Why Are We Even Talking About Cutting Public Transit?

May 19, 2014

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!

5 thoughts on “Why Are We Even Talking About Cutting Public Transit?

  1. Find The Waste

    Hello everyone, I’ve been following Metro for awhile and for the life of me, can’t figure out why the Transit Riders Union doesn’t demand that Metro spend the money it does have more efficiently?

    From what I’ve read and seen, Metro has terrible inefficiencies and logistically wastes a lot of money. Also, did you know that Metro starts its bus drivers at over $30/hour and that there are nearly 30 bus drivers making over $100,000 in gross salary? They also don’t pay anything for their health care so how is it fair that someone making just $35,000 with no health insurance riding to their job is paying so much in taxes for their bus drivers to live like kings?

    1. Dianne Ramsey

      I don’t know why the TRU continually supports more taxes and fees without making the County take another look at their spending. Larry Phillips was so adamant about not doing that, it makes me wonder what is he afraid we might find out? Any organization that spends 70% of its revenues on labor and benefits has incompetent management!

  2. Chris Robel

    Hello Transit Ryders,
    There has to be a way to prevent those bus cuts. How about the city & county go half
    and half on the revenue needed to prevent the bus cuts?? We the bus riders should’nt
    have to pay more on taxes and we don’t want to pay $60.00 dollar car tabs. Thank You.

  3. Mason Taylor

    I just got an email from M.L. King County Councilperson Dembrowski touting his plan to raise fares, delay some bus cuts, to spend money on audit, and to accept the inevitability of bus cuts. Doesn’t sound like he’s willing to confront corrupt corporate tax loopholes. But he wants people to support HIS cutback plan. What do TRU members think?

    I don’t mind some bus drivers making a $100K per year for actually working and paying taxes. What I mind is banksters and CEOs making $350,000,000 per year by breaking the law, destroying the economy, creating the worst wealth gap in a century, not paying any taxes, etc.

    1. Katie Wilson

      TRU hasn’t taken an official position on Dembowski’s proposal, which the County Executive has since vetoed. My personal opinion is that it plays into the neoliberal “government is bloated / Metro needs to cut the fat” rhetoric, and also an additional fare increase is not acceptable.

      The handful of drivers who make $100K do so by working like 80 hours per week. We need to make sure that Metro’s financial crisis isn’t used as weapon to further weaken the drivers’ union and extract more concessions. As you say, we’ve got to keep the focus on the banksters and CEOs. TRU will be having a rally on June 26 to do just that!

      – Katie


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