between the Kent Transit Center and the South Renton Park-and-Ride, where riders can transfer to and from downtown Seattle. Route 150 serves Interurban Avenue South and the Tukwila Park-and-Ride.

The workshop allowed Metro staff to hear concerns, take suggestions and answer questions from riders.

Riders attending the workshop are particularly worried about the future of Routes 914 and 916 – Metro's Dial-a-Ride Transit commuter route funded between the city and Metro. For many seniors, the route is a crucial link, connecting the East Hill to the downtown.

"It's the bus that gets us to pharmacies, grocery stores and the senior center," one man pointed out.

"For those with a disability, those with a handicap, this route is vital," said Mary Ann Smith, who lives on the East Hill. "Losing it would be tragic. Without it, we would never get off the hill."

Drastic bus cuts would greatly affect how residents get around, namely seniors who don't own a vehicle or who are unable to drive.

Some seniors at the workshop said they would be willing to pay a little more to keep the bus routes running.

Keysor went so far as to call the bus-cutting crisis a moral issue.

"I would love to see Dow Constantine and the president of Metro get out of their ivory towers and come ride that (East Hill-to-downtown) route and see it for themselves," Keysor said. "They're putting too many people at risk with these changes."

Metro staff assured the group that no changes have been made as the council studies all options, including the reduction, revision and consolidation of routes.

Decisions about additional service reductions will be made as part of the 2015-2016 budget process this fall.

City officials also assured listeners that they are fully aware of the transportation cuts and are working with the county to address the concerns.

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