In a post yesterday, I asserted that Seattle bus service is subsidized by King County instead of the opposite. But I didn’t exactly prove it which helped launch a very lively comments thread. With the help of Matt from Orphan Road and commenters here (AJ and Multimodal Man in particular), I was able to get some numbers which I’ll keep below the jump.
Here’s the conclusion: Seattle provides 42% of Metro’s revenue, and receives 58% of Metro’s service hours.
Is there anything wrong with this picture? No. Urban areas have good reasons to receive strong transit subsidies. We’re simply exploring this issue because two high-profile (and smart) blogs implied the opposite — that Seattle is subsidizing the rest of King County. I wanted to correct this misconception, since knowing where things stand from an analytical point of view is always a good thing. Read on for why these “subsidies” are a good thing, why Seattle vs. King County debates always come up, and the raw numbers.
King County Metro is smart to focus its bus service on the densest area of the region which has the most employers, the most money, and typically the most congestion. All bus service is subsidized — and of course we’ve all heard how highways and other modes of transportation are subsidized, too! — so it’s not crazy that Seattle has subsidized bus service. Indeed, it would be crazy if King County’s service was subsidized by Seattle since we are the dominant urban area most effectively serviced by transit.
And Matt’s point very much stands. Running a bus in Seattle, in general, is more cost-effective than running it in another part of the county. We have more riders and more destinations, simply put. If you had a thousand transit dollars, they’re most effectively spent in Seattle from a purely analytical sense and not counting where those dollars come from. It is a separate debate whether cost-effectiveness is the only measure of a good transit route.
There are two big, yet conflicting ideologies that guide Metro Transit. I should state that both ideologies are noble and pro-transit. One ideology is to provide service where demand is the highest (i.e. downtown Seattle). The other is to apply the “build it and they will come” strategy, and provide more bus service on the Eastside which people will eventually start to use it. It’s worth having a debate about how far in which direction we should lean. From the 40-40-20 allocation of new service, it’s clear that Metro is focusing a lot on “build it…” On the other hand, RapidRide is not bound by these allocation rules and the City of Seattle has funded improved service on some routes — like the 8 that I ride daily. And given the service surplus we have already, is Seattle truly in a position to feel victimized? I don’t feel that way, but I’ve only been passed up by a full bus once in the past year. I’m sure other people feel very strongly that we need to focus solely on Seattle bus service improvements.
However, what’s really underlying this entire discussion — one brought on by the phased in 50-cent fare increase we’re going to be dealing — is the massive budget shortfall that Metro is facing. It remains unclear how they can get out of this hole with cutting service and delaying or canceling RapidRide. So we can’t talk about where to grow service and be based in our current reality. The first problem is this budget crisis. The second might be where to cut service. If it gets to service cuts, it will have to be cut county-wide (including in the city), but obviously we should target the least cost-effective routes. With problems like these, Metro clearly needed to raise fares and generate revenue. We’ll continue to cover Metro’s financial problems in the coming weeks.
Here are the numbers:
From all of Metro King County
2007 tax receipts for Metro total: $427,579,378.18
2007 fare revenue for Metro total: $85,369,399.00
Metro total: ~$512.9m
From the West/North Subarea (Seattle, Shoreline, Lake Forest Park)
2007 tax receipts for West Subarea: $160,724,889.57
2007 fare revenue for West Subarea: $55,635,201.00
West Subarea total: ~$216.4m
West Subarea share of Metro Revenue
Metro total service hours: 2,194,542
West Subarea service hours: 1,273,461
West Subarea share of Metro Service
58.0% (It’s worth noting that this 58% of service doesn’t include routes like the 194, which are of obvious utility to Seattle residents but classified under the South King County subarea.)
Note: The revenue figures apparently include capital programs, and I’m not sure how those dollars are distributed. I’m not sure it’d skew things that much.
Metro Revenue: http://dor.wa.gov/docs/reports/2007/ltd2007/Table3-2007.pdf
Seattle/Shoreline/Lake Forest Park Revenue: http://dor.wa.gov/docs/reports/Local_Retail_Sales/allcy07.pdf
Service Hours & Fare Receipts: http://transit.metrokc.gov/am/reports/2007/2007-RtPerf-PeerComp.pdf