Group looks for solution to bus crunch

NORTH BEND — In less than three months, Valley residents will

lose some or all of their Metro bus service, which leaves many people

feeling uneasy.

But several government officials and organizations representing

seniors and businesses aren't planning to wait until the Feb. 4 cut in service, they

are acting now.

"We have gone back 30 years," said Jeanne Hansen, former mayor

of Snoqualmie. "When I see the whole Valley cut out, I can't believe it."

About 15 people representing groups including King County

Metro Transit, Senior Services and the City of Carnation met last Friday in the

first of several meetings to discuss the issue.

The area is currently serviced by four bus routes, which link the

Valley cities to each other and beyond. After February, however, Metro

representatives said they are forced to eliminate three of those routes in response to

cuts they received due to the passage of Initiative 695.

"We looked at routes that are least used," said Jim Arrowsmith, a

Metro service planner. "It's hard to justify keeping the routes with low

utilization. We want to impact the least amount of people."

Arrowsmith said Metro lost one-third of its funding, or one

million hours. That will result in a reduction of 200,000 hours of bus service

in February, followed by equivalent cuts in June and September. Then, he

said, Metro will evaluate the situation before deciding where to make the

final 400,000-hour cut, scheduled for June 2001.

"We're unique because we'll be the only city in King County

without transportation," said Carnation Mayor Bob Patterson. "We pay taxes, so

the people in my area will be very upset.

"I'm sympathetic to Metro," he continued. "But you mentioned

you need to cut your budget by one-third, but we got cut 100 percent."

In addition to losing the three routes, Metro is also reducing its

Access bus service, which transports disabled people under the

Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990.

Ruth Tolmasoff, director of the Mount Si Senior Center, said the

loss of the Access service will heavily impact the seniors who attend the

Adult Day Health Program in North Bend and Carnation and any doctor

appointments in the surrounding areas.

"People need the Access service to get outside of the Valley," she

commented. "There are a lot of people who don't drive … and there's no taxi

service in the Valley."

About 30 seniors use the special bus service and of those, about

half use it on a daily basis. Another reason the seniors depend on

Access, Tolmasoff said, is because it is wheelchair accessible — regular vans

are not.

Though the Metro representatives were sympathetic to the stories

and pleas they heard at the meeting, they said there wasn't a lot they could do.

"We're not in a position to afford to have special services for

special people when we have to make cuts," said Park Woodworth, manager

of Paratransit Rideshare Operations.

Woodworth warns that even if a financial miracle happens, Metro

still would not be able to provide service beyond February because of the

lack of workers.

"Metro is short on drivers and when I-695 passed, we had a lack

of interest of drivers joining us," he said. "So if there was a change in the

finances, it would take three or four months [to start services again]

because of the lack of drivers."

While faced with this dismal prospect, the group continues to

address possible alternatives in the event the bus cuts come as scheduled.

Possible solutions include the following:

• Add additional service days/hours to current Senior Shuttle service.

• Rent Access bus from Metro.

• Use school district buses.

• Extend hours of senior programs so families can pick up/drop off


The community group plans to meet again tomorrow, Dec. 17, to

further discuss how to supplement the bus routes for senior citizens and

disabled people.

"You mentioned you need to cut your budget by

one-third, but we got cut 100 percent."

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