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Originally published Thursday, July 21, 2011 at 10:53 PM

Hearing on $20 car-tab fee draws about 350 people

About 350 people turned out in Burien Thursday night to back a proposed $20 car-tab fee proposed as a way to prevent service cuts to Metro Transit buses.

Seattle Times transportation reporter

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The wave of support to preserve King County Metro Transit rolled through Burien City Hall on Thursday night, as an overflow crowd turned out to back a proposed $20 car-tab fee to prevent service cuts.

Without the new revenue to offset a sales-tax drop from the Great Recession, Metro says, it would have to cut 17 percent of bus hours.

Most bus routes would become less frequent or more crowded, and some would be cut. Ridership would drop by about 9 percent, said Victor Obeso, Metro's service-development manager.

About 350 people turned out for the hearing before the Metropolitan King County Council. Laura Kelley, a Kent mother of four, said her husband depends on the 150 bus to get home from his night job as a technician at a Seattle TV station.

"We are a one-car family. If he has to take a cab, that costs $60," she testified. The 150 is slated for less-frequent service, and the local 913 route, which she takes to shop and work part time at Kent Station, would be dropped, she said.

Metropolitan King County Council members will vote Monday. Six of the nine members have said they are willing to put the fee on the November ballot. Many in the Burien crowd urged them to pass it themselves, without a citizen vote. Only five have said they're willing to do so; six would be required to pass the fee without a ballot measure.

The Southwest King County Chamber of Commerce backed the fee, as did the Associated Students of the University of Washington.

Many in the crowd arrived on buses, some from Seattle.

Trena Williams, who can't drive after a stroke, came out on Link light rail, then caught a bus.

Preston Kiekel, of West Seattle, who works at the UW, said he prefers to spend an hour on the bus, avoid parking hassles, and pay $20 more for car tabs.

"You're all better off, with me not driving," he added.

While most supported the fee, Patrick Robbins, of Burien, opposed it, saying Metro is losing too much money to fare evasion and waste.

He recalled walking across an intersection and seeing five near-empty buses pass.

"If you ask us for $20 now, what are you going to ask us for in the future, $80?" he said.

Some bus boosters held a bedsheet sign saying "SAVE METRO" in large red letters. Three wore silver-and-gold robot suits of cardboard.

A motorcyclist lightheartedly suggested a fee of $5 per wheel instead of a flat $20.

Last week, a similar bus hearing in downtown Seattle drew more than 400 people.

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or mlindblom@seattletimes.com

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