Big Metro Cuts Ahead in 2014

desmond_slideI was going to write a big post with all the numbers, but PubliCola has a perfectly serviceable rundown, so just read that.

Erica’s report is largely based on Metro General Manager Kevin Desmond’s presentation to the Seattle City Council, the slides for which you can find on Metro’s website.

If you’re too lazy to click, the summary is that WSDOT’s mitigation money for viaduct construction runs out before the construction does, at the same time that the temporary $20 license fee authority stops.  Metro will be short $75m annually to maintain current service levels.

Comments

      • Oran says

        Texas is similar to Washington in that it has no state income tax and relies on sales tax, for whatever that’s worth.

      • goodluck says

        texas also has lower land values outside of austin and city cores. higher property taxes would be passed to renters just as it would be placed on homeowners, apodments wouldnt be such a “great” deal anyomre.

      • Stephen F says

        Right, John, but the overall tax take is important. I noted the other day that valuation-wise, the per $1000 rate was higher in East Hill than Greenwood. However, the property value was considerably less and so my house still paid more $$ per absolute square foot and in total than a property in East Hill twice the size in space and acreage. I’m not sure that’s good policy. Tax drivers and business.

      • Nathanael says

        FYI, John, that map is not informative in states where property tax and property value both vary a lot from place to place. For instance, the NY number is completely meaningless because it averages NYC and the rural outskirts of Buffalo.

      • John Bailo says

        Ridiculous…taxes are always paid in proportion to the value of the asset. Or in the case of an income tax, the salary, or in the case of a sales tax, the value of the good. If Seattle is a high property value area, it’s for a reason including the services, and they should be paid for in proportion to that value.

  1. goodluck says

    combine ST, metro, CT, PT, and other smaller agencies’ administrative departments into 1 agency…reduce costs, reduce inter-agency bickering, and reduce redundancies.

    • Adam Bejan Parast says

      I doubt this would be an improvement and in many ways would likely needlessly complicate the governance and politics of it all. Look at how hard it was just to get the CRC passed by transit supportive King County. All of these agencies are large enough that I just don’t see there being much scale of efficiency.

      • lazarus says

        ya, if you want to “right size” (to use a “right wing” buzz word) government then you would want to go smaller rather than larger.

        Smaller transit organizations would theoretically be able to focus more locally and bring better, more responsive service to the people who are actually paying the taxes.

        But create one big, giant, cumbersome government agency and nobody is likely to get anything good out of it.

      • T.K. says

        True, witness Pierce Transit, which is basically a microcosm of this situation as we speak. You could split the district in two right down I-5 and everyone would be happier.

    • David L says

      God, no. King County voters shouldn’t yoke ourselves to transit-hostile jurisdictions any more than we have to. When we do have to (for regional transit or fundraising), we have ST. For everything within our jurisdictions, we can use Metro without involving anyone else. Now if only the state would let us fund Metro the way we would like…

    • reality based commute says

      There is very little duplication of services or inter-agency bickering. The GM’s of ST and all bus agencies meet every month to coordinate. You might save a little office staff, but you would lose a lot of local control. Not good for King County which is 62% of transit service in the state.

      • djw says

        No, that kind of regional mobility is really valuable to people who don’t drive. It absolutely would be a tragedy to lose it; it’s worth fighting for. I live part-time in a midwestern city with pretty decent transit (although the fine folks here would find a lot to criticize), but you can’t get anywhere out of county. It’s awful, and it makes me appreciate the Blaine–Olympia possibilities of Washington.

      • Nathanael says

        “I have Aspergers”

        I knew there was a reason I liked you, even though you *do* make the mistake of trusting Republicans. :-)

  2. Bernie says

    Also outlined over at the Times, Bus service faces cutbacks; Metro asks city for help a couple of days ago.

    The state supplied $32 million from the viaduct-replacement budget for more buses and more service hours so people could get out of their cars, as Highway 99 construction narrowed traffic to two lanes each direction.

    Car traffic on the viaduct has dropped by 25,000 over the last two years, while transit use grew 26 percent on West Seattle routes that received a boost from state funds.

    Seems pretty clear that if the need for transit is created by the Viaduct replacement project the logical place to extract the money is at tolling stations on the West Seattle bridge and the AK Way Viaduct.

    How are we going to be able to keep the buses moving fast, so they can get in and out of downtown, so people can choose to ride the bus, so they don’t drive to work and gum up the downtown?” asked Desmond.

    Simple, instead of a $20 car tab fee institute a real Congestion Reduction Charge to drive through the CBD.

    • Ben Schiendelman says

      That’s terrible for the economy of the state. Subsidizing trips that bypass the CBD is a net loss for us.

      • Bernie says

        Isn’t a charge for people that drive through the CBD the opposite of a subsidy? My suggestion for doing this (i.e. eliminate diversion from AK Way because it’s tolled) is as you enter the CBD you get “rung up” for whatever the toll is on the viaduct. If you park at a city affiliated spot the toll is credited toward your parking. Bingo, no incentive to divert from the viaduct if you’re getting tolled anyway and people doing business DT are refunded the toll in the form of a parking rebate. You tax only the people going through DT which is what the Deep Debt Tunnel is all about. So it puts the system we’re going to need to toll that in place now.

  3. David B. says

    If Seattle takes transit as a serious priority, then these cuts need not necessarily happen… oh, sh*t.

    • reality based commute says

      I see this comment all of the time, but surface+transit would still mean more congestion in downtown Seattle. The real issue is when will Seattle, who talks a good transit game, actually stop storing cars (parking) on our downtown streets and use that right of way for bikes and buses.

    • says

      I’m sure the people in charge will look at the situation and go “Oh shit, we don’t have enough mitigation money so transit is going to get screwed, maybe we should reconsider a lower-cost option.” Oh wait, this is the Washington State Department of Moving Automobiles we’re talking about.

  4. Hornsby says

    There’s a $60 million annual expense Metro incurs for “Demand Response”. That is a kind of service that costs Metro $50 in operating expense per passenger trip:

    http://www.ntdprogram.gov/ntdprogram/pubs/profiles/2011/agency_profiles/0001.pdf

    Why is that category of expenses justified?

    Also, Erica’s data is misleading. It suggests there’s some kind of recent increase in passenger usage of Metro’s services. Fact is, overall use of Metro services is down, and still is below 2008’s level. That means service cuts are appropriate, and service needs to be reallocated from poor-performing routes.

    There were 123 million unlinked passenger trips in 2008. Metro NTD data 2008:

    http://www.ntdprogram.gov/ntdprogram/pubs/profiles/2008/agency_profiles/0001.pdf

    There were 116 million unlinked passenger trips in 2009. Metro NTD data 2009:

    http://www.ntdprogram.gov/ntdprogram/pubs/profiles/2009/agency_profiles/0001.pdf

    There were 114 million unlinked passenger trips in 2010. Metro NTD data 2010:

    http://www.ntdprogram.gov/ntdprogram/pubs/profiles/2010/agency_profiles/0001.pdf

    There were 117 million unlinked passenger trips in 2011. Metro NTD data 2011:

    http://www.ntdprogram.gov/ntdprogram/pubs/profiles/2011/agency_profiles/0001.pdf

    • David L says

      Why is that category of expenses justified?

      Because it’s federally mandated. That is ADA paratransit service. Metro is required to provide it to the areas served by regular service during the span of service when regular service is operating. Believe me, Metro would love to reduce that expense.

      Fact is, overall use of Metro services is down, and still is below 2008′s level. That means service cuts are appropriate, and service needs to be reallocated from poor-performing routes.

      Service has already been cut by approximately that much from 2008’s level, if you exclude additional service hours that were devoted to making schedules more realistic. Take a look at the service hours numbers in the documents you cited.

      There are almost no “poor-performing routes” in the Seattle portion of the network (about 7 daily buses total, out of several hundred in service). If not for political pressure supporting some inefficient patterns, the network could be more efficient, but the hours saved would still be needed to address severe overstress in parts of the network.

      • Matt L (aka Angry Transit Nerd) says

        In 2009 the auditor determined that Access was providing service in excess of ADA requirements, serving areas that do not have fixed-route service and providing trips outside of times when fixed-route service operates.

        Access is the only agency we identified that exceeds
        the ADA by providing more hours of service than what is
        required.

        Access also charges only a single fare, $1.00, whereas the ADA allows paratransit fares to be up to double the fixed-route fare.

        Maybe this is the right thing to do, but you can’t just blame the ADA for Access’ terrible cost-efficiency.

      • David L says

        Fair enough, but the auditor only identified approximately $2-$4 million of ongoing potential savings from reducing service and increasing fares to ADA levels. That’s not nothing, but it’s around 5% of the current Access expenditures, and a bit less than that of the potential 2014+ shortfall.

      • Hornsby says

        That “Demand Response” cost per boarding Metro is incurring of $50 seems pretty steep, especially since TriMet’s “Demand Response” cost only is $31 per boarding:

        http://www.ntdprogram.gov/ntdprogram/pubs/profiles/2011/agency_profiles/0008.pdf

        If not for political pressure supporting some inefficient patterns, the network could be more efficient,

        What are those “political pressures”? The councilmembers would prefer to hike taxes as opposed to making the system more efficient?

      • David L says

        No, riders who would have to transfer under proposed reorganizations of service loudly complain, and the Council makes Metro keep their inefficient one-seat rides.

      • Hornsby says

        Only about 150 folks would need to start transferring buses.

        Not too many of them would complain loudly.

        Answering machines and employees deal with all phone calls anyway.

        What’s wrong with being efficient with your bus routes?

      • David L says

        Ask the Council. Metro would love to implement more effective service patterns, but keeps getting blocked by the Council, based on constituent complaints.

      • asdf says

        An average cost of $50 or even $30 per trip seems very excessive. To put that into perspective, for $35 + tip, Flat Rate For Hire will take me from home to the airport, a 19-mile trip.

        I find it really hard to believe that the average paratransit trip that gets taken goes anywhere near this far. Just as a taxi ride to the local supermarket doesn’t cost as much as a taxi does to go 19 miles to the airport, a paratransit ride shouldn’t either.

        A taxi ride for 2 miles (typical distance to a local supermarket) costs around $10. Paratransit should not need to cost significantly more than this.

        Another thing that should be asked about paratransit is if there are any rules about which types of trips a person is allowed to make on it. Does it have to be for an approved reason, such as getting to work or a medical appointment? Or is it ok for someone to ride paratransit to go see a movie at the taxpayers’ expense? I would also argue that no one should need to use paratransit to go grocery shopping – for far less than the cost of transporting someone to the store and back, we can simply the shipping and handling charges for the store to deliver the groceries to the person who needs them.

      • Nathanael says

        asdf:

        Paratransit is required to be available for any trip for which an able-bodied person could have taken the regular fixed-route bus system, but the disabled person was prevented from taking the bus system due to a disability.

        (Such as being in a wheelchair with a lack of sidewalks to the bus stop, a lack of low-floor buses, buses being inaccessible to the blind, lack of adequate and comprehensible information so that those with mental disabilities can understand the bus system, etc. etc. etc.)

        The only exceptions, IIRC, are:
        – people who are further than a certain distance (I think it’s 1/4 mile?) from fixed-route bus service are assumed to not have access to the fixed-route bus system even if they aren’t disabled, so they don’t get paratransit.
        – peak-only commuter bus routes don’t count as part of the fixed-route bus system for paratransit purposes.

        The paratransit rules were supposed to be a big stick to force cities to buy low-floor kneeling buses, build proper sidewalks, etc. etc. On the whole, they have actually worked this way, as intended (though NYC is doing its best to avoid making the subway accessible, which is entirely contrary to the intent of the ADA rules).

        Now, what’s gone wrong with paratransit is that there are groups of people who could never conceivably have used the fixed-route bus system, even *with* proper sidewalks and low-floor buses and facilities for the blind, who are using the paratransit system heavily. Mostly kidney dialysis patients, from what I’ve read. This is a group which ought to have a separately budgeted transportation budget coming out of the medical budget.

    • Hornsby says

      How many of those “loud” riders could there possibly be? 150? It’d be great if you could back up your claim with some, you know, facts.

      • Brent says

        … such as where you get that number 150. If you want to know how many complaints Metro has gotten, ask them.

      • David L says

        Go back and look at proposed restructures for the last decade or so. Each time, Metro comes out with an ambitious plan, only to see it significantly watered down after riders complain to the council.

        It doesn’t matter how many people complain; it matters how council members react to those complaints, and the history is that they are too fearful of the complaints to allow Metro to take the action it wants.

  5. Ryan on Summit says

    Did the fact that mitigation funds ran out before construction ended come from Metro spending too fast on other uses? Or was it undervalued? If the latter, then this is exactly what we’ve been talking about when we mention *cost overruns* that the city will end up paying for.

    • David L says

      It was never intended to last through the whole construction period. It was meant to be a stopgap until the Legislature passed the comprehensive transportation bill which it now looks unlikely to pass.

    • Mark Y says

      The mitigation funds were meant to supplement Metro until a new MVET tax was in place, but the legislature never bothered to pass the MVET. It’s the legislature who’s to blame for that money running out.

      • Breadbaker says

        I wouldn’t lay this at Ed Murray’s feet. Or even Rodney Tom’s. Rather, it’s the governmental habit, in our state, of taking the wish for the deed. In order to balance a budget for the tunnel, you conjure up funding that doesn’t exist because if you can’t, you can’t make the numbers work out in the first instance. Then when the fake revenue doesn’t exist, you find some other emergency funds to use. If you go back and read about how the state Capitol and other buildings were financed, we were doing the exact same thing over a century ago. It’s the water, you might say (which is appropriate given where the Olympia plant used to be).

  6. AlexKven says

    This really sucks. Why do our state transit laws have to suck?
    Our state legislature probably couldn’t care less about transit. How could they watch this PT disaster go down without even lifting a finger? They just don’t think that transit is an important enough consideration to give it anything more than a foundation made of sand? Don’t they care about the people that need transit to LIVE?

    Of course not. Our legislators are rich enough to operate a car, so why would they care to save bus service?

    • Matt L (aka Angry Transit Nerd) says

      This is why.

      While Seattle is the state’s economic engine, it has only a small fraction of the state’s population, so we get to have Republican dickheads from eastern Washington call us entitled while happily having their roads, schools, and social services paid for with Seattle’s tax dollars.

    • Martin H. Duke says

      Our state transit laws suck because the legislature doesn’t care, which in turn is because most voters don’t care about transit. PT’s situation has nothing to do with the legislature, and everything to do with the fact that voters decided it just wasn’t important enough to do anything about.

  7. mic says

    If you want to put this in perspective, extract the amount being spent on transit in the Puget Sound from the National Transit Database and compare it to any 5 large west coast cities. Overall, we’re not underfunded, just over spent.

    • Hornsby says

      ?????

      Bad analysis. The NTD doesn’t even hint at the amount of taxing any of the reporting agencies engage in. If you look at the amount of taxing done in the Puget Sound region (by ST, Metro, PT, CT, ET, SDOT, TBDs in Sea. and Bellevue, etc.) it’s about $1.5 billion annually. That’s FAR more taxing for transit than in ANY comparable region — by several multiples.

      You get that, right mic? The NTD pdfs don’t show squat about relative taxing practices by the transit services providers.

      • mic says

        Huh? I think you made my point. “That’s FAR more taxing for transit than in ANY comparable region — by several multiples.”.
        The fact that service is being cannibalized at an alarming rate should turn some heads inward, not just to Olympia for the next big ‘fix’.

      • David L says

        And the difference is mostly made up by the lack of state support for transit. WA state provides less support for transit than any other state in the country with a significant urban area.

      • Nathanael says

        California has a large, continuous, rolling, state program of funding for urban transit, for instance.

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