Concerned citizens line up along 3rd Ave. as King County Council holds hearing on Metro cuts.
  • Goldy | The Stranger
  • Citizens line up along 3rd Ave. as King County Council holds hearing on Metro cuts.

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I thought I'd arrive early to tonight's King County Council hearing on proposed cuts to Metro bus service, but apparently, several hundred other citizens had the same idea. By 5:30 p.m. the line to get through metal detector at the 3rd Ave. entrance to the King County Courthouse had already stretched the length of the block. By 6PM, the line had crossed the street and started snaking up Yesler. If not for the kindness of Christine Lange, executive Dow Constantine's deputy communications director, I'd still be standing on the sidewalk below.

The end of the line at 5:45 p.m.
  • Goldy | The Stranger
  • The end of the line at 5:45 p.m.

Once inside I found the council's 10th floor chambers packed to capacity, as well as the 12th floor balcony above. By 7 p.m. over 200 people had signed up to give public comment—most if not all in favor of the $20 tab fee—and with many more still waiting outside. It's an extraordinary show of support for a bus system that is apparently much more crucial to many Seattleites' daily lives than some more car-centric establishment types obviously imagine.

"Seattle's a green city," Deb Otto of Queen Anne told me while waiting in line outside. Her message for the council: "You convinced me to ride the bus and get rid of my car, and so a year ago I did that. And now you're taking away my bus."

Much of the testimony from the folks who did manage to get inside is along the same lines. Yes, there are a lot of regular transit riders who also own a car or two, and who would pay the $20 fee along with everybody else. But buying, fueling, insuring, maintaining and parking a car simply isn't an affordable option for many people who rely on already overcrowded Metro buses to get them to and from home, school and work. Even the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce showed up to testify in favor of the fee; with proposed cuts estimated to touch 80 percent of Metro riders, business owners are fearful of how reduced bus service would impact both their customers and employees.

If there was any dissent at tonight's hearing it was from a handful speakers urging a more progressive tax. "We have two of the richest people in the world living in King County," one speaker pointed out, urging that we find a way to tap into some of this wealth. But nobody spoke in favor of cutting bus service.

Only the four yes votes on the council bothered to show up to hear public comments.
  • Goldy | The Stranger
  • Only the four yes votes on the council bothered to show up to hear public comments.

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Whether this overwhelming show of support for maintaining current levels of Metro service through this temporary, $20 tax will make a difference, or whether this public hearing is little more than political theater, is not entirely clear. Council members Bob Ferguson, Larry Gossett, Larry Phillips, and Joe McDermott—the four members representing Seattle—have already come out in favor of the fee. They were also the only four members to show up at the hearing. Six of nine council votes would be needed to pass the fee outright, five to put it on the ballot.

Not a good sign for the many Metro bus riders who are still outside waiting for their turn to speak their mind.