Missing the last Number 24 bus to Magnolia means a steep hike over the Magnolia bridge, a much-repaired 1929 structure that seems to shudder with each passing car.
“It’s a long, long trudge; it takes about a half hour to get up that bridge,” Magnolia resident James McIntosh said.
At midnight on April 6, about 50 people, including King County Councilmember Larry Phillips, walked the narrow sidewalk as a way to drive home their point: Metro’s looming budget cuts will hurt the most vulnerable people.
Seniors, low-income people, disabled people and those who don’t drive suffer the most when there is no public transportation, said McIntosh, founder of the grassroots group Magnolia Transit Riders Union.
On April 1, King County Metro announced that it would eliminate 65 bus routes and reduce service on another 86 routes when the agency’s temporary funding expired if state lawmakers fail to authorize funding to fill Metro’s projected $75 million annual budget gap.
Those cuts were averted after the King County Council enacted a temporary two-year congestion reduction charge, a $20-per-vehicle charge that expires in 2014. Metro also made reforms and reductions totaling $726 million, including eliminating the Ride Free Area, which saves the agency an estimated $2 million a year.
They were but Band-Aids. Metro is funded largely by sales tax revenue, and the prolonged economic downturn has meant ongoing revenue shortfalls for the agency.
Now McIntosh and other transit advocates are pushing state leaders for a more sustainable source of transit funding, such as motor vehicle excise tax or a state income tax for the very wealthy. They’ve also considered selling coupon books to raise money for Metro.
“We’re just trying to come up with ways to raise $65 million dollars,” he said.
Though a fare hike is a possibility, it still won’t be enough. Metro raised fares in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 for a total increase of $1 per trip in adult cash fares — an 80 percent increase. Metro General Manager Kevin Desmond has warned that Metro can only raise fares and cut service so much before people abandon buses for more affordable, dependable options.
McIntosh agrees. He said Magnolia may contain some of the city’s priciest homes, but his neighbors are in a range of income levels, including many on fixed incomes with limited mobility. McIntosh is visually impaired and doesn’t drive.
“If it meant keeping the [bus] service, I would rather pay more, but a lot of low-income people just couldn’t afford that,” he said.
Like Metro’s Desmond, he worries decreased service and increased fares will put Metro in a downward spiral.
“The Northwest had really been building up transit, and the last five years, we’re losing it all,” McIntosh said. “We’re going from one of the better parts of the country for transit to one of the worst.”
McIntosh conceded that middle-of-the-night protest might not be best way to bring such struggles to light.
“We might have another march,” he said. “Maybe have one in the daytime.”