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Originally published Monday, November 15, 2010 at 3:37 PM

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Guest columnist

A new direction for King County Metro transit policy

The King County Regional Transit Task Force has issued a unanimous report with recommendations for the agency to move forward in the face of declining revenues and increasing costs. Members Tom Rasmussen and Suzette Cooke discuss six of the recommendations.

Special to The Times

IN this age of factions, political divisions and special-interest lobbying, if we told you that 27 members of a task force representing business, labor, environmental organizations, higher education, social service and transportation agencies, bus riders, and elected officials from suburban cities and the city of Seattle can work together and reach unanimous consensus on our transit future, would you believe us? Read on.

The recession has hit Metro hard. About 62 percent of Metro's operating revenues come from sales taxes, and receipts are down. Unless actions are taken to generate more revenue and cut expenses, Metro will need to reduce bus service by 600,000 hours between 2012 and 2015. That is the equivalent of all Metro bus service east of Lake Washington, or all weekend service to the entire county. As our region seeks to regain its economic footing, we are not willing to accept that level of transit service reduction.

Last spring, the county executive and council created the King County Regional Transit Task Force to identify short-term and long-term objectives for transit service investment and provide guidance for making those investments. As task force members, we are proud that we issued our final report with a unanimous recommendation to help shape Metro's future.

Our recommendations include:

• Service reduction or growth decisions should emphasize productivity, ensure social equity and provide geographic value throughout the county. The task force determined that an emphasis on productivity will provide the greatest value for our tax dollars, focusing resources on the highest ridership corridors and moving the largest number of people. Transit services must be fairly distributed throughout the county, with some relationship to an area's generated sales-tax revenues and consideration for those with limited transportation options. Some type of transit service must be available in all communities served today.

• Create clear and transparent guidelines to make service allocation decisions. Guidelines will be based on data that are understandable to the public, will apply best practices, and will be used to measure performance against goals and objectives.

• King County Metro Transit is part of a regional transportation system. Metro services must be integrated with light rail, commuter rail, van pools, ferries, park-and-ride lots, bicycle routes and various forms of bus services provided by private and other public agencies.

• King County and Metro must control all of the agency's operating expenses to provide a cost structure that is sustainable. The current pattern of increasing expenses and declining revenues is a recipe for future problems. The task force recommends specific actions to address costs.

• King County and a broad coalition of community and business interests should pursue a long-term, more sustainable base of revenue to support transit services. While continued cost reductions and service efficiencies are important parts of the solution, long-term sustainable funding is necessary.

• Metro should adopt new performance measures and report more openly and often on its performance. These measures would allow Metro and the public to make better decisions about bus services by evaluating the performance of individual routes and the overall transit system.

We must be smart and strategic about how we reduce service in economic down times and expand service in more prosperous times — or we will limit our economic potential. We must plan for the growth that is projected, and find new ways to meet the needs of King County's diverse communities.

After eight months, the Regional Transit Task Force can remarkably speak with one voice in saying: It is time for King County to guide Metro in new directions. While the devil may still be in the details, we have provided a direction and tools to assist in making this change, and we are committed to continuing our service as a resource to the county.

Suzette Cooke, left, is mayor of Kent. Tom Rasmussen is a member of the Seattle City Council.

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