Politics with buses and all that jazz

Recently, Metro Transit has announced a budget shortfall of about 75 million dollars, and is planning to cut 600,000 service hours in response to this. As of press time, Metro is proposing to completely eliminate 74 routes and change 107 of them. Among the routes planning to be changed are the 271 and 245, both of which go through Bellevue College.

Interestingly, the route changes are not drastic, both routes will still come right up next to campus but avoid it. This may cut some much-needed hours, but why take it out on the students and employees of the school? Concerns have been raised with safety, with a murder (of a student?) occurring by the Eastgate Park and Ride. Students are often on shaky financial footing and make up a vulnerable segment of the population. Others have the alternative of driving if possible, but for many students the buses are vital to making education more accessible. There are stops close to campus and while some may not have a problem, mobility is an issue for others.

An alternative to these cuts would be tax increases to make up for the budget shortfall, petitions and testimony have been rendered to the Bellevue City Council to express how negative of an impact these cuts will have on students. Call me cynical but I can’t help thinking that this is what Metro wants to happen.

For a normal business, success is measured by profit. It’s not a dirty word, the only way to profit is by meeting customer demand, making them happy. If a business doesn’t satisfy customers, it loses money and fails. Inefficient structuring, ineffectual management, and poor planning also lead to a business losing money. For most businesses, the option is simple: improve or fail. Some improve, reinvent, retool and restructure and succeed, others fail. The only time this doesn’t apply is when the business is granted a monopoly by the state – customers have no choice but to buy. Comcast customer service is notoriously bad but there aren’t any other cable companies one can go to.

Some businesses, however, have the option of getting bailed out by the government, and that is exactly what a tax increase would be. Metro could take the option to increase efficiency, adjust their routes, eliminate waste and figure out ways to better serve us.

Why propose cuts to Bellevue College? Not many are privy to the meetings that go on but one thing is undeniable: college students are politically active and will fight. Perhaps it was intended and maybe it’s a happy accident, but now Metro has more support for alternatives to cutting routes. The publicity campaign carried out by Metro is concerning as well, “Will my route be cut?” posters in the buses and around transit centers inform riders about impending cutbacks and add one more worry to the worry-weary that rely on public transportation.

Increasing taxes countywide puts an additional burden on local workers and business owners equally, and stress a very fragile economy. The Federal Reserve may claim that the economy is recovering, but recent announcements by big retailers are making many question the actual health of the economy. The impact of the Affordable Care Act is still being felt and as Americans begin to wonder if it will work as well as advertised, any little impact can have dramatic effects.

From my point of view, I can’t but suspect that the proposed cuts to the 271 and 245 are more political in nature, designed to bring supporters to their request for more of the public’s money to bailout their budget shortfall. With the market mechanism of competition eliminated by edict, Metro has less incentive to buckle down and get their act together and figure out solutions that work within the budget. In the last several years, fares have gone up and up and now this?

Don’t play politics with education, while petitioning the government for more tax money may be a tempting solution, it is Metro’s problem to deal with, their burden that should not be put on the shoulders of citizens. If they want the help of local students to achieve their goals, there are many routes that can be taken that doesn’t involve resorting to threats.