On Monday, May 18, the council voted to approve a sweeping array of changes to bus service in Southeast Seattle. Ostensibly, the changes are designed to improve bus access to Sound Transit's light rail, opening in July, for Southeast Seattle residents; in reality, the improvements have been steadily eroded by special interests.
First—under pressure from the Department of Veterans Affairs, which operates a large hospital building on the top of Beacon Hill—the council restored Route 39, which was going to be replaced by a new Route 50 that would have finally linked Southeast Seattle to Georgetown and West Seattle. (Although the hospital is served by several other routes, the VA complained that cutting the 39 would deprive clients of the only route that goes directly to the hospital's front door. The council agreed and restored the route, killing the 50 in the process.)
Now they've done it again. The latest change, made at the behest of the Asian Counseling and Referral Service (a human-services agency on Martin Luther King Jr. Way South with $17 million in annual revenue), partially restores Metro's Route 42 to serve agency clients. "The 42 is literally a lifeline which cannot be replaced," ACRS director Diane Narasaki told the council Monday.
But is it? The 42 exactly parallels the light-rail line. Additionally, ACRS is located right between two light-rail stops, each about a five-minute walk away; it's served by several other bus routes, soon to include a newly expanded Route 8 from Capitol Hill; a free shuttle service called the Hyde Shuttle already serves Southeast Seattle seniors and people with disabilities; and—most importantly—only about 50 riders get on or off Metro buses at the stop outside ACRS every day, according to Metro service development manager Victor Obeso.
Who did Metro abandon to accommodate those 50 riders? The most immediate losers were people who ride the Route 60 (from Capitol Hill to Georgetown) and the Route 9 (between Columbia City and Capitol Hill). Both routes were supposed to get more frequent service, especially in the middle of the day; both will lose that additional service under the plan adopted Monday.
To me, a Southeast Seattle resident with a keen interest in improving bus service in the area, the question isn't which group is more worthy, but which proposal serves the greater good. On that score, the verdict is clear. According to Metro's numbers, the 60 serves about 3,800 people each weekday; the 9, which runs only once an hour during the day and stops in the early evening, serves about 1,800.
The point of the changes in Southeast Seattle was supposed to be improving service to light-rail stations. By greasing the loudest, squeakiest wheel, the county is throwing thousands of ordinary commuters under the bus.