Bellevue mulls buying back Metro service

Whether Bellevue is willing to buy back tentative cuts in bus service throughout the city will be a hard sell by King County, with city councilmembers insisting Tuesday there be a return on investment that includes a plan to bolster Metro efficiency and reduce its own operations costs.

King County Executive Dow Constantine announced earlier this month a plan to allow cities to buy Metro service in 2015 following the failure of Prop No. 1, which was meant to provide funding to prevent massive cuts and revisions. Among the 16-percent cuts and revisions being proposed by Metro, Bellevue will see 26 of its 33 routes altered or cut. Seven routes are proposed to be deleted and two revised in September. The King County Council is set to vote on allowing the changes on June 9.

Mayor Claudia Balducci said she needs to know the value of the service before the city commits to paying for what would likely only be the routes with the most frequent use that would suffer most from the Metro cuts. Councilmembers agreed the county needs to preserve Route 271, which is proposed to be rerouted away from the Bellevue College campus to 148th Avenue Southeast.

"It's our responsibility to do something," Balducci said, "and advocate is the minimum."

Councilmember Lynne Robinson said she supports recommendations for revised cuts and route changes provided by Franz Loewenherz, the city's senior transportation planner. She said the King County Council is interested in reviewing those recommendations.

Complicating the debate is the city's draft transit master plan, which still requires final approval and will guide the city in how it foresees public transportation evolving in Bellevue. The council will receive another update June 2, followed by a public hearing June 26 and final approval slated for July 7.

Councilmembers John Stokes and Jennifer Robertson also pointed to testimony from the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce that King County is now collecting sales tax revenue at 2007 levels or better, and an argument could be made that this money be drawn from to pay for Metro service. Stokes said he wants to see figures outlining the benefit to Bellevue residents of Metro buy backs before tapping the city's capital investment program. "It's not an easy question, at all," Stokes said.

Robertson said she doesn't see why Metro doesn't implement fare increases now that are planned for next year, and wants to know what is happening with county transit union negotiations that were placed on hold until Prop No. 1 was decided. She also wants a breakdown of how Bellevue residents voted on the April ballot.

Councilmember Kevin Wallace summarized votes in opposition to Prop No. 1 grew the further the count moved away from Seattle.Wallace said he won't support appropriating Bellevue revenue for county transit service that is Metro's responsibility, adding the city of Seattle can't correct its road traffic as easily as Bellevue can.

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray, whose city receives the lion's share of Metro service, is proposing an emergency ballot measure similar to Prop 1, which would provide about $40 million in revenue annually for city transit, with $3 million for a regional fund. It also includes a 0.1 percent sales tax increase and $60 car-tab fee, with $2 million to go to a $20 car-tab rebate for low-income residents.

Councilmembers agreed any buy-back fix to transit should be temporary and not interfere with a stronger push by Eastside governments to get the Washington Legislature to pass a statewide transportation package. Balducci said if a plan doesn't pass in Olympia this year, there's no hope next year when legislators and the governor will be seeking reelection.


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