With the failure of Proposition 1 on April 22, the future of our public transit system hangs in the balance. In September King County Metro will implement the first of four planned rounds of bus service cuts. If all of these cuts happen, 16% of our bus service, or 550,000 annual service hours, will simply disappear.
We all know that these cuts are unacceptable. They are unacceptable from an economic point of view, they are unacceptable from an environmental point of view, and most of all they are unacceptable from a human point of view. To gut our public transit system when buses are already overcrowded, when the polar ice sheets are melting, and when tens of thousands of King County residents have no other way to get around, is nothing short of insane.
The City of Seattle and other cities in King County now have a duty to act to save as much bus service as possible. Mayor Murray has proposed a sales tax increase of 0.1% and car tab fees of $60 to be put on the ballot in November: Prop 1 replayed in Seattle only. While this is preferable to service cuts, we believe the city should consider more progressive options first. We strongly support the amendment put forward by Councilmembers Kshama Sawant and Nick Licata, to replace the sales tax increase with a Commercial Parking Tax increase and an Employer Head Tax.
But in the end, we cannot forget that all these local options are last-ditch emergency measures, and we cannot let arguments over which is the least bad distract us from the real question: Why are we even talking about cutting public transit? Public transit is basic infrastructure, and we should not be forced to vote to preserve it. Affordable mass transit is an environmental, economic, and social necessity, and it needs to be treated as such by those who represent us in government.
Our state legislature failed us. We must organize and build our forces until we can wage an effective fight for new public transit funding and progressive taxation in Olympia. Until then we will continue to be driven by the logic of artificial scarcity, cornered into the false choices of austerity: Service cuts or regressive taxes? Service cuts or higher bus fares? Service cuts or concessions from bus drivers? Until we build up the power to force those who hold the real wealth of this city, county and state to pay their fair share, we can do little more than protest and then acquiesce to the lesser of two evils.
But as we build, we can educate ourselves and each other. Metro is not inefficient. Bus drivers are not overpaid. Bus riders are not unfairly subsidized. This is the insidious ideology of the corporate ruling class, and we must not give it any credence. This is how the 1% distracts attention from themselves and sets us to fighting among ourselves instead, pitting the poor against the slightly-less-poor, transit riders against bus drivers and car owners, and all of us against the government, thereby using us to destroy the very public services we all depend on. They would be happy to see all our hard-won public goods dismantled and privatized, all of us reduced to poverty, even nature and civilization destroyed, if only it means more short-term profit for them.
We must resist this ideology and instead say: Mobility is a human right. Public transit is a public good. Join the Transit Riders Union in the fight for fully-funded public transit for all!