The other day on the No. 8 Metro bus, it was SRO as usual. Even the driver seemed surprised to learn that his shoulder-to-shoulder bus is now on the chopping block.
“No way they’d cut this bus,” he said. “Look at this. It’s like this morning and night.”
He was gesturing at the 30 or so riders forced to stand in the aisle of the double articulated bus. “The Leight,” as it’s not-so-affectionately called because it chronically sits in jammed traffic on Denny, ranked fourth in a Seattle Times reader survey last month for most times passing up riders at stops because it’s too full.
Yet the route is on the Metro cuts list, now that King County voters have rejected Proposition 1 to buttress the agency with more money.
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The plan is to slice it in half, not scrap it entirely. But it means that a bus line serving Seattle’s most booming part of town — South Lake Union and Amazon — would no longer connect to the back side of Capitol Hill, the Central Area (where I got on) or the city’s south end.
Like the driver, I have my doubts Metro will follow through. Maybe the bus will run less. But The Leight already has such a reputation it has its own self-mocking Twitter feed (motto: “Never where I’m supposed to be”). There’s only so low you can go.
Whatever they decide, it’s clear we’re entering one of those civic experiments. Officials threatened devastating cuts to services and now we’re about to find out if they were bluffing.
I voted yes even though I doubt the cuts will live up to the hype. What Seattle and the region really need — a lot more transit — wasn’t on the ballot. It’s not enough just to preserve what we have.
But I wasn’t surprised it failed. Nobody explained what positive changes you’d get for your money, only what you might lose. This was electioneering by threat: Vote yes or I’ll shoot this puppy.
Now the anti-transit crowd will spin this as proof voters have had their fill of transit. And that officials should focus on roads next time.
I don’t buy it. If anything, it was the $50 million in yearly roads repair money in Proposition 1 that had the feel of a slush fund. What would it be used for? Nobody said. It was just to be spread like political butter across 40 cities and towns. The website of the campaign didn’t list a single specific road or bridge that would get fixed using this money.
Strip the roads out, and put a positive measure on the ballot to expand the bus system so it serves the public better. I bet that would pass.
It worked for light rail. In 2007 voters rejected a mixed “Roads and Transit” package to fix up highways and build light rail. The next year voters were presented with just the light-rail part. It swept to a landslide victory.
Now that I’ve gotten near the end of this column where nobody will see it, let me also say: Tim Eyman was rrrr. … He was rrri. … OK, let me rephrase it this way: Voters sure do hate that car-tab fee. The only time in recent years we’ve passed a car tax was in Seattle for the ill-fated monorail (which was later repealed).
So forget car fees. Try a bus-only measure paid for solely by a small increase in sales taxes. Make it also expand and improve the system, not just bail water from the one we have.
Back on The Leight, a few riders overheard my talk with the driver. Even crammed in like that they shrugged that their bus service might be slashed.
One woman spoke of the incessant delays and crowding that have made The Leight infamous. She concluded: “So it couldn’t get much worse.”
I guess we’re about to find out. But the real problem is nobody’s talking about how to make it better.
Danny Westneat’s column appears Wednesday and Sunday. Reach him at 206-464-2086 or firstname.lastname@example.org