The latest test of our famous local "stakeholder process" asks: Can 25 stakeholders define a new mission and course for the King County Metro transit system? The exercise kicked off last night (April 20) at the slightly incongruous venue of the Mercer Island Community Center. It's going to be a long slog, as you are doubtless not surprised to learn, with a lot of tough politics coming into play after the early courtesies and bromides..
The meetings stem from Metro'ês fiscal crisis. Last year brought a muted preview of an ugly debate among areas of the county about service cuts, out of which the Metro Regional Transit Task Force was proposed by the King County Council and embraced by new County Executive Dow Constantine. Constantine appointed and the council ratified the stakeholder group'ês membership.
The task force last night heard from both Constantine and Councilmember Larry Phillips, whose message was the same: All the factions and debates around Metro must be wrestled toward broad consensus because it is to the state government in Olympia that the region'ês quest must turn for new funding for Metro'ês strapped system.
Constantine noted one central tension — serving as many people as possible and at the same time keeping an eye on geographic equity. Those interests don'êt necessarily point in the same direction in designing a transit system. Engineers want the routes to go where the most likely users are, and politicians want to put routes where their voters are. Two code words turned up in Constantine'ês brief introduction: 'êactivity centers'ê and 'êcorridors.'ê These may provide an early clue to perspectives coming from the county executive about future-looking Metro service design.
And what of the questions of performance and efficiency? How does Metro stand up in comparisons to other systems and to its own performance trends as both ridership and budgets have gone up and up?
Perhaps it was predictable that in the 37th minute of the meeting, the panel discussion sidetracked onto the SR 520 debate and the future of SR 520 car-pooling. The detour was rather comforting, since every stakeholder process has to start with a lurch out of the gate.