County council passes car tabs to 'save' transit
By JOSH SUMAN
Bellevue Reporter Staff Writer
August 16, 2011 · Updated 12:34 PM
It took a few more hours than expected, but the King County Council passed a two-year, $20 car tab fee Monday to avoid a drastic reduction in King County Metro bus service.
The vote came after a nearly four-hour recess of the council at which point those in opposition hammered away at councilmembers Kathy Lambert and Jane Hague, who last week reached an agreement with County Executive Dow Constantine to support the plan. After a weekend of heavy constituent feedback, Hague and Lambert appeared to be on the fence, but in the end they stuck to the deal. The fee passed by a 7-2 vote.
As part of the plan, Metro Transit would phase out its free downtown Seattle service and add buses to routes affected by highway tolling as a way to make a proposed $20 car-tab fee more palatable.
"We have an agreement that creates value for car owners who pay the modest fee in the form of both clearer roads and access to transit," Constantine said. "In contrast to the divisiveness in the other Washington, we've worked together to find a package that responsibly addresses everyone's needs."
The two voting against the plan were Reagan Dunn and Pete von Reichbauer. Both were disappointed to see an issue that has proved controversial at the ballot box taken out of the hands of voters.
The plan, which county councilmembers Hague and Lambert said has been dramatically revised from an original version, also involves giving eight free bus tickets ($24 value) to those subject to the $20 fee increase and providing more sharply discounted tickets to human services and homeless programs. Some of that increase will come from an opt-out program for those who do not wish to receive the eight free tickets. Nearly 150 human services agencies would receive the tickets and distribute them to those in need.
The plan represents a compromise that will save King County from a 17 percent cut in Metro service, which is the equivalent of cutting all weekend transit service or all weekday rush-hour bus service for commuters. Constantine and others cited an increase in Metro ridership and a dependency on Metro for employers and employees alike as reasons making those cuts was not a desirable option.
"Clearly it is a very different package than the package originally proposed by the executive and authorized by the Legislature," said Hague, whose district includes much of Bellevue. "This is a subject I have not taken lightly and it is a package that has required a lot of negotiation and a lot of give and take."
In Bellevue, that give and take saved several routes that would have been completely eliminated and others that would have been faced reduced service.
Routes 243 and 280 through Clyde Hill, 242 and 250 through east Bellevue, 167 and 280 in downtown Bellevue and 219, 280 and 167 in and around Newcastle would have been eliminated while several others including routes 246 and 221 would have faced cuts in service.
But with the formerly dissenting Lambert and Hague now on board with the revised, five-part plan, those routes seem to be safe.
"I am proud to be standing here today to say it is a great deal for the Eastside," Hague said. "It is a great deal for King County."