Public Transit: Why it’s essential and upcoming changes in South King County

Julia Patterson
King County Councilmember

Thousands of people throughout South King County ride public transit every day. Many of these riders do not own cars and depend upon buses and trains to get to work and school, and to access essential goods and services such as groceries and healthcare. I have fought for quality transit for South King County throughout my career because of the many benefits that transit provides and the difficulties that our community would face without access to transit services. This op-ed explores the need for transit, highlights upcoming changes for South County riders, and warns of possible service cuts to King County Metro due to budget challenges.

Our public transit system is run by two governments – Sound Transit and King County – each serving distinct roles to provide quality service. Sound Transit provides regional long distance services throughout King, Snohomish, and Pierce counties, whereas King County Metro provides local transit options with more stops within King County. Together these agencies provide more than 470,000 rides in King County each weekday.

Without our transit system, many people would be unable to get to work and school, resulting in significant negative impacts to our economy. Transit also reduces traffic congestion and provides environmental benefits for everyone – not just transit riders. Metro services take approximately 175,000 vehicles off our roads each weekday because people use transit instead of driving. Without public transit, these cars would squeeze onto our roadways, adding pollution to the environment and slowing the speed of traffic due to crowding.

There are changes coming designed to improve transit service and increase ridership. As Vice Chair of Sound Transit’s Board of Directors, I am particularly excited about two Sound Transit projects that have recently begun construction. Tukwila’s permanent Sounder station will open next year and replace the temporary heavy rail station that has existed for more than a decade. The station will serve the Green River Valley corridor, with approximately 1,300 boardings taking place each weekday. Sound Transit is also building a new Angle Lake Link light rail station at south 200th street in SeaTac that will begin operation in 2016. This station will serve more than 5,000 passengers per day and benefit the entire community with businesses located on the ground level and a plaza for community gatherings.

Beginning June 2014, Metro will replace bus route 140 with the new RapidRide F-Line. This bus service will run between Burien, SeaTac, Tukwila, and Renton, including servicing the Renton Boeing facility. RapidRide is efficient bus service that arrives at least every 10 minutes during peak hours with unique buses allowing passengers to easily get on and off. The RapidRide A-Line – which runs between the Tukwila International Boulevard Station and the Federal Way Transit Center – is an example of RapidRide’s current success. Since the A-Line replaced route 174 in October 2010, Metro has seen a 57% ridership increase.

More concerning news regarding Metro pertains to potential route changes and eliminations due to a budget shortfall. Metro relies upon sales tax revenue, which drastically decreased during the Great Recession. Without new revenue, Metro will face a 17% service reduction, equivalent to 600,000 annual bus hours. The State Senate recently failed to pass a transportation package during the legislative session that would have alleviated these potential cuts. I am hopeful, however, that the legislature will address this issue prior to route changes and eliminations taking effect in the fall of 2014.

South County’s population has grown by more than 30% over the past twenty years, and will continue growing in the future. This is an indication that quality transit is important now more than ever. I will continue to work to improve public transit because it benefits our community, protects the environment, and creates economic prosperity by ensuring that we can efficiently travel from neighborhood to neighborhood, city to city, and throughout the Puget Sound region.

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