The people of King County proved one thing on Tuesday, July 12, we care about our transit. The King County Council is in the middle of a budget crisis, and they've put our buses and transit on the chopping block. The Council has put forward two options: either cut bus service or raise revenue with a $20 car tab fee. Bus service is an issue for Working Washington because we know that you can't get a job if you can't get to a job. Public transit is an essential driver of our economy, and Metro's promise to "get you there" only works if "there" includes the whole city.
The proposed cuts would slash 17% of our bus service, leaving people stranded all across King County, unless a $20 dollar “congestion” fee is added to our yearly car tabs. Hundreds gathered to protest these cuts, the line to attend the hearing ran down Third Avenue and up Yesler Avenue. So many people demanded to speak out that the council had to open up overflow rooms.
Over 280 people signed up to testify, and estimates of the total number of attendees run as high as 500. Community members spoke of their reliance on transit for work, shopping and simply getting around the city. People asked the council how they would get to their jobs, their schools, their doctors appointments without regular bus service. The majority of people asked the council to pass the car fee and keep bus service for all of Seattle.
While Metro service fares doubled (from $1.00 to $2.00) between 2000 and 2010, money from fares is not enough to cover the costs of operating the system.
Many Working Washington members have no options other than public transit. Many people with disabilities spoke about how they could not drive cars because of physical problems and about how safe and reliable mass transit was their ticket to independence.
Community organizations such as the Asian Counseling and Referral Service, Puget Sound Sage and El Centro de La Raza testified with their members and spoke about the disproportionate disruption of service in communities of color and areas where many working class people live.
The Seattle Chamber of Commerce, the Downtown Seattle Association and the Washington State Labor Council all supported the car fee measure. They reminded the Council that transportation options are an economic necessity and a driver of economic vitality. They urged the council to pass the $20 car tab fee and keep buses running for all of Seattle. One representative of the Labor Council joked, “Hey when you got Big Business and Big Labor agreeing on something, ya gotta do it. I mean come on.”
One speaker talked about Metro route 71, one of the routes that could be eliminated, as a vital part of connecting his community. He talked about how he has ridden route 71 since he was born and how he learned his neighborhood and his neighbors by standing at the stop and looking out the windows. He knew everyone on the bus, he said, and they cared for each other. “When I look outside and see the 71, things just get better,” he said. “I can breathe again.”