Explainer: Why We Need to Save Metro

On April 22, there will be a special election to fund King County Metro. Below is an updated version of a post I wrote a year ago explaining the context. You can also read the STB editorial board’s arguments in favor of Prop. 1.

What are we voting on April 22?
We’re voting on King County Proposition 1: a 0.1% sales tax and a $60/year car fee (with a rebate for low-income individuals) to fund roads and transit in King County over 10 years. 60% of funds raised would go to buses, and 40% to roads.

Why are we having this vote now?
King County Metro is facing a serious budget shortfall in 2014. This means that they’ll need to cut service by 17% to break even. 600,000 service hours will be cut.  65 routes would be deleted, and 86 would be reduced or revised. All in all, 2/3 of Metro routes would be affected.

Wait… didn’t we just do this two years ago?
Sort of, but it was temporary. In 2011 King County passed a $20 “congestion reduction charge” on all vehicles registered in the county. This bought us $25 million a year as part of the deal that also ended the Ride Free Area, but it will expire in 2014.

How bad is it?
There’s a $60M gap in 2014, and a combined $1.2B between 2008, when the recession began, and 2015.

SalesTax-Chart1-490x333

Ok, that’s bad. Can’t they just, you know… trim the fat?
Well, they have been.  In 2008 they reduced operating expenses, gutted the capital fund (which pays for important stuff like running new trolleybus wire, etc.), and increased fares. That bought $30M.  It also arguably made the system more efficient. Then in 2011, they passed the CRC and got the unions to take a pay cut, saving tens of millions more.  WSDOT came through with $32M in mitigation money to deal with Viaduct headaches, but it also runs out in 2014… two years before the Viaduct opens. This mitigation money helps add additional trips to crowded West Seattle routes.  Riding in from West Seattle will suck even more when it goes away. (Update: the mitigation money has been restored for now.) All told, Metro has cut $726M from the budget since 2009. There are probably a few  routes that could  stand to be cut, but doing so now would do way more harm than good.

metro-budget-gap

Oh, and “cutting the fat” ain’t so easy if you’ve ever been to a community meeting where cuts were proposed.  People get angry, they call their Councilmembers, and Metro backs off. Everyone seems to think the fat is in some other neighborhood.

(All that aside, Seattle’s a growing city with a healthy economy and a low unemployment rate. Metro should be increasing service, not cutting it, as Metro’s General Manager Kevin Desmond argues here.)

What about raising money from the fare box?
They’ve done it multiple times.  There’s only so much blood you can squeeze from a stone. Back in 2006, when peak fares were just $1.50, Metro predicted fares would rise just 75 cents by 2016.  As it turns out, peak fares are already at $2.50 and will probably rise again soon.

Okay, how about all that money spent on light rail and streetcars?
Those were built by different agencies (Seattle DOT, Sound Transit) with different funding sources. Sound Transit has a diversified funding base, including a Motor Vehicle Excise Tax or MVET along with a sales tax. That means Sound Transit can weather the recession a bit better.  Also, Sound Transit spends a lot of its money on capital projects like new light rail lines, which (a) can be spread out over more years if necessary, and (b) tend to get cheaper when there’s a recession and construction firms are hungry for work.

Okay fine, but what about the “Transit Now” tax we passed in 2006?
That was great! It got us RapidRide and a bunch of other stuff. But because it was a sales tax, it shrunk during the recession and ended up raising less than projected.  Since those funds were earmarked for RapidRide as the voters approved them, they can’t be moved into another bucket to save costs.

Wait a minute, this is craziness… Why are Metro’s finances in such bad shape to begin with?
Back in 1999, state voters approved Tim Eyman’s I-695, which would have gutted transit funding across the state by eliminating the state’s ability to charge an MVET.  I-695 was declared unconstitutional, but then-Governor Locke and the legislature were so scared of being run out of Olympia that they killed the MVET themselves the following year.  That blew a $500M hole in the state transportation budget. Here in King County, Metro lost an estimated $125M over the 2003-4 biennium, which we replaced by increasing the sales tax from 0.6% to 0.8% (and eventually to the legal maximum of 0.9% in 2006 with Transit Now). But there are two problems with a sales tax: it’s regressive, and it’s tied to the economy. Once the recession hit in 2008, everyone cut back on spending and sales tax revenues went in the toilet. It’s not just Metro: transit agencies all over the state, including the Washington State Ferries,  haven’t really made up for the money they lost after the MVET went away.

So what can we do about it?
Ideally we’d bring back MVET funding, at least here in King County. The thing about an MVET is that it’s progressive and predictable (versus a sales tax, which is regressive and volatile), since it’s based on the current value of all the cars in the county.  This would get us back to a healthy mix of tax revenue so that no one source can send the budget into a tailspin. However, the legislature declined to give us this authority.  What we can do instead is vote on a sales tax and a flat fee on cars, which is exactly what’s on the ballot April 22.

You’ve convinced me. How do I vote?

Look for your ballot in the mail.

Comments

  1. says

    All of the “against” arguments bring up wages (of Metro employees) which is strangely absent here.

      • William Aitken says

        What pay cut? They didn’t get a COLA one year. That isn’t what normal people mean when they say “take a pay cut”, they mean that _nominal_ wages were reduced.

      • Kyle S. says

        Bullshit that skipping COLA isn’t a pay cut! My rent didn’t “skip COLA” when my paycheck did.

      • CharlotteRoyal says

        Heck, my pay is going down, while my rent is going up. Now we add Commerade Sawant’s $15/hr to the mix and then I won’t be doing so hot. My agency has not seen a COLA in SIX years. …but the teachers and bus drivers sure do!

    • FWIW says

      It may be simplistic on my part but, wages paid minus taxes paid to the Feds, are wages spent here in the community in which they are earned. There has to be some benefit beyond just running the bus service to passing Prop 1, and I see one of those benefits as maintaining jobs.
      Sure is strange how some of the loudest complainers are those who say they can’t afford the tabs for their multiple vehicles.

    • says

      Sound Transit can’t even keep up with Metro’s rising costs, having moved the 577, then 560, 566, 567 over to PT because PT can do the same job for less.

      • DrewJ says

        It’s cheaper to live in Pierce County, so wages are lower, and therefore the service is cheaper to operate.

      • Stephen F says

        Not a chance. I can’t fathom how the service hours are cheaper with deadhead in excess of 2 hours+ for one run. This comes down to equipment that PT has plenty of and Metro doesn’t.

      • David Lawson says

        Sadly, Stephen, it does appear that PT is cheaper even with the deadheads. The equipment is ST’s and Metro has plenty of base capacity on the Eastside to hold it. Lower employee pay and benefits, commensurate with Pierce County’s lower cost of living, is the main reason for the cost difference.

      • Stephen F says

        That’s not what has been indicated to me by Bellevue and East Base operators at all. The words is there isn’t enough equipment.

      • David Lawson says

        The problem with that rumor is that it would be easy for ST to bring more equipment if it chose to.

        ST may have furnished insufficient equipment to run the service it has contracted to Metro (or Metro may be too slow at returning BO equipment to service) but there is no reason ST couldn’t provide Metro with more equipment to run more service. Metro has the capacity to store and maintain more equipment at East Base.

      • says

        PT used to have artics. CT got them.

        If equipment was an issue, ST would move it around. They’ve done it before.

      • says

        I can’t fathom how the service hours are cheaper with deadhead in excess of 2 hours+ for one run.

        Which deadheads are 2+ hours?

        560 deadheads can be run as an in-service 574.

        Outbound 577-8 deadheads originate from the OMF. Deadheading to Federal Way Transit Center: South Base, 14 miles; PT 21 miles; East Base 27.

        566: East wins if you originate from Redmond TC. For Auburn TC, South Base is 20 miles, PT is also 20 miles.

    • David Lawson says

      The route is a near clone of ST Route 545. The service is still needed because Route 545 is over capacity at rush hour. The result of deleting the 268 would be more pass-ups on the 545.

      A similar situation exists with the 306, which is proposed for deletion and mostly overlaps the Metro 312 and ST 522.

      • John Bailo says

        Aren’t ST and Metro two separate budgets?

        Just because Metro cuts theirs, doesn’t mean that ST can’t increase service, right?

      • Mike Orr says

        They are separate budgets, but that doesn’t mean Sound Transit has money to increase service. if it did, we might have a Kent-Seattle expresss by now.

      • John Bailo says

        We’ll have a Kent-Seattle Express shortly.

        It leaves from Angle Lake and is called LINK.

      • asdf says

        When I first heard about the proposed Metro cuts, I assumed that people who commute on Sound Transit will not be affected. But if Metro cuts create overcrowding on parallel Sound Transit routes, Sound Transit riders will be affected. And if Sound Transit is pressured to plug the gap by gutting all-day service in favor of more peak trips (to replace discontinued Metro routes), even off-peak Sound Transit riders will be affected.

      • Mike Orr says

        If you drive to the P&R. I doubt Metro will change the Kent buses for Angle Lake station, since the roads are so indirect, many people are going to the airport itself, and neither Metro nor ST has money for additional routes.

      • John Bailo says

        At Mike Orr:

        So just terminate the 180 at Angle Lake and people can transfer to LINK to get to Sea-Tac.

        In fact, make it a two stop shuttle.

        Kent Station-LINK night and day.

  2. William Aitken says

    Cost of Operations 2008: $550,232,699
    Cost of Operations 2012: $634,822,929

    2008 passenger boardings: 126,528,257
    2012 passenger boardings: 123,127,310

    2008 passenger miles: 544,592,426
    2012 passenger miles: 492,657,222

    All numbers from Metro’s annual management reports for 2008 and 2012. 2008 was the peak year for ridership, 2012 is the most recent year for which there’s a report (they are published in October).
    Passenger boardings includes Metro operated ST buses and DART, passenger miles only include Metro buses [I'm not cherry picking here, the percentage decline in boardings is similar if you only look at Metro bus boardings, passenger miles aren't reported for ST/DART]

    Vehicle miles and vehicle hours are each up about 2% for Metro, and less than that including DART and ST.

    So costs are up about 15%, while boardings are down about 3%, and passenger miles down more than that.

    Adjusting for CPI 550 million 2008 dollars is about 590 million 2012 dollars.

    So just where are the cost savings?

    • Kelly says

      Here is the issue with cpi when looking at businesses. First, there are many things calculated into the cpi that transit doesn’t need to buy (food for example), and other things they buy in surplus (fuel and heath insurance). Apples, meet oranges.

    • aw says

      Why should CPI be used as the inflation adjustor? Or to put it another way, what does the cost of a loaf of bread have to do with the cost of operating a transit system?

      • William Aitken says

        The key point is that when most people hear that “huge cuts have been made” they expect that the end product is a smaller number, not one that’s 15% bigger.

        The point of the CPI deflator was to sketch an argument that inflation isn’t the whole story here. I used CPI mostly because it was easy — the BLS has an online claculator — but agree that something else would probably be appropriate. What about ECI since most of Metro’s costs are mostly labor? I don’t have time to hunt down the data today, but someone is is (of course) welcome to.

      • asdf says

        It’s very simple. Bus drivers get health insurance. The cost of health insurance goes up by at least 10% every year. Therefore, until this country finds a way to start reigning in medical costs, Metro’s costs are going to go up.

      • Brent says

        That brings an analogy to mind:

        Opposing Prop 1 because some drivers might be getting paid a little too much is like opposing government-subsidized health care because private insurance firms might make a profit. Both lose sight of the larger question of why we have public transit and government-subsidized health care. And since we like talking about supply and demand here, it seems only natural that enabling a lot more poor people to have access to health care is going to have a demand-side effect, pushing up what health care providers can charge.

        Metro does not exist to provide jobs. It exists so that the masses can get around, including people with disabilities, youth, seniors, and even poor people. It also exists as an alternative to other transportation modes with a larger per capita footprint and carbon footprint. If someone is making a living as an operator, that is a bonus, not a reason to hate transit.

    • KyleK says

      Apart from the CPI issue pointed out by others (transit agencies have been getting killed over the last decade, like every other business, by runaway healthcare costs – this trend didnt slow down until 2012) You are missing that Metro doesnt just spend money on Operations. There is a capital budget that mostly goes to replacing buses. Buses need to be replaced about every 12 years.

      Including the ridership numbers isnt meaningful at all — you are just showing that passenger revenue was down because of the recession (it cratered then rebounded between the two data points you show.)

      • William Aitken says

        Huh? The whole point of running buses is for people to ride, boardings and passenger miles are the product.

        2008 Capex 101,553,964
        2012 Capex 182,800,221

        That’s a 44% increase. So the issue isn’t that all the savings were in capex. I deliberately avoided including capex because I wouldn’t expect them to correlate well with outputs on a single year basis, and because doing so really would have been dishonest

        The point is Metro spends more now to do less. Where are the savings?

      • David Lawson says

        William, much of the 2012 capex was federally funded, so you are comparing apples and oranges.

        Passenger miles are not the product of running buses. They are the product of sprawl-promoting land use policies that result in very long bus routes which perform horribly on cost metrics. They say that a ride from Queen Anne to downtown is worthless while one from North Bend to downtown is highly desirable, when the opposite is true from an efficiency standpoint.

        Passenger boardings are a much better measure.

      • KyleK says

        “The point is Metro spends more now to do less.”

        This is counterfactual. You are using measures that are sensitive to ridership and type of ridership to draw that conclusion. Metro continued to provide the same level of service as ridership dropped off a cliff in 2009. Both of the measures you use would also fall off a cliff, but the actual service provided by Metro didnt change at all.

        Regarding Capital — you need to access Metro’s finance plan to understand the ins and outs of the cap and operating budgets and the reasons for their shortfall. I’m simply pointing out that attempting to come to conculsions based on two operating data points is too simplistic.

      • William Aitken says

        @Mark. I was responding specifically to KyleK’s complaint that I was misleading people by concentrating on OpEx. I did so, because I’d expect CapEx to fluctuate wildly from year, and not to be nearly as easy to control on a short term basis. I also did this precisely to avoid accusations that I was skewing the data by including some one time cost or another.

        I obuiously wasn’t clear. I’m happy to stick to just boardings. They’re down. Not as badly as passenger miles (which as you point out is a good thing), but still meaningfully.

        @KyleK: It sounds like what you are saying is that Metro’s job is to run buses. I reject this proposition: their job is to move people. There have been a number of route restructurings and service hour cuts since 2008, and yet you say “the actual service provided by Metro didnt change at all”, what does this even nmean? Frankly, it sounds like what you are saying is that Metro’s finances are too complicated for us mere mortals to understand, and that we should just trust our leaders?

      • KyleK says

        William

        I’m saying that Metro doesnt control things like the massive job losses that came from the recession and hit ridership, but you know that. If you started that graph in 2010 you would show massive growth in every metric every year.

        No, I’m not saying that mere mortals can’t understand it. I’m saying you don’t. Or don’t want to. If you are going to make hay about finances and efficiencies you need to come prepared with the whole financial picture.

      • William Aitken says

        Hmm… can’t the same thing be said about the Sales Tax graph in the originaal article — it’s up pretty well since 2010.

    • David Lawson says

      Passenger miles are a very poor metric and shouldn’t be used to evaluate anything. They are greatest on the least efficient service, and very low on the service that returns the best bang for the buck.

      Total passenger boardings are a better metric.

      The answer to your question is largely: they were eaten by 1) fuel, and 2) increased health care costs.

      • William Aitken says

        I’m not convinced that fuel is much of an issue. Diesel prices spiked through 4 dollars a gallon for much of 2008, before crashing in 2009. They’ve been back around 4 bucks since 2011. I’d be surprised if there’s even 10 million dollars there.

        I don’t think any one metric is ideal, but agree that boardings is probably the best. Total passenger boardings are down 2 to 3 % over the five year period.

      • David Lawson says

        You are cherrypicking years to get the result “boardings are down.” Make the same comparison starting from virtually any other year, and it would look extremely different

      • Adam Bejan Parast says

        If I remember correctly leading up to 2008 Metro had a very favorably priced bulk diesel contract which was coming up for renewal. If that is correct I’m sure they’re paying more since any renewed contract would have increased to match higher fuel prices.

    • GuyOnBeaconHill says

      2012 Annual Report (operating expenditures on p. 4)

      2008 Annual Report (operating expenditures on p. 11)

      The biggest jump in expenditures for Metro is in the category of Rail Operations (~$4 mil to ~$23 mil). All other categories seem to show a relatively uniform increase. The increase in rail operations cost is interesting because it appears that Metro bears the cost of operating Link but doesn’t get to count the ridership in its statistics. Does the same apply to ST Express buses? (Metro counts the cost of operating the buses in its accounts but doesn’t get to claim the riders?)

      • GuyOnBeaconHill says

        Metro does include payments from ST in its revenue numbers, but it looks like the ridership for those operations is credited to ST. That would tend to skew the ridership and efficiency numbers considerably.

      • William Aitken says

        @Guy. You are right.

        I think the best approachs are either to discount the ~$26M that Link cost Metro in 2012 or add in its ~8.5M boarding to the 123M boardings on Metro operated buses (including ST buses and DART).

        The former approach has costs up about 10% for a 2.5% service reduction.

        The latter approach would put Link + Metro operated ST buses + Metro buses + dart around 132M boardings in 2012, which is about a 5% increase in passenger volumes. (and a 15% bump in expenses)

        Either way nominal increase in expenses are up considerably compared to outputs.

      • David Lawson says

        William, the other thing you have to consider is that there was an increase in the amount of ST-funded bus service Metro was providing between 2008 and 2012 (although that number dropped again in 2013). Of Metro-operated routes, there were major frequency improvements on the 545 and 554, minor improvements on the 522 and 550, a new route 542, and more trips on 555/556/566. The expenses are included in Metro’s expenses, and the amount ST pays is included in revenue, but Metro doesn’t get to claim ST’s passengers in its total ridership numbers.

      • William Aitken says

        @David. the 126M boardings to 123M boardings drop includes ST bus services, without the ST service, the drop is bigger.

      • David Lawson says

        You’re right. That’s the only place I’ve seen where they include the ST number; often such comparisons don’t include it.

  3. VAg says

    There are few things which I really dislike about the way proposition is made.
    Especially, that the routes they’re cutting are the routes that actually are used, like the ones to the University, which is basically extortion, in my opinion.
    What KCM says about fees and ticket prices, there are few things that should be done: first they must raise number of paying passengers — now you just have to say, I can’t pay and driver will board you for free — no ticket — no board; second, cash fares must be twice as expensive as orca fares — that would cut delays (time on route, overtime paid etc), improve timing & reliability — as a consequence may be increase ridership and desire of people to ride the buses. Third, paper transfers must go away — only orca transfers must remain, or you pay 4 times the orca user for a ride with a transfer.

    • David Lawson says

      Especially, that the routes they’re cutting are the routes that actually are used, like the ones to the University, which is basically extortion, in my opinion.

      There is no longer a significant number of routes that are not “actually used,” and all of them would be cut entirely under the Metro proposal. You just can’t cut 17% without cutting a lot of service that people “actually use.” There is almost no fat — maybe 3%-4% — left in the network.

      What KCM says about fees and ticket prices, there are few things that should be done: first they must raise number of paying passengers — now you just have to say, I can’t pay and driver will board you for free — no ticket — no board

      Metro stopped asking drivers to enforce this after a driver was shot in the late 1970s. How would you propose to enforce it? The only effective way I can see is to have a LEO on every bus. That costs a whole lot more than fare evasion.

      • Kelly says

        Lets say we treat fare evasion as they do in NYC. If you board a bus and don’t pay, the bus doesn’t move until either A) You get off, or B) The police remove you from the bus.

        The reason why drivers usually do not enforce the fare is that it is the number 1 cause of operator assaults. If you want to figure out the cost of L&I of 1 operator assault to trying to collect the fare from EVERY non-paying passenger, you are welcome to run the numbers.

      • David Lawson says

        I would hope that the goal of preventing operator assaults is not merely about reducing insurance claims.

        Having ridden plenty of NYC buses I can assure you that is not the way fare evasion has been handled in NYC anytime in the last two decades, at least officially.

      • William Aitken says

        I don’t think I’m cherry picking. There was a dramatic one time event that depressed ridership in 2009 and 2010. Since then there’s been a slow recovery. Since part of the justification for this new tax is that sales tax revenue was also affected by this one time event, it makes sense to set the baseline as close as possible to before the event.

        Would you rather I say that ridership is up 5% from 2010-2012 (good, but hardly spectacular in context) , while opex are up about 10% in the same period [Unfortunatley, the 2010 report doesn't seperate ST Link Expenses from Metro's ST bus expenses]? The fact is that cost per boarding was flat for several years leading up to 2008. It went up a lot in 2009 because boardings fell of a cliff, and again in 2012 because expenses jumped dramatically. [it also went up a little in each of 2010 and 2011, I'm happy to concede fuel costs and health care costs for those years, but neither really flies for 2012, since diesel costs have been more or less flat since 2011, and health care costs stabilized around then.]

      • d.p. says

        Whoa, David. VAg is expressing precisely the kind of reasonable frustration that could make or break this proposition. You belittle her concerns Metro’s peril.

        The still embarrassingly sluggish ORCA adoption, the lack of a cash surcharge, and the years-past-their-expiration (and yes, massively abused) paper transfers are perfect examples of Metro choosing to ignore efficiency best practices even in the face of a known structural revenue crisis. That looks bad the next time you show up with hands outstretched.

        Here’s the hindsight: The moment the last Congestion Reduction Charge was instated, Metro needed to go straight to Constantine and demand the political cover to spend two years reorganizing the system wholesale. Then, when the [ad hom] in Olympia inevitably failed to tie their own shoes in 2013, Metro could have returned to the voters with experiential evidence that it can offer an effective transit system if provided with sufficient funds.

        But Metro couldn’t even be bothered to reach for the low-hanging fruit. One doesn’t need to buy into the “extortion” rhetoric to feel sympathy for citizens’ ingrained distrust.

        Listen — I voted for Prop 1 because duh. But it should probably concern the Metro faithful that even a significant portion of this forum, including erstwhile Seattle transit follies defender Neutron Burrito, deeply distrusts Metro with their wallets.

      • David Lawson says

        d.p., your concerns that Metro hasn’t taken every opportunity to improve efficiency are entirely valid, although the idea that the inefficiencies could be fixed in a massive two-year undertaking fails to account for any of the political pressure on the Council (who are really Metro’s bosses). But Metro inefficiency wasn’t the argument raised. The argument raised was that Metro, instead of cutting heavily used routes, should cut routes that aren’t “actually used.” That gets you a few one- and two-bus routes around the system. It doesn’t get you anywhere near the magnitude of the cut Metro is facing. “Actually used” buses are going to be cut if Prop 1 fails (even if the ultimate cut is 14% rather than 17%), and there is simply no way to avoid it.

      • d.p. says

        Then you, and Desmond, and Dow, and the KC Council truly have not understood what has been at stake.

        I hesitate to stoke more fires by saying it publicly, but… I honestly think Prop 1 will fail. There are too many objections being voiced from too many directions for me to be optimistic. It’s a low-turnout ballot, and only the objectors seem to be coming out of the woodwork. The official “pro” arguments are meek and incoherent, and the pro-transit electorate is far from enthused. (Who can blame them?)

        And so by doing nothing to improve the system or its political standing for the last two years, Metro has doomed itself to restructure under far worse conditions. How is that defensible?

      • Brent says

        d.p,,

        Metro has not “done nothing”. What about the low-income fare program? … which will be a very strong incentive for poor riders to use ORCA, reduce the excuses for keeping paper transfers, and remove most of the politically correct obstacles to a cash surcharge. And as a side benefit, it will get the farebox out of the way of the poor. That is no small improvement. That is a game-changer, for transit as we know it, all over the country, if we succeed in funding the program and bringing it to fruition.

        What about putting the Ride Free Area out of our misery?

        What about all the stop consolidation exercises (which I realize, some were more successful than others)?

        What about all the work on TSP, which could branch out soon beyond RapidRide?

        What about the bus lanes?

        What about the RTA signs?

        What about the continued fleet conversion to have ramps instead of lifts, and the hard work that went into getting the federal government to pay for most of this fleet conversion?

        What about outfitting all the buses with triumvirates?

        What about the conversion (however sloppy) to pay-as-you-board/exit-in-the-rear?

        Does this amount to “done nothing”?

      • d.p. says

        Brent,

        The death of the Free Ride Area was years overdue, and absolute needed to go hand-in-hand with a strong pro-ORCA/anti-cash push. Think how much more quickly a low-income fare — which both you and I think is a smashing idea — could have come online if the death warrant for paper transfers had already been signed.

        TSP and bus lanes, (sporadically) helpful as they may be, can mostly be credited to the city and not to any great Metro push for restructured efficiency. If anything, a pro-frequency reorganization scheme pushed through after the prior last-ditch funding-gap-filling mechanism would make it easier for SDOT to target lanes and priority where it would prove most effective.

        RTA signs are icing on a transit cake, but they don’t actually make your bus faster or your trip better. That’s a red herring.

        What you seem unable to accept is that a whole lot of voters are struggling with their willingness to check-box another bailout for an agency that can still take you three times longer than it should to get downtown… and then strands you for 30 minutes on your connection even though there are hypothetically 5 different routes that you could take in that general direction. They’re struggling with supporting an agency that bends over backwards to keep core bus routes stuck in traffic, and that can’t wrap their heads around how bad it looks for a bus marked “rapid” to spend nearly 50% of its Ballard-downtown running time on a freaking detour!

        As I’ve spewed hundreds of times over five years in this forum: YOUR SYSTEM EITHER WORKS OR IT DOES NOT. It really is that simple. There really is no in between. And for all the nominal “improvements” for which Metro is straining to take credit, the truth is that our system still fundamentally does not work. It lacks ease, it lacks legibility, it lacks frequency, it lacks useful-service-level span even for basic trips.

        Blueprints for a quality alternative network have been handed to Metro on silver platters many times over, but they’ve chosen politics instead. And their political approach is about to seriously bite them in the ass.

    • djw says

      Especially, that the routes they’re cutting are the routes that actually are used, like the ones to the University, which is basically extortion, in my opinion.

      A patently false accusation. It is only the most heavily used routes that are not candidates for reduction/deletion. (For the University, note that the 44 and the 48, except for a couple of express runs on the latter, aren’t targeted for reduction). You simply can’t come up with a 17% service cut without harming people. If you think one in six buses is currently running empty, you’re very wrong. Look at ridership numbers.

      • DrewJ says

        Yes.
        And for the University buses, the 73 would receive an increase in service to help mitigate part of the cuts of the 71, 72. It’s not extortion; it’s making the 17% cut the least painful as possible.

    • Mike Orr says

      “improve timing & reliability — as a consequence may be increase ridership and desire of people to ride the buses.”

      That costs money. One of the things we lost in the 2008 budget cutting was standby buses that would step in when a bus broke down or was significantly delayed.

      “second, cash fares must be twice as expensive as orca fares …. Third, paper transfers must go away — only orca transfers must remain, or you pay 4 times the orca user for a ride with a transfer.”

      The low-income fare is a first step toward potential cash surcharges and eliminating paper transfers. Poor people are the ones who most regularly pay cash and use paper transfers, because they don’t have money to preload future fares, or time to find a venue to do so at, or a credit card to do it online. A low-income fare will automatically bring a large number of cash-payers into ORCA, and lessen political opposition to cash surchages or eliminating paper transfers.

  4. z7 says

    One early-in-conversation misconception you might encounter: the cuts haven’t happened yet. That is, despite Metro not taking down some advertisements for years, the signs regarding bus cuts are current, and the status quo reflects the /un/cut bus system.

  5. Brent says

    We’ve completely glossed over the human element. Proposition 1 is about mobility for thousands of riders with disabilities, thousands of senior citizens who can’t or don’t drive, thousands of people who can’t afford a car and need the bus system to get to work, thousands of families who can’t afford a car and depend on transit to get around as a family, and thousands of adults who are unemployed or underemployed, and have no other mobility options they can afford.

    Proposition 1 is also about funding the low-income fare program. There is no back-up plan for funding the program if Prop 1 fails. Unlike service hour increases, this program has not been included in any promises from previous ballot campaigns. You don’t get to say “I support the low-income fare program, but I think Metro should not get any money to fund it.” If you don’t support funding the program, you don’t support the program.

    The low-income fare program will save low-income riders up to $864 a year in fares, or maybe a little more if they ride enough to justify a monthly pass, but don’t get one.

    Also, failure of Prop 1 will mean the youth fare will go up to $1.50 next March instead of staying $1.25. A transit-dependent family with two kids could end up spending an extra $216 a year to afford bus fare for the kids. Let’s be real about this. Most kids are being raised in familiies who can only marginally afford to raise them. Defeat of proposition 1 will negatively impact families and children, even before one accounts for the lost bus service, both by raising the youth fare and by scuttling the low-income fare the parents desperately need to make ends meet.

    On or before April 22, vote pro-social-justice. Vote-pro-seniors. Vote pro-employability. Vote-pro-mobility for those who can’t drive. Vote pro-family. Vote Yes.

    • shotsix says

      In some ways, I think it does more harm than good to make transit (in the minds of voters) a social service agency rather than transportation infrastructure. We are lucky in the PNW to have a “the bus is for me” attitude as people just see it as another mode for personal mobility, and not as a social service for somebody else. Social service agencies should definitely provide methods for accessing transit, but keep Metro focused on the geeky parts of public transit logistics (it seems like Sound Transit is doing a better job of this).

    • Mike Orr says

      Some of Metro’s riders are people working two part-time jobs in different cities, or even three minimum-wage jobs. That’s not “social service”, it’s “capitalist service”.

      • shotsix says

        Yeah, but it’s a social service in the same way WSDOT/Port of Seattle/et al is a social service…as a socialized (shared cost) way to get people and goods from point A to point B. It’s just easier to get people on board, literally and figuratively, if you make it seem like a piece of infrastructure for them, as a real or perceived middle class benefit.

  6. Brent says

    Now, back to dissecting numbers. Didn’t ST Express service get an upward bump after the 2008 vote? Doesn’t Metro operate Link? Who operates Sounder? How does ST service get accounted for in Metro’s operating costs and service hours?

    • William Aitken says

      I’m sure the data exists somewhere. The management reports provide aggregated data for (Metro operated ST routes, DART and Metro buses) and numbers for Metro buses. The aggregated data only provides passenger boardings, vehicle miles and vehicle hours. The metro bus only data also includes passenger miles and some ratios.

      On the cost side they break out the expenses. Unfortunately, the format is different between management reports is different, and I think that I messed up and forgot to account for Central Link coming on line in 2009.

      For a proper apples to apples comparison, we need to subtract out the cost of Link, so the correct expenditure for 2012 is really about $608M. That’s still a 10.5% nominal increase.

  7. Sam says

    I keep hearing Metro has cut all the fat it can. Don’t a lot of off-peak buses run at less than 50% capacity? Isn’t that inefficient? Isn’t that fat? And if lightly-filled buses is a form of fat or waste, what’s wrong with first adjusting headway to make underutilized buses more full and efficient before asking for more money? Does that make me anti-transit because I think efficiencies should be addressed first before I agree to giving them more of my money?

    • shotsix says

      The freeways also have lots of open spots for cars during non-peak hours…is that a form of waste?

    • Mike Orr says

      Making buses less frequent lowers the ridership, so you can’t make buses twice as full by cutting frequency in half. There are people who will ride 15-minute buses but not 30-minute buses, and most people avoid 60-minute buses if they can. Daytime service subsidizes evening service everywhere in the world, because cutting evening transit affects daytime ridership too: people won’t take a bus to evening activities if they can’t get back on it (A) at all, (B) without having to time their return to once per hour. Cutting frequency in turn makes people less willing to give up a car and take transit everywhere.

    • David Lawson says

      Reducing off-peak service below current (already skeletal) levels makes the network far less useful for the peak riders. Many, many riders (myself included) typically ride during the peak in one direction, and off-peak in the other direction. If buses only ran at peak, I would have to drive to work, increasing road congestion during the AM peak. Other riders need the ability to run errands or make secondary trips on the bus in order to be able to use the bus for their commutes.

      You can cut headways to some extent — but Metro has already done so. Most routes used to be half-hourly until the end of service. Now most of them are hourly late at night. The cuts got so bad that the City of Seattle stepped in to restore half-hourly service on a few of the most congested routes (40, 41, 120).

    • William Aitken says

      Latest available data is 2012. Passenger miles per vehicle mileswas 11. I’m not much of a statistician, but I think that this is a measure (among other things) of how many people are going to be on a randomly chosen bus. Note that on average, we are more likely to see buses that are fuller than this, since it’s likely that our bus observation times coincide with times others choose to travel.

      • aw says

        Most passengers don’t ride end-to-end. The load factor on some parts of the route will be higher (perhaps much higher) than your 11 pass.mi./veh.mi.

      • David Lawson says

        I should clarify that that measure is passenger miles per platform mile. Platform miles include deadheading miles. Given the commuter-service-heavy nature of the Metro system (which partly arose from an overemphasis on passenger miles as a metric) there are quite a lot of deadheading miles with no passengers.

        Look at passenger miles/platform mile metrics on all-day routes and you will get a better idea of how full buses actually are. (And, as aw pointed out, no bus route is full from end to end.)

    • Sam says

      Mike and David, what I hear you saying is Metro must continue to run mostly empty buses during certain times of day because adjusting the headway to make trips more efficient and full will annoy impatient people. Do I have that right?

      • David Lawson says

        That’s the Sam I know and love! I laughed out loud.

        No, I’m saying that adjusting headway beyond a certain point will reduce the usability of the system to the point that more people will start driving, reducing the system’s positive economic and environmental impact.

        You can label those people “impatient” if you like but you can’t change their behavior.

      • William C. says

        So, Sam, when I want to get back from lunch on time, I’m impatient? Good to know. Mind explaining to my boss why I’m missing the team meetings?

      • Mike Orr says

        In the third world, buses don’t move until they’re full. The first passenger has to wait half an hour or an hour for the bus to fill up, and never knows how long it will take. That’s the most “efficient” in terms of bus company expenditures but it’s the least efficient for passengers’ time. The purpose of transit is to get people around and to enable not needing a car. That implies running it around the clock, both in fuller times and emptier times. Otherwise you end up with a peak-only network, and places with a peak-only network have a lot of driving and more cars than people.

  8. Jessica says

    I have a question that I haven’t seen answered in the voter information booklet that came with my ballot or anywhere else– if you guys can help me understand, I’d appreciate it.
    Is this $60 car fee a new fee on top of what I already pay, or is it substituting for an existing fee?
    Car registration in Seattle includes a $20 “local transportation benefit district fee”, a $6 RTA tax (for my car, might be higher or lower for others), and a $20 “King County congestion reduction charge” which goes to Metro Transit.
    Is this $60 substituting for one of the previous $20 fees or is it in addition?

    • Kyle S. says

      Is this $60 substituting for one of the previous $20 fees or is it in addition?

      The $60 fee replaces an existing $20 fee. Your tabs will cost $40 more to renew next year.

      This was explained int the voter information booklet.

      • Jessica says

        thanks.
        Ah, now I see it (in the “rebuttal of statement against”). This should be explained more widely and stated up front. Sure, $40 vs. $60 isn’t really going to be the deciding factor, but why leave people wondering?

      • z7 says

        “levy a 0.1% sales and use tax and a $60 vehicle fee” doesn’t make it completely obvious that the $60 replaces the existing $20 fee.

        In fact, it’s inconsistent: we’re not replacing the current sales tax with a 0.1% sales tax, so it’s reasonable to wonder whether the $60 is additional as well.

      • William Aitken says

        I’m not entirely convinced that it would be legal to say that it replaces an existing levy in the legallly binding part of the ballot since (technically) it’s a brand new entity that is raising this levy. It may well be that the sattement for (which says “Proposition 1 replaces expiring Metro funding”) is the earliest legal spot for this information.

  9. William Aitken says

    Minor Correction: it’s actually King County Transportation District Proposition 1 (you link, so I doubt anyone is really going to be confused.

  10. pragmatic says

    I’m going to vote for Prop 1. I really appreciate the operating cost reductions Metro has already made, however I think there is a lot of room for improvement the routes themselves.

    The routes are designed primarily to be a “single seat” non transfer as much as possible. This results in too many routes and, during non peak times, to many marginally used busses. And Metro can’t provide a point-to-point route to and from all places. I think it’s time to change to a system designed around backbones (think BRT even if it still uses regular lanes) and feeder routes. A well designed system could come pretty close to point-to-point service with one or two transfers.

    By funneling people to backbones, busses with only a few people can be consolidated. Such routes would have very few stops – maybe one at each principal neighborhood and one in between – unlike rapid ride. Since feeders travel only in neighborhoods and have less distance to travel, fewer busses are needed to keep a higher frequency of service. Cost savings in both places. The trick in the design is keeping the transfer time very short, so that riders get comparable service to a single-seat ride.

    For example, if you were to drive from Wallingford to Wedgewood, you might take 45th to I5, then take Lake City Way to 95th NE, and then drive a bit SE to your destination. Using transit, you would take a backbone route from Wallingford to LCW near 95th NE (midpoint between principal stops), then take a feeder SE to your destination.

    A city too small can’t support backbones and feeders because there isn’t enough ridership to keep the frequency of busses up. Without that frequency, transfers take too long. Has Seattle reached the point where the frequency of service – both for the backbones and feeders – can be often enough that a rider doesn’t have to wait more than a few minutes on average?

    If the funding passes this time, there will be a next and I think it will be harder and harder to pass without Metro making more cost-saving changes.

    • David Lawson says

      Has Seattle reached the point where the frequency of service – both for the backbones and feeders – can be often enough that a rider doesn’t have to wait more than a few minutes on average?

      Yes.
      With a little more funding, even more so.

    • asdf says

      The problem is in order for a transfer-based system to work, the “backbone” line needs to be frequent, fast, and extremely reliable. In a few years, Link will be able to function as a backbone for north Seattle, but in the meantime, the 71, 72, and 73 just don’t cut it.

  11. Andrew Smith says

    two years before the Viaduct open

    The viaduct is open and will close in a few years, the tunnel is not open yet but will.

  12. Mathew "RennDawg" Renner says

    I did vote no. I am a bus rider. I have many reasons for voting no. One, members of my family cannot afford the sales tax and car tab hikes. They do not qualify for the low income returns. Two, I live in the South-end. I know that in the end Seattle will get most of this and the rest of the county will only get crumbs. The county executive and most of the council care only for Seattle. The rest of us are sub-human second class citizens to them. Third, I want the cuts to happen. I want drivers to have the loss of job to be a possibility. To many of them think the riders are garbage. They do nor care about being on time. They leave when they feel like it and get there when they feel like.

    • Jeremy says

      Golly, cars are expensive? Who would have thought? The profligate use of cars is only propped up by Americans (5% of the world population) burning some 25% of total world energy. Oh well, I suppose they’ll find the three—or is it five now?—new Saudi Arabias somewhere to make up for the decline: “the capital intensity of this industry is heading in a direction that’s not sustainable” said Lars Christian Bacher, executive vice president for development and production at Norwegian energy company Statoil. Or there’s the hard work and sacrifice method, but that’s about as trendy as a Carter Presidency in late 1980. Turn up the thermostat! No, it seems much more fashionable to wish harm on your fellow citizens as the entirely predictable overuse of the one-time gift of cheap concentrated energy runs dry—an energy hangover?

      • Bill says

        This argument is such crap. They need more money because the gas tax is decreasing – because people are driving more fuel efficient cars. Also, the vehicle registration fee is based on the value of your vehicle, so you pay MORE tax for spending the extra money on a hybrid. These taxes DISCOURAGE making beneficial environmental decisions

      • Jeremy says

        Hmm? Lars Christian Bacher, the executive vice president for development and production at Norwegian energy company Statoil, stated that is no slight problem with oil production. In particular, the legacy oil peak was back in, oh, 2005, and there’s global declines ongoing for all the Majors, despite a “Red Queen Running” spree on junk sources nobody would dream of drilling before, well, now. Or do you know something about oil the majors do not? Would you care to share the specifics? Or is “crap” the extent of your counter-argument to the predicament that was clearly warned about in the Hirsch report?

        Otherwise, I do not pay any registration fees, as I do not own any vehicles, nor do I use any, directly, having last been in a vehicle back in, oh, January, and only five vehicle rides in 2013, and two in 2012. Use less energy. But in the meantime, you can enjoy your higher registration fees, or your longer bread lines as more drivers pile onto the deliciously unmaintained roads—I’ll be walking.

  13. Chris Stefan says

    A quick read of the numbers leads me to believe the increase in Metro’s labor costs can be laid entirely at the feet of rising health-care and pension costs.

    This is a national issue that affects both public and private sector employers nationwide. To expect Metro to solve the problem at the agency level is as insane as to expect Metro to fix the air traffic control system.

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