Bus Service and Low Wage Workers

King County Metro is a vital service to the people of King County, Washington. They recently had to go to the voters for more money for of a few reasons:

1 – Their rainy day funds finally ran out, 5 years after the recession began.

2 – They don’t have any more capital funds (money that is dedicated to replacing old busses/infrastructure improvements) they can move around to sustain operations anymore.

3 – The state government refused to create any options to fund metro at a county-wide level besides regressive sales tax and car-tab tax.

 

Unfortunately this measure failed. King County voted not to fund Metro’s budget deficit, and now Metro plans to cut 16% of service over the next 4 service changes. Many busses all over the city and suburbs will be cut, frequencies reduced, and hours scaled back, greatly reducing the mobility of the people in the region.

 

The scaling back of hours is something that probably bothers me the most. Having worked a minimum wage job that went until one or two in the morning, having 24 hour transit was important to me. Many of my co-workers were limited in the hours they could work because they did not live near 24-hour transit lines, and my managers had very limited ability to take on promotions for the same reason (other theatres had no 24 hour transit options).

 

Dismantling any of the night-owl service in Seattle will be detrimental to those who work late night jobs. These are people who are already having huge pressures put on them by rising housing costs in the city, and who do not have the choice of “simply moving closer to their work”. The city is getting too expensive for them and they are needing to move further and further out to survive, meanwhile, we’re dismantling their routes to work.

 

People who work for low wage can’t really afford a car. They find a way, because it is the only way to get to work for many cases, but this presents a tremendous financial burden to them that is unnecessary. Often times the working poor drive uninsured because they can’t afford insurance, then when they get into a collision it negatively impacts both them, and the person they collide with. A bus pass is $81-$108/mo. Gas alone these days costs at least that much in any sort of car someone on minimum – or very low – wage can afford. Gas is currently $4/Gallon in Seattle.

 

Here is a sample budget McDonald’s has proposed for its workers:

McDonald's Budget

 

I find this to be quite incredible personally. The most I’ve made in a month while having two jobs and working 30-55 hours a week (as much as I could given my jobs’ scheduling) was about $1700 in a month. And neither job was minimum wage ($8.50/hr, and $12.00/hr).  That month was by far exceptional. Both workplaces were busy due to it being summer and had lots of work for me to do. And of course in order for me to get that much work in with the two jobs, there were periods where I was working 36 hours in a 48 hour period Go to one job Thursday 2p-6p, go straight to the other one until 2 AM go home, sleep a few hours, get up get to work by 10AM at one job, work till 11PM at it, go home, sleep, go to a morning shift at the theatre 9a-2p, an evening shift catering 4p-1a, go home, sleep, work 2p-1a Sunday as well.  ( I suppose part of my individual problem was that I had two majority Nights & Weekend Jobs) (Thurs-Sun in that period added up to 28($336 less Tax) hrs Catering (Exhausting) and 13 ($110 less tax) at the theatre – making about $380 after tax for the weekend. (I probably would have worked another 10-15 hours at the theatre in a week bringing my total to somewhere around $450 on a really good week.  20 hours at each job was probably a reasonable average meaning I would have earned $220 pretax Catering and $ 170 pretax at AMC (just shy of $400 pre-tax – so around $350 after tax).

So let’s come up with a budget on that average ($350*4.2 ~= $1500)

  • Housing: (with Roommate) $500
  • Food: $150
  • Health Insurance: $150
  • Phone/Internet: $100
  • Savings: $100
  • Bus Pass: $90
  • Electricity: $80
  • Heat: $40
  • Clothing: $40
  • Renter’s Insurance: $25
  • Home Supplies: $20
  • Computer $20
  • Everything else: $185

That’s your budget with a bus commute.

With a car:

 

  • Housing: (with Roommate) $450
  • Food: $150
  • Health Insurance: $150
  • Car Insurance: $125
  • Gas: $45 (assuming 15 mile r/t commute 30 mpg car)
  • Car Payment: $50 (assuming $1500 car spread out over 3 years of useful life)
  • Car Maintenance: $25
  • Phone/Internet: $100
  • Savings: $100
  • Electricity: $80
  • Heat: $40
  • Clothing: $40
  • Renter’s Insurance: $25
  • Home Supplies: $20
  • Computer $20
  • Everything else: $80

 

As you can see, having a car greatly increases expenses, and the more we can eliminate that as a requirement for people, the better off they will be (and the less likely they will be to take public assistance).

All this comes back to one of the primary reasons I’m upset with the refusal to fund Metro’s budget deficit (which came to be through no fault of their own). I think we should try to give people more advantages, rather than less, so they have a way of pulling themselves up, and making it in life. The wider the job pool for poorer people is, the better off they are for getting out of poverty. Reducing transit severely narrows their reasonable job pool, and further – It narrows the locations in which businesses that employ low-wage workers can exist, which is wholly another problem.

If you disagree with any of my assumptions, etc. Let me know!

In my next post I’ll cover some of the benefits of transit to middle and high-income earners.

2 thoughts on “Bus Service and Low Wage Workers”

  1. Alex, If you look at the wording of the ballot measure, you will find that this was only partially about bus service. “If approved, this proposition would fund, among other things, bus service, road safety and maintenance and other transportation improvements in King County cities and the unincorporated area.” Vague statements like this are usually not welcomed very well by voters. What does “among other things” really mean? Our state has been plagued for years by measures which on the front seem like good ideas, but the details are vague or unintended. The public is very wary about increases in sales taxes. They NEVER go away, even though they tried to put a 10 year cap on it. Why the 10 year cap? Is something substantial going to happen at the end of 10 years that makes this a temporary issue? No, this is a permanent tax that was trying to be hidden in another form. This is another case of our political system not having the backbone to be direct and honest. Most everyone I asked about this who voted no had the same answer: It is not an honest request.

    So I agree with everything you wrote. The problem is that the people who proposed this only spoke to the bus service, but when you read the ballot measure it is half something else. It is hidden and dishonest.

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