Photo by Steve Morgan
Photo by Steve Morgan

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray and King County Executive Dow Constantine are moving forward with a major contract to expand Metro Transit bus service in the City of Seattle.

Murray and Constantine today sent the Seattle City Council and King County Council a proposed three-year, $120 million contract to increase bus service, renewable for an additional three years.

Funding for the new service comes from the Seattle Transportation Benefit District Proposition 1 ballot measure approved by Seattle voters in November. The measure will raise an estimated $45 million a year for six years by collecting a 0.1 percent sales tax increase and a $60 annual vehicle fee in the City of Seattle.

“By adding more than 200,000 more hours of bus service annually, we can ensure that transit expands along with our growing city,” Murray said in a statement. “This voter-approved investment in additional service will help make transit a better choice for everyone in Seattle, and is the first major expansion of bus service in our city in almost a decade.”

Under the terms of the proposed contract, Seattle residents would see expanded bus service beginning in June and then again in September. As proposed, the City of Seattle would purchase from Metro additional peak, off-peak, weekend, and night service totaling 223,000 annual service hours in 2015. Planned service improvements draw from needs identified in Metro’s Service Guidelines and Seattle’s Transit Master Plan, and include significant investments in top priority routes that are chronically overcrowded such as the RapidRide C and D Lines serving West Seattle, Downtown and Ballard.

Under the city contract, the voter-approved funding will:

• Add new buses to all 16 Seattle routes that are chronically overcrowded
• Fix the schedules of all 48 routes that are chronically unreliable
• Add frequency to 34 high-demand routes
• Regularly provide detailed ridership and performance data

The City of Seattle also included $3 million dollars in a partnership program for jurisdictions who are interested in sharing the cost of service for routes that connect with the city. In addition up to $2 million dollars will be used to increase access to Metro Transit’s ORCA LIFT program, its new reduced fare for low-income riders to be implemented in March.

The Seattle Department of Transportation’s new Transit Division, working collaboratively with Metro Transit, will provide oversight to ensure that Seattle’s investments are supporting improved service in Seattle on the City’s highest-priority routes.

Executive Constantine created the framework for the proposed transit service contract last year when he initiated the Community Mobility Contract Program. The City of Seattle is able to contract directly with Metro Transit for service using this program. The Community Mobility Contract Program is intended as a bridge to keep buses on the street until the state legislature provides a sustainable funding tool for local transportation needs.

“Reliable, all-day bus service is the key to keeping our region’s economy moving forward, and this expansion will relieve overcrowding and delays so our riders can get to their schools, jobs, and services,” Constantine said in a statement. “Our task now is to keep working to bring service in the rest of the county up to the new standard that Seattle is setting.”

API activists have expressed concern over the effects of cuts to transit in neighborhoods of color.

“Public transportation, especially bus transportation, is vital to us and is a civil rights issue,” Asian Counseling and Referral Service (ACRS) executive director Diane Narasaki told then-incoming Mayor Murray at an API luncheon in December 2013. “In South Seattle, light rail stops as you probably know are over a mile apart and it’s difficult for limited English speakers to use this system. Unequal access to transportation that works for riders of color creates a discriminatory impact for us and makes it more difficult to get to school, to work, health and social services, churches, temples, and families. This is why the curtailment and elimination of bus routes that are vital to our community like the route 42, which went from Skyway to Martin Luther King, Jr. Way to the ID and Downtown, is so significant to our community. It was ridden primarily by vulnerable riders of color, including Asians.”

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