The Times Doesn’t Know How to Increase Efficiency

The gist of the Times‘s no on Prop 1 editorial ($) is that King County should not replace the expiring tab fee, but instead avoid cuts through the magic of vaguely-specified cost controls. Suggesting that after years of efficiency-oriented service changes, administrative belt-tightening, and multiple fare increases, the deficit can be willed away by more of the same demands a detailed plan to show the numbers, but the Times betrays its fundamental unseriousness by providing only generic union-bashing and right wing talking points about trimming fat.

Their first vague solution is to “reduce labor costs.” Of course, the County can’t simply do that by fiat; it has to be collectively bargained. Personally, I think it would be great for riders if the Amalgamated Transit Union agreed to further cuts in total pay and benefits beyond what they’ve already conceded, and there likely are fair ways to do that. But the Times doesn’t say what compensation level would be acceptable to call off their jihad on transit. How should pay and benefits go down? How much can Metro reasonably recover? Is it enough to avert cuts? Without answers to these, this point is generic union-bashing.

Their second “solution” is to raise fares. A 25 cent fare increase yields about $6.6m annually. With a $60m annual budget gap, that implies a fare increase of $2.25, to $4.50 off-peak/$4.75 one-zone/$5.25 two-zone, if there were no decrease in ridership. Setting aside entirely the social impact on riders, at those prices Metro will have trouble competing with driving on subsidized highways with subsidized gasoline to subsidized parking spaces, and so it won’t actually plug the revenue gap. By suppressing ridership, it is likely to increase Metro’s cost per rider.

Their third source of savings is that old chesnut, “administration.” What positions should Metro eliminate? Public outreach? Service planning? Transit security? The people who clean bus stops? How many millions will that save? Metro’s administrative staff roster was slashed in the early 2000s as part of the cuts arising from I-695, notably including elimination of more than half of the community relations staff, who solicit customer feedback on service changes, and the entire long-range planning team. Where’s the fat to be cut? Again, the Times has nothing useful to say, it merely regurgitates generic talking points.

If the Times board were serious about increasing efficiency, they might start reading STB, where we’ve spent years figuring out how to reduce cost per rider:

  • Construct more light rail.  Transit agencies must pay for the most expensive part of service — the driver — by the hour.  The more people a driver can move in an hour the cheaper each person is.  Link runs fast through urban centers, has ample capacity and the marginal cost of a new rider is essentially zero. Extending Link and restructuring bus services to feed the rail network is a investment, in the true sense of spending one-time capital money to save running cost and serve more customers forever, but the Times ed. board can’t be bothered with such substantive suggestions, preferring instead to bleat vaguely about “cost control”.
  • Restructure the route network to be more frequent for the same cost. If the Times ed board would pay some attention to these fights — and come in on the right side — it would do more good for the system than making deep cuts and assuming that the process will, by means unspecified, increase efficiency.
  • More capital investment. STB was all-in on the 2011 Seattle license fee that would have dedicated $100m over 10 years to bus speed and reliability improvements – making buses run faster with more riders, improving both the numerator and denominator of cost-per-rider. The current prop. 1 detractors were, uh, not as excited about this opportunity, but it still exists, both in Seattle and in the suburbs. The return on investment of some of these projects is astronomical.
  • Charging for use of oversubscribed park-and-rides generates revenue and will boost ridership through more efficient use of spaces.
  • Put transit stations next to ridership centers, rather than hiding them a few blocks away to “minimize impacts.” The Times’s friends in the Bellevue Chamber of Commerce have been working against this for years.
  • Aggressive policy focus on densifying the region’s urban centers as much as as possible.
  • Highway projects that actually integrate transit access, rather than treating as it an afterthought to be cut when times are tough.
  • Redirect the enormous fiscal and regulatory emphasis on easy and cheap car access everywhere, including: untolled freeways and chokepoints; regulatory parking minimums; below-market-rate, publicly owned street parking; the $656m sales tax exemption for gasoline; tax breaks for employer-provided parking; speed limits that kill pedestrians and bicyclists; and extremely valuable urban land set aside for freeways and their expansion.

If the Times is so interested in peer-agency efficiency comparisons, perhaps it should seek to replicate the conditions of peer agencies. Specifically, we should try to approach the density of our peer cities, seriously accommodate someone other than car drivers, and have a rail network of about the same quality and scope. I would welcome a plausible and actionable plan to maintain service levels while allowing the CRC to expire without replacement, but I don’t think I’m going to see one.

What insightful readers will note is that few actual efficiency measures are in the purview of Metro; the Times and the anti-transit crowd aren’t interested in many of them; and STB, which actually is interested in efficiency, supports Prop. 1, as time has run out to hope for long-term reforms. Perhaps voters interested in their transit system should listen to people who actually care about transit.

Comments

  1. Glenn in Portland says

    Yes, the whole “cut out the fat and increase efficiency” concept is based on the supposition that somehow, everyone was running around intentionally wasting taxpayer money before.

    • pnigh says

      Is there one number or metric that shows any cost savings? Looking at the transit operating cost per Vehicle hour (metro’s first financial metric on their site) it remained relatively flat from 2008 to 2011, with a 3% increase in 2012. Are these the savings? At best they could say that they haven’t increased costs.

      The Times arguments appeal to a lot of people and unfortunately the burden of proof is on us. Unless we can show the system is getting more efficient, then people are going to think its not.

      • William Aitken says

        In fairness, Metro has some big costs that are largely out of their control. Diesel costs went up from about $2.50 a gallon to $4.00 a gallon between the end of 2008 and the end of 2012. The healthcare component of of the ECI went up about 16% in the same period. I neither expect nor want Metro to actively hedge energy costs to any meaningful degree — they aren’t an airline — and healthcare costs aren’t terribly controllable except when contracts are negotiated.

      • Glenn in Portland says

        We can hope that ACA will start to impact health insurance costs. The impact healthcare has had on TriMet has been severe enough that the Oregonian was moved to refer to them as a health care agency that incidentally provides transit. They then went on to say agencies like King County Metro have done a much better job at controlling these costs.

      • Bernie says

        Diesel costs went up from about $2.50 a gallon to $4.00 a gallon between the end of 2008 and the end of 2012.

        Only if you pick 2009 as your baseline because the recession killed demand far quicker than supply could adjust. The retail price went from $3.81 in 2008 to $3.92 in 2013.. And Metro doesn’t pay retail; they pay no federal or local excise tax and they buy in volume. Making stuff up is what the knuckle draggers on the NO side of Prop 1 do. More facts, less fiction please.

      • says

        “and healthcare costs aren’t terribly controllable except when contracts are negotiated.”

        The county has been cutting health care costs for years by encouraging employees to work on improving our health. The Wellness program has 3 tiers of deductibles (Bronze, Silver, and Gold) that improve as you take steps to monitor and improve your health.

      • Mark Dublin says

        Is my math correct that sixty dollars a year divided by twelve months comes to five dollars a week? If so, why is there any argument about this from any side- except about why transit-and road maintenance-get ten dollars month.

        Whatever your politics-especially if you’re the editor of the Seattle times- would you really stop doing anything at all you like if the price went up five dollars a month? Beer? Movies? Stadium tickets?

        Let alone theater, concerts and restaurants that charge sixty dollars or more of a meal that consists of tiny portions of things that don’t even look appetizing at all? Or if the wine bill went up a dollar per work-day?

        Prop 1 has provision for people who really can’t afford these things. Everybody else? Only accurate response is “Sheeeesh!”

        Mark Dublin

      • Nathanael says

        Want to avoid diesel costs? Run more of the busiest routes with troileybuses, or streetcars.

        Of course, this requires *spending money* on *capital investment*, as STB has pointed out repeatedly.

      • pnigh says

        In the annual reports, Metro breaks out the cost of Diesel Fuel & Trolley Electricity. These were combined prior to 2011, but electricity is pretty small (<$2M), So well look at them as one expense for arguments sake. There are two ways to look at this (and I’m not sure which one is correct).

        If we compare to 2008, pre-recession vs. post-recession, Diesel expenses were about the same ($40M). Total expenses rose $48M (from $586M to $634M) with none of that due to diesel prices.

        If we compare to 2009, the first year which could reflect recession oriented cost savings, then total expenses rose $30M (from $605M to $635M) with $12M (40%) of the increase due to diesel prices.

        Year|infl adj|Total Exp Adj|2012 vs.|Fuel Exp Adj|2012 vs.|Diesel $/gal (adj)|2012 vs.
        2001|1.296|$456M|39%|$12M|233%|1.94|115%
        2002|1.276|$473M|34%|$12M|233%|1.79|133%
        2003|1.248|$486M|31%|$15M|167%|2.01|107%
        2004|1.215|$499M|27%|$19M|111%|2.46|70%
        2005|1.176|$509M|25%|$26M|54%|3.02|38%
        2006|1.139|$535M|19%|$29M|38%|3.29|27%
        2007|1.107|$559M|14%|$31M|29%|3.36|24%
        2008|1.066|$587M|8%|$40M|0%|4.13|1%
        2009|1.07|$605M|5%|$28M|43%|2.74|52%
        2010|1.053|$618M|3%|$30M|33%|3.28|27%
        2011|1.021|$612M|4%|$39M|3%|4.09|2%
        2012|1|$635M|0%|$40M|0%|4.17|0%

        Note that the inflation adjustment numbers are provided by Metro in the financial cost metrics (see link above).

  2. goodluck says

    Hate to say it, but this was almost designed to fail. Putting a huge financial burden on car owners, who have an alternative that in most cases is preferable to transit througout the county will kill this. You all believe it too subconsciously which is why everyone is falling over themselves trying to counter the various “No” campaign. I’ll maintain that it was doomed from the start so that an alternative funding mechanism in the state will have to be hashed out in the summer.

    • William C. says

      an alternative funding mechanism in the state will have to be hashed out in the summer.

      If the rest of your comment is right, I hope that part’s right too… but I doubt it.

    • z7 says

      There is a risk of a tragedy of the commons, but each car is going to be less valuable — more costly in terms of time and money — if roads are congested due to lack of a robust transit system.

      • goodluck says

        See how that argument goes with almost any patron of a suburban grocery store. Bus rider or not, a lot of people will not support this because its a big hit up front.

        Just to be clear I’m very pro transit and ride every day, but I also own two cars and I’m having trouble swallowing this proposal. I would rather see fare increases for express routes (which I take). Also, the yes campaign should have shown that its actually only a $40 increase per car with the $20 tab already on folks bills.

      • kpt says

        goodluck – you say you would prefer a fare increase on express routes. So, in the spirit of the detailed calculations above, show us how much money that would raise?

        Martin has shown that even doubling the fare on all routes only barely closes the gap if you assume no decrease in ridership. So, how much of an increase are you looking for, and what is it that you think that increase would do?

        I do agree that the campaign should be making it clear that this is a $40 increase and not $60.

      • asdf says

        First off, if you can’t afford a $60 car tab, you probably can’t afford the car in the first place.

        Second, you can only increase fares so much before people do the math and conclude it’s cheaper to drive and pay for gas. Once that happens, ridership will fall off a cliff.

      • goodluck says

        its not about affordability, its about the average non bus rider getting an additional $40 tax (on top of the current $20) to pay for a service that they don’t use with no measured benefit. those of us on here know that theres a benefit to traffic operations but i dont think you can give the credit to the average non transit rider. the majority of them will not vote for it.

      • John Bailo says

        The congestion that was supposed to be solved by the light rail proposals presented back in 1993…decades and billions of dollars ago?

      • William C. says

        John:

        (a) It still hasn’t been fully built.

        (b) I don’t think anyone said light rail solves congestion. It doesn’t, due to induced demand. What it does is enable people to keep moving despite congestion.

      • Brent says

        John,

        Transit doesn’t reduce freeway congestion, any more than widening freeways does. What it does is increase the people-carrying capacity of the transportation system. Notice in today’s piece that Central Link — one train line that is far from its maturity — is carrying more riders per year now than the entire Community Transit system, and will be carrying more passengers than the Pierce Transit system by the end of this year. That’s a lot of people moving without getting stuck in congestion.

        John, we’ve been begging for your help to improve the bus system in Kent. Can we make that happen?

      • John Bailo says

        I’m perfectly satisfied with the bus and transit system here, especially with the Angle Lake station opening.

        My only request is they add a very frequent shuttle between Kent Station and Angle Lake.

      • William C. says

        But what about your quite-warranted complaints about the 150, and the lack of an all-day express? Or are you saying that you will be satisfied once Angle Lack opens?

      • Brent says

        John,

        How do you propose to fund the very-frequent shuttle between Kent Station and Angle Lake Station? ST Express is maxed out, especially in South King County. Metro is about to lose a $20 million per year revenue source, which will mostly use up that $32 million extra Metro hopes to get in sales tax this year.

        I want that shuttle, too, just as badly as you want it. I have offered a way to pay for it. What is your plan?

      • John Bailo says

        Yes, day and night, round the clock, weekday and weekend, LINK service is all that I need.

        And Angle Lake is close enough and will open up soon enough, so long as there is something that can get me back and forth from Kent Station. (And if not, I’m happy to drive and park at Angle Lake.)

        Sounder will do it for rush hours. LINK for off hours. Sound Transit express bus for Eastside. What else do I need?

        The 150 I would then use only as far as Southcenter.

      • Brent says

        “And Angle Lake is close enough and will open up soon enough, so long as there is something that can get me back and forth from Kent Station. (And if not, I’m happy to drive and park at Angle Lake.)”

        You do realize that parking at Angle Lake Station is finite, right? When the parking garage routinely fills up (and I’m betting it will), you’ll either be paying to park there (quickly wiping out that $40 a year you thought you just saved), or wishing for a shuttle between Kent Station and Angle Lake Station that nobody ended up funding (unless Prop 1 passes).

      • John Bailo says

        In my view, I would take every Seattle bound bus from Kent Station and let them unload at Angle Lake.

        That would be about five or six bus lines that don’t all have to travel up I-5 (and get stuck in traffic there)!

    • says

      If this fails, there won’t be an alternative. Eastside Republicans will argue in Olympia that “the people have spoken” and that there should be no saving King County Metro in opposition to what they say the voters’ intent was. So Metro gets gutted and maybe Seattle can try to save itself.

      • goodluck says

        So be it then, we’ll all be screwed worse than most realize. The average non transit rider doesn’t make the connection that 1 bus can take 60 cars out of a traffic jam.

        I don’t blame them, that’s the reality we live in. I blame the folks that crafted this. $60 is too much to swallow as a tax increase. Its over a 30% increase in some areas and given that the perceived net benefit to the average resident is intangible, I won’t be surprised if this really gets hosed in the election. That’s also a reality, a very unpleasant one.

      • says

        … Meanwhile, many county roads will be allowed to revert to gravel. Let’s not forget this package also pays for road fixes. The critics say it’s not enough, want a pure roads package, and advocate for raising the gas tax which basically translates to “We want more roads”.

      • Nathanael says

        I think I gave comparative car registration fees in other states in a different. This eems like a big jump, but frankly your fees are really low right now.

    • Martin H. Duke says

      If $40 is a “huge burden” then a tank of gas is a “huge burden.” Maybe we should give those burdened drivers a decent alternative.

      • Bellinghammer says

        +1, but more like 2/3 of a tank of gas. :) But yes, $40 is not a huge burden to anyone owning a car, period. As a car owner and transit rider I look forward to supporting transit when I renew my tabs in January.

      • goodluck says

        If I dont ever take the bus, can you convince me to spend the $40 I would use for gas to pay for other people to ride the bus?
        This isn’t about reasoning or the greater good will, its about political reality of suburbs that are frequented by noisy, obtrusive, and “empty” buses.

      • Mike B says

        It’s $40/year to keep thousands of other cars off the road that will lead to more congestion on the regions roads. (And let’s not muck about with this and that arguments, there will be thousands of cars back on the roads of 17% of Metro’s service is cut.) It’s also $40/year that goes towards neglected road maintenance thanks to things like I-695* and the decreased purchasing power of the gas tax.

        *On that, voters are pretty dim when it come to long-term impacts of certain actions at the ballot box. I-695 did a lot of damage to the longevity of our transportation infrastructure because people wanted to save a few bucks in the short term.

      • goodluck says

        I’ll agree that I-695 was awful. I wish it was repealed. With the number of expensive high end import cars that are 80k or more driving around, i think that 695 was great in that it fairly taxed the folks who had the money to buy expensive cars. I remember when it was repealed my friend who drove an 82 Subaru GL lamented that his $20/year license fee actually jumped to $30, while his boss, driving a 7 series who had been paying $200+ year would be paying the same as him, and his boss could care less.

        I guess my point is the $40 is targeted at the folks who use metro the least statistically, as far as ballots go, its unwise to require the votes of those who don’t need it to pass.

      • William Aitken says

        Unfortunately I-695 addressed a real problem: DOLs depreciation tables were widely viewed as grossly unfair.

        It’s not as if voters weren’t warned _at_the_time_ that they were blowing a huge hole in the state’s budget.

        MVETs do have a disadvantage in that they encourage people to hold on to older, more polluting, less fuel efficient, more dangerous cars.

      • John Bailo says

        (1) You cram everything into downtown
        (2) You force cars to act like trains, and cram into a couple of square miles
        (3) You let affordable homes skyrocket so they can’t be had
        (4) You present a transit system that really only works at rush hour, and only in the dense (and expensive) parts of Seattle, and say nothing about the rest of the week or suburbs.
        (5) You ask motorists, who need their cars, to fund a bureaucracy populated by those who openly despite cars, homes, suburbs and no doubt children and apple pie and call them idiots if they question why we should build our own prison.

        Then you go on a blog and wonder why people aren’t jumping for joy over a tax increase?!

      • Lack Thereof says

        1) Downtown is where everyone is going. There’s plenty of undeveloped suburban land zoned for office parks and SFH, no one wants to build there.
        2)Cars are space-wasteful, this is a problem of their own creation.
        3)See recent posts on supply and demand in the Seattle housing market – the homes “skyrocketing” are the ones we’re not building fast enough to keep vacancy rates up. But again, still plenty of undeveloped suburban/exurban land zoned for SFH… that no one wants to build on.
        4)If you want to expand the all-day frequent transit network to include low-density, low-ridership suburbs, it’s going to require a massive funding boost, which I doubt you support.
        5)Sometimes motorists need an alternative. Their car may break down while they have no money to fix it. They may get a DUI and lose their license. If you don’t support transit, you support drunk-suspended license drivers killing children because “they have to get around somehow”!

  3. Sam says

    Related to the “third source of savings,” Dori Monson is promoting his noon radio show today by saying he’s going to expose the high number of people at Metro or King County making over $100,000/year.

    • David Lawson says

      OH NOES

      A public employee might be over the poverty line!! The horror!!

      As usual with these sorts of “exposés,” Dori is probably going to count total compensation including benefits, at which point $100,000 really shouldn’t be that shocking.

      If bus drivers, mechanics, or supervisors are over $100k in actual salary, they are getting there by working their butts off with overtime. If management employees are over $100k in actual salary, that’s not too surprising — many of them have either professional/academic credentials or a level of responsibility which would get them that level of pay in the private sector.

      What is Dori’s total compensation? I guarantee it’s well over $100k.

      • Jeff says

        The last time someone did this it turned out they were mostly public safety employees (fire and police) working massive OT.

      • Sam says

        I just listened to his program. He said in 2012, 2157 King County employees made over $100,000/year.

      • Jeff says

        This is just Dori’s schtick. Last week he was attacking the first responders up at Oso, this week attacking King County employees. No government program is worthy of funding, particularly transit. Every government employee is a featherbedding slacker. Never mind he works for the school district in his off hours and makes his forture talking about the Seahawks playing in their massively subsidized football palace . . . he’s just selling air conditioners, roofing, or whatever they’re advertising this week.

      • William Aitken says

        There’s a general problem with senior (in the sense of long tenured) goverrnment workers working huge amounts of overtime in the years leading up to retirement. Since their pensions are calculated as a percentage of their total compensation in a small number of years leading up to retirement, it’s in their best interest to do so. Contracts are written to allow senior employeyes some degree of right of first refusal on overtime (sometimes even in preference to ordinary hours by part-timers).

        This is really bad for taxpayers. We direct time and a half to our most expensive workers, and allow them to lock in outsized pensions for many years to come.

        As others point out public safety workers are the worst offenders (partially because, in addition, they become eligible for full pensions young), but there’s certainly some of this going on at Metro too.

        In fairness, my understanding is that Metro sometimes prefers full timers doing overtime to part-timers working more regular hours because of benefit eligibility issues.

      • kpt says

        I think that used to be a bigger problem, William.

        PERS1 was written to base your retirement comp off your avg comp in your final two years. PERS2 and PERS3, which nearly every public worker still working is in, are based on avg comp in your high five years. It’s harder to sustain a big OT push for five years. Not impossible, but harder.

        I think Metro employees are part of PERS.

      • David Lawson says

        Metro employees are PERS. There is some featherbedding but not nearly as much as you see at public safety agencies. And it is often cheaper to pay some overtime than to pay for benefits for a higher number of workers.

    • shotsix says

      100k a year might sound like a lot, but it’s probably a fairly reasonable and competitive salary for many technical positions. What do these righties want?, all public employees to make minimum wage? If you want good/smart people to fill positions, which in turn makes effective governance, than you have to pay market prices…however, if your goal is to make government fail…well

    • Glenn in Portland says

      Oooo! Ahhh! How shocking.
      Driving a bus in traffic for a number of hours a day while dealing with the public is an unpleasant job.

      Several years ago, TriMet could not fill their out their vacancies for bus drivers even at the perceived high wages they were offering. What wound up happening was the existing drivers wound up working a bunch of overtime hours to fill those vacancies, pushing their take home pay quite high.

      It was all in the Oregonian. Should be on their web site if anyone wants to look further.

    • shotsix says

      plus, whether Dori et al want to admit it, a huge chunk of the middle class from their idealized “glory days” of the past were made up of public employees. 100k today is solidly middle class, not even “upper middle.” As a SINK who makes barely that, I can’t even imagine trying to handle a Seattle mortgage AND kids while maintaining what was thought of as a fairly normal existence for my parents generation.

    • Sam says

      Whether or not a $100,000 wage is a lot of money in the Seattle area or not doesn’t erase the visual of people who make more than $100K with their hands out asking people making half of that amount or less to give them more money.

      • David Lawson says

        What percentage of the car owners in King County do you think make less than $50,000 annually?

      • Jeff says

        Someone opposed to something can make the optics of anything look bad. In this case some radio host makes the allegation that a bunch of county employees, primarily first responders no doubt, are making over $100K per year, therefore, we should vote no on more transit because the government wastes all our money. It’s too bad a better argument hasn’t been devised to confront the old “fraud waste and abuse” canard that passes for a rational discussion of costs and benefits of a specific proposal. And yes I’ll wager that the “high paid” Metro employees are mostly transit police.

      • asdf says

        Huh, it’s not the money raised by prop 1 is just going to line managers’ pockets – it’s going to keep buses on the road. Managers will get paid the same salary, whether this passes or not.

      • Nathanael says

        What a moronic visual, Sam. This money is going to buy gas and buses and pay drivers… the $100K/year employees are cops and firemen and managers, who won’t get any of the added money.

    • Kelly says

      A fun note, 17 hours. That is the amount of overtime a bus driver must average every week to make 100k. That is more then 8 hours every day.

    • Mike B says

      God forbid, maybe we have some well-paid, smart people running the show at the County rather than going off to the private sector and asking for even more money to do the same job.

      Man, I wish I could sit behind a microphone and bitch about everything. But sadly, I have to work for a living.

  4. G. Travis says

    Martin, asking employees to reduce wages and benefits is a pacifier for the Times. It’s not the answer. It is a way to make it sound like you are open minded. Having been employed by Metro more than thirty eight years, I know I earn the wages and benefits I receive. I made the choice to be a public service employee with a Union job for security and stability for my family. Even with the collapse of financial markets and theft from the big wigs on Wall Street, for the most part we have weathered the storm. Just because some folks do not have this doesn’t make it right to ask us to give it up. Some have no qualms about just taking it away. Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker for one. Do we really want to go down that path here in Washington State? Metro employees work for this community with professionalism and pride. Those of us that drive put ourselves out there with security risks, traffic challenges and long hours without breaks. Overpaid… Hell No!

    • Martin H. Duke says

      G. Travis, if wages and benefits were lower Metro could afford more drivers. It’s complicated to weigh the interests of current drivers vs. Unemployed ones, but it’s not a clear-cut question of justice.

      I support a wage level that is competitive to attract and retain good drivers – no more.

      • G. Travis says

        Given that new hires are part time and it takes more than five years to reach top wage, along with usually only getting 2 1/2 hours a day, hiring good drivers is a challenge. Many are working more than one job to make ends meet. Attracting drivers is not a problem, keeping them may be when one may have to work up to five years before they can go full time. Oh and when did Metro become responsible for the unemployment situation? The skill sets required of a professional transit operator certainly deserve and are worth more than what you support and recommend as sufficient to attract and retain- no more. Martin really?

      • David Lawson says

        That brings up an interesting question.

        The length of time you have to spend part-time is quite clearly the most difficult hurdle for prospective Metro drivers. (I got through the first year of it with another job — working 7 days a week with no vacation — and the second year by very carefully maximizing the amount of ATL and vacation work I could take.) And the union doesn’t like the existence of part-time drivers at all.

        So how much of a wage concession could Metro secure from the union in exchange for a sharp reduction in the number of part-time drivers, possibly combined with a much higher minimum guarantee (to make it easier for the remaining part-timers to survive)? Would it be enough to offset the additional expense of hiring more full-timers? Would the higher guarantee and quicker progression to full time attract qualified people? It would be a radical change so is unlikely to happen, but it’s an interesting thought experiment.

      • Zach Shaner says

        Could you even reduce the number of part-timers, given our intense overreliance on a peak-only bus network?

      • David Lawson says

        Within the confines of the existing network, you could reduce the number some. There are a fair number of 4+-hour pieces of part-time work, and each of those could be combined with a shorter piece of work to make a combo. Some of the shorter trippers could be revised into longer pieces of work as well. And if you could loosen the work rules about scheduling part timers, you could create even more full-time slots.

        Of course, you know what I would do with the network, and a network like any of my proposals would replace a fair amount of tripper work with all-day work.

      • William Aitken says

        @Zack, you’d need a lot of split shifts (which would be a *major* concession) from the union, and there’d be a lot less flexibility in scheduling, but I don’t see why not. I don’t know enough about how the benefits package works to know if it would be worth the trouble (typically the benefits cost of part-timers is a lot less than full-timers).

      • Mark Dublin says

        Martin, there’s something I think you can help me clarify:

        Throughout the management world, the understanding is that it’s completely beneficial to pay more money at the top of an organization to attract the best possible people, and thereby increase profits for the stockholders.

        But these same people constantly claim that paying less money, and fewer benefits to people who run the machines is also the way to increase profits to stockholders.

        Or change the decision-makers to politicians, voters, and whatever Dori Monson does to increase anybody’s productivity at all.

        You know, Martin, this is the problem with a lot of people around your age in Seattle, and probably everywhere else. You’re nicer, better-meaning, and generally more hopeful to talk to than people my age or older.

        But you also seem to be eating up the worst of the economic outlook of people who don’t respect you anymore than you seem to respect the ever-shrinking number of people who can still make a living with their hands.

        And this means on train controllers and steering wheels than mouses (never heard “mice” in that connection) and keyboards on Dells and Macs. Before you ever write paragraph like the one above on the compensation for transit people again and read by people who do that work, put in for part-time at Metro, so you can put in for full-time where you leave the normal human world forever.

        For the sake of the respect you really deserve for your own hard work for these people’s own benefit.

        Mark

      • Martin H. Duke says

        Mark, I’ve never been a Metro driver, although some staff members have. But I also didn’t emerge from the womb writing code; I assure you I spent several years getting my boots muddy, and I didn’t get time-and-a-half for 60-hour workweeks.

        I believe our executive compensation system is broken, but the sums involved are tiny compared to the incremental differences in the payments to a large workforce, particularly in the public sector. In Metro’s case, every unnecessary dollar spent on compensation comes out of the service provided to our most vulnerable citizens. Drivers aren’t the enemy, but as a distributional issue, I have to take the side of riders.

      • Nathanael says

        Executive compensaion in the PRIVATE sector is COMPLETELY broken. (“Here, have a million dollars a year. If you do badly, we’ll give you another million — if you do well, we’ll give you a hundred million!”)

        Executive compensation in the PUBLIC sector is, if anything, too low.

  5. says

    Conservatives use “efficiency” arguments merely as justification for a reflexive, ideological aversion to higher taxes for transit. You cannot win this argument with them because they will – and already are – moving the goalposts on this. (Witness Dori Monson whining about well-paid Metro staff.)

  6. Anandakos says

    Well, just to be devil’s advocate here, the Times is correct to say that Metro could unilaterally reduce wages across the board by 14%. That would probably get pretty close to the gap in funding.

    Of course there would then be a strike, during which Metro would save even more! The city would probably grind to a halt and businesses would come running to the County Council demanding that it do something, like perhaps raising taxes regardless of the failed proposition.

    The whole thing would be a cluster*)@# of the first degree, but it might actually show the car drivers just how much value they do get from Metro.

    • Bruce Nourish says

      No, Metro cannot just cut pay across the board. Most of their staff have a union contract, or are in arbitration to create a union contract, and the agency is legally required to follow those contracts.

      No, drivers cannot legally strike. Their jobs are considered an essential public service, so they are prohibited from doing so. Instead, disputes that can’t be hashed out at the negotiating table go to arbitration.

      Facts, people, facts. Try reading before writing.

      • Anandakos says

        Bruce,

        But Metro can cut pay across the board. Any “person” can unilaterally abrogate any contract at any time. They will get sued and may have to pay some sort of damages, but they can do it. And the employees can strike. They may get discharged, but who’s going to take their places?

        All this hand-wringing is basically just elaborate cowardice. Bring the city to a standstill for a week and you’ll get full funding. Even the legislature won’t stand up to that; even as craven as most rural legislators are, they know from whence comes the butter on their slice of bread.

      • Bruce Nourish says

        All this hand-waving is basically just fact-free ranting. Neither of the outcomes you allude to are outcomes that would come of today’s political environment or leadership.

      • Mike Orr says

        Which bureaucrat should break the law and pay workers less than they agreed to? How much taxpayer funds would it take to defend such a lawsuit? What’s the appropriate salary for somebody who’s expected to ruin their career for the public good? It’s one thing for an official to volunteer to do this for the people’s sake; it’s another thing for an armchair commenter to expect somebody else to do it.

      • William Aitken says

        That said, there’s some suspicion among conservatives that Democrats in government are too beholden to union special interests to act as good faith negotiators in these contract negotiations. For good reasons, such negotiations are among the most opaque things government does, so the usual arguments, that the evidence to the contrary is there if you look hard enough don’t apply very well. It doesn’t help when management starts talking about not having a COLA in the first year of a contract as a wage cut.

        I don’t want to sound like a union basher, but delivery costs at Metro _are_ high by national standards. Labor (wages + benefits) is about 70% of costs, so any meaningful cost reduction at Metro is going to require concessions from labor.

      • Mike Orr says

        Rents are high by national standards too. And food and gasoline. And the median income.

      • Lack Thereof says

        Cost of living in King County is high compared to the national average. So of course Metro’s wages have to be higher than the national average to attract and retain employees in this region.

  7. Bellinghammer says

    Unseriousness and cynicism are rampant with both the No Campaign and the Times ed board. They argue out of both sides of their mouth about inefficiency and ‘empty buses!’ while complaining that ‘Seattle gets too much service!’ They argue out of both sides of their mouths that these are unacceptable regressive taxes while constantly advocating against previous attempts at progressive taxes (MVET, income tax etc). They argue that we should be more like Pierce Transit or Community Transit, but somehow I suspect that the resulting plummeting ridership and higher costs per boarding would be their excuse to withhold funding the next time around too.

  8. Bellinghammer says

    I’d add another thing to your list of ways to be more serious about efficiency: distance-based fares. I’m not part of the ‘raise fares!’ crowd generally, but the current bus fare structure is an egregious waste and a giveaway to long-distance suburban commuters at the expense of those taking shorter trips. The Seattleite paying $2.50 to go from downtown to Capitol Hill during rush hour should not have his/her fares raised, but the long-haul commuter paying only $3.50 to go from Seattle to Olympia? They should be paying double that.

    • David Lawson says

      Agreed. A two- (or possibly three-) tier fare structure would work, would reflect the cost of service better, and would raise some money. One fare per bus; zone fares can work for tap-on/tap-off rail but are unworkable for buses. Base fare to board most buses which is no higher (ideally lower) than today’s. Higher fares to board buses that meet the following criteria:

      1) Most riders are riding a long distance (say ~7+ miles)
      2) The service is designed to make those long trips fast
      3) Slower local alternatives are available
      4) The service has expensive operating costs

    • pnigh says

      You can think of any network as two components: Peak and Average. Your costs are tied to peak ridership, or in Metro’s case the Commute. Revenue, however, is tied to average ridership. The farther apart these are, the more cost burdened your network becomes. This is what has been created by encouraging a commuter bus system, which riders use only 10 times per week. Increasing the gap between Peak and Off-peak fares and distance based fares are two extremely effective ways to not only align fares with costs, but to decrease the gap between Peak Ridership and Average Ridership. Additionally, shifting service from peak to non-peak would help, even if you lost commute ridership, you would gain more financially desirable ridership (frequent riders).

  9. Southeasterner says

    Martin –

    Great rebuttal. Now you just need to consolidate it to a few paragraphs and send it to Murray and Balducci so they can send it to the Times for publication.

  10. Matt says

    I can’t help but be amazed at home nearsighted we are in this country. The truth of this situation is that those opposed to Prop 1 are going to lose no matter what. I just look at my own personal situation.I live 5 miles away from my office in Fremont and I bike to work everyday. If Prop 1 did not pass…

    1) Assuming I did not bike and my bus route was cut (it’s on the list to be cut if Prop 1 fails), my only other option would be to take my car and pay the $90/month that it costs currently for a permit at my office. For one thing, that’s a lot more than the estimated $10/month increase they are estimating prop 1 will bring to families. I would also imagine that many parking lots would raise their rates if more people were driving to work and demanding parking.

    2) Since this isn’t bringing any new revenue sources to the county and we are already experiencing financial difficulty with replacing 520 and the Viaduct, I do not see how we are going to be able to widen roads to support the additional 30k cars that are predicted to be on the road each day. Even if we did find that $, it would take years and years to finish the project with a continuously growing population. This is either going to force people to move closer to work where they can bike/walk or near “high transit areas” whose routes are not cut. Yes, this would create even more density which I’m sure prop 1 haters love…

    3) Along with our shortsightedness, we also seem to have a short memory. The demand will surely come back for an increased alt transit package again after people become truly sick of the current traffic situation. But I’m sure this package will have a lot more fancy bells and whistles attached to it that would end up costing the tax payers much more and it will pass out of desperation.

    What I don’t get more than anything, especially after making the mistake of reading the ST comment section, is why a lot of these people still live in Seattle. There are SO many cities in this country that are completely car dependent with no public transit measures or a liberal population that supports them at all. Why not move there? Who is forcing you to live in the most liberal city in the US? Anyway, I will continue to enjoy my 5 mile bike ride to work no matter what happens.

    • Nathanael says

      #3 is worth remembering. It would have been so much cheaper for Seattle and its suburbs if Forward Thrust had been built…

      Fund it now, or fund a more expensive project later…

  11. lazarus says

    The times, and many of the ideologues on the right, seem to think that the path to greater financial efficiency is to reduce the revenue stream. Apparently reduced revenue leads directly to increased efficiency.

    I’d ask this of the Times: Would the Seattle Times be more efficient if the number of subscriptions were significantly reduced?

    And note, the Seattle Times could still maintain the same revenue stream simply by increasing their subscriptions prices in order to “make the users pay”.

    If I had a subscription I’d test this theory and cancel it….but I don’t.

    • goodluck says

      The Seattle Times is neither directly accountable to the public nor are decisions decided by the public. All of the things mentioned in the original article on here would help and be attainable in a matter of years. Metro doesn’t have a matter of years to resolve this issue; management screwed up, the writing has been on the wall for 4 years and they haven’t done much. This prop 1 is a last ditch effort and it will fail pretty miserably. The knee jerk reaction to most non-bus riders is “NO, I DONT WANT TO PAY AN EXTRA $40 A YEAR, I DONT GET ANYTHING OUT OF IT” That’s the political reality and unless the no vote faction doesn’t show up, i dont see this passing. Rebuke this all you want, but its reality.

      • lazarus says

        IMy comment was directly at the idea that somehow “reduced revenue equals increased efficiency.”

        Such a statement is purely idiotic and is more akin to a fringe believe than it is to any understanding of how things really work in this world.

      • Mike Orr says

        Two years ago the state was so impressed with Metro’s efficiency improvements it gave us a two-year reprieve while the state worked on a long-term funding solution for transit. It’s the state that dropped the ball, not Metro’s management.

        As for what “I a driver get out of it”, not everybody personally benefits from schools or 911 or libraries either but they’re still essential.

      • Bernie says

        the state was so impressed with Metro’s efficiency improvements it gave us a two-year reprieve while the state worked on a long-term funding solution for transit.

        As I remember it it was the King County Council that enacted a temporary two year car tab fee to see Metro through until sales tax revenue recovered. It Has! But instead of ending the “temporary tax increase” (one of the great oxymorons) Prop 1 wants to essentially double it and tack on more for roads. Oh, btw the motor vehicle fuels tax revenue for Washington has also increased every year while contract prices for road projects has dropped because everyone is scrambling for work.

      • d.p. says

        You know who hasn’t been impressed by Metro’s amazing enhanced efficiency-maximized new awesomeness? The fucking system users.

        While Metro continues to insist that the “political reality” requires keeping 50-year-old infrequent crap-structure routes unaltered, the actual truth is that running their system like it’s still 1965 is costing them votes.

        I encourage you all to check out the Slog thread on the subject. This is a fairly representative example of the frustration coming from even the paper’s younger, progressively-inclined, mobility-craving readers. I think this author later discovered STB and re-posted the comment here, but by no means is he or she a transit wonk. It is simply becoming obvious to the general public that Metro’s route structure contains a lot of inherent waste and leads to inherently shitty mobility outcomes.

        And yet Metro and the Council lean on a thoroughly inaccurate reading of “political reality” to justify keeping their most terrible shit intact.

        If Prop 1 fails, it won’t be thanks to the predictable minority faction of anti-transit screamers in the Times comment section. It will be because of the disconnect between the “we’ve improved” rhetoric coming from Metro and the lived experience of every human being who tries to use the service.

      • Mike Orr says

        “it was the King County Council that enacted a temporary two year car tab fee”

        It was the state that allowed the county to do that.

      • Lack Thereof says

        As I remember it it was the King County Council that enacted a temporary two year car tab fee
        As I remember it, the State Legislature deigned to temporarily give King County the authority to enact the fee, until the Legislature could come up with a permanent, stable funding solution.

        to see Metro through until sales tax revenue recovered. It has!

        Congratulations, we’re back to 2008 levels in non-inflation adjusted dollars. However, if you hadn’t noticed, in the intervening years, population, ridership, and expenses have all increased! You can’t serve the needs of the County in 2014 with a 2008 budget.

  12. Norah says

    This is very depressing. I wonder if it’s even worth trying to get people to vote yes, since they’ll obviously be outnumbered?

    • William C. says

      Self-fulfilling prophecy alert!

      For counter-evidence, the Stranger supports Proposition 1, and I’ve gotten the idea from the last city council race that its endorsements matter a lot more than the Times’.

      • Norah says

        I doubt the Times has a lot of influence anymore, but people listen to Dori Monson and others who are against it. There seem to be a lot of people posting on here who are voting no.

      • Mike Orr says

        If enough people don’t vote because they think it doesn’t matter, it can turn an election, and probably does frequently.

      • lakecityrider says

        Norah, a small sample size doesn’t make a trend. If you look at the Seattle portion of Reddit (www.reddit.com/r/seattle … I think it’s actually a fairly good portion of a site that has some pitfalls), there’s a sizable “Yes” contingent. Reddit skews a lot towards the 20s and low-30s population and several of them have been quite vocal over there.

        Yes, putting the “$60″ number out there makes for a tough sell, especially when it falls outside the common mindset. I think this thing can pass but it’s taking a lot of effort. That’s good effort, too, because it brings the transportation issues this region is experiencing to the forefront and puts them up for discussion. Metro can do better; I suspect that almost all of Metro’s employees *want* to do better. What Metro can’t do is make money appear out of thin air, artificially depress the cost of living in this area to attract “cheaper” employees, and violate the laws of space/time to reduce the number of service hours required to provide the service that it has.

      • Nathanael says

        The Stranger *is* “Seattle’s Only Newspaper”.

        (I’m not sure what that makes the Seattle Times. ;-)

    • asdf says

      One thing prop 1 has going for it is that people who stand to see their buses cut have a lot more motivation to vote than people whose only impact would be an extra $40 on their car tabs. Do not just assume that it won’t pass.

      • lakecityrider says

        That’s been the logic that most of my coworkers have used: “It’ll cost me more than $40/year in extra gas to drive and I really like the 268 so I’m voting yes.” I even convinced another coworker to vote yes under the theory that yes, he primarily rides the 545 (which would only be affected for extra load outside the hours he rides) but that it’s not so expensive and it supports his occasional non-work travel on buses.

        It can be done. People who see the value in a bus system can eventually be shown that the value is worth kicking in an extra $3.34/month/vehicle.

      • asdf says

        Even if you ride a Sound Transit route that doesn’t directy parallel a cut Metro route, this does not necessarily make you immune from the impact if prop 1 fails. If peak-period 545 (or 554 or 577) trips are overcrowded, Sound Transit will have to add more of them to make up for canceled parallel Metro trips. Lacking money for additional service, these trips will have to be paid for by cutting service on some other route – likely yours.

  13. Eric Stevens says

    The Seattle Times editorial board is being deeply disingenuous. They clearly just don’t think Metro should be funded by tax dollars. Instead of being upfront (as they wouldn’t get anywhere in Seattle bashing subsidized transit) they’re grasping at anything they can find to try and mislead people. As other commenters have pointed out their regressive tax line is a joke because they’ve consistently opposed any form of progressive taxation in the state. They’re conservative outlook on public transit is out of touch with Seattleites.

  14. Kelly says

    I’m reminded a little of the underpants gnomes when reading about the Seattle Times opinion.

    1) Cut funding
    2) …?
    3) profits!

  15. Norah says

    Lake citywide, thanks for the link to Reddit. There are still a lot of no comments, but a lot of yes comments as well.

  16. Mark Dublin says

    BTW, made an unbelievably stupid mistake on my math, which if I’m right this time, makes this whole discussion the same quality as my calculating.

    This time, my calculator reads that $60 divided by 52 weeks equals a little over a dollar and fifteen cents a week. Would the editor of the Seattle times even notice that amount on his restaurant bill?

    And again, there’s provision for those who truly can’t afford this much- whose number, if the Bible is right, puts a huge load of fire and brimstone directly overhead,

    News really does say that the magma chamber under the Yellowstone Caldera is much bigger than previously thought. We really need to watch it- worse than I do my math.

    Could claim similar claim for amount of transit riding today responsible for brain-death: getting on the north-bound Sounder when headed for Tacoma. Since bus service out of the next stop, Edmonds, is run by Community Transit, best choice seemed to be Everett, and the ST
    512.

    Which worked- but whole trip south including car from Freighthouse Square brought me home just now- see time of this posting. Still and all- train choice seriously casts doubt on credibility of all postings from this quarter.

    World’s best calculator is only as good as the dumbest thing anybody types into it.

    Turning in miserably and justifiably ashamed,

    Mark Dublin

  17. Basho says

    Voted no. Looked at the effect on my household. Only one person in my household uses a Metro route (and it’s not her first choice); the portion of the route she would ride is unaffected.

    However, I generally don’t vote on the basis of self interest. In a broader sense, the question being asked in this vote is, “Should we levy more taxes to pay for the least productive bus service?” I don’t think that’s a winner.

    I think the votes at the farebox should more important to transit planners than the votes at the ballot box. Hopefully these cuts will cause the leaders and workers of Metro to design a system for transit users rather than voters.

    • William C. says

      The question is: How productive is the least-productive bus service? There’ll always be some least-productive service. Even if the only two lines were the 41 and 7, one of them would be less-productive than the other – but both are clearly worth saving.

      I agree that there are a couple routes not worth saving (e.g. the 25.) But, the 17% cuts go far beyond those to service which is definitely worth saving.

    • David Lawson says

      Your logic might make sense if the cut were 3%. There is actually 3% of Metro service that is unproductive by any reasonable standard. But the cut is 17% (or maybe 14% if you make optimistic assumptions about the latest financial information). There has already been a lot of unproductive service cut in past restructures, and the result is that a 17% cut results in a lot of very well-used service disappearing.

      • Bernie says

        My problem with this is the whole tactic of creating a crisis so that the routes that need to get axed never do. The 236 is a route I can point to from personal experience. There is no reason this route should exist even it Metro was socking away money to a rainy day fund. But endless bailouts perpetuate this nonsense. Let’s run with your 3% guesstimate; that’s ~$20 million dollars a year. That’s not chump change. And don’t even get me started on the excesses doled out to Access. On the roads side it’s pretty much the same thing, a reward for failing to maintain what we have in favor of fancy new projects. The budget is sufficient, it’s the focus that is lacking. Give me something good and I’ll buy more of it. It’s just that simple.

      • David Lawson says

        The 236 is one of the 3%. It’s the worst full-time route on the Eastside for productivity. It and the 238 could be (and would be under Metro’s cut scenario) reorganized into one somewhat productive route. But there’s a reason Metro hasn’t already cut that kind of service, and it’s not Metro — it’s the Council. They already cut a significant majority of the routes that were in that very bottom part of the chart as of 2008. The surviving ones stay there because the Council won’t let Metro cut them.

        You need to change the behavior of the elected leaders if you want to cut ALL the fat out of the system.

      • Lack Thereof says

        Most of the empty, unproductive routes (like the 236) are routes that Metro has already tried to cut. Multiple times. But the handful of riders on these ghost routes always come out strong to the County Council, and then the Council goes all white-knight and forbids Metro to cut the route, “saving” it.

        So my crush-load morning 120 gets a frequency reduction instead.

      • Bernie says

        I fully agree that Metro is knee capped by politics. The 238 I don’t have direct experience with but suffice it to say there are also empty buses running around Mercer Island that also need to just go away. The sales pitch for the eastside politicos needs to be that efficient Seattle service benefits the eastside. But getting back to Prop 1; as painful as this stunt may be for some people I just can’t support it’s inherent nod to “government waste or else”.

  18. rick b says

    One change that could be made is to not allow any discounted peak fares for Youth, Seniors or Reduced Regional Fare Permit holders. I’m not a big fan of discounted fares anyway – if kids can afford these phones they all have they can afford bus fare. Also why should a millionaire retiree pay a quarter-fare while taking a seat from a minimum-wage worker paying full fare just trying to get home to dinner? Everyone should just pay the same fare, especially at peak hours.

    • Brent says

      The senior discount and the discount for riders with disabilities is a federal requirement. So, because some youth have parents who can afford smart phones (and they are the exception, not the rule), all kids should have to pay $99 for a monthly pass (non-tax-deductible)? I think that expense is much larger than the cost of a monthly cell phone plan.

      Making driving the more affordable alternative for teenage kids comes with a cost.

      • rick b says

        From http://www.fta.dot.gov/12325_5110.html :

        “Under §5307(d)(1)(D) of the Federal Transit Act (Title 49, United States Code, Chapter 53), transit operators that receive funding from FTA are required to ensure that “elderly and handicapped individuals,” and individuals presenting a Medicare card issued under Title II or XVIII of the Social Security Act, are not charged more than half of the peak fare during non-peak periods. Essentially, this means that if a rider meet one or more of these requirements, and they ride the bus during the middle of the day—when it’s not “rush hour”—they only have to pay half of the “rush-hour” fare.”

        It appears there is no federal requirement to provide the discounts during Peak, and Metro is charging ¼ Two-Zone Peak during Peak and Non-Peak, when they could be charging full Peak during Peak, and ½ Peak during Non-Peak for Seniors.

        Life is about decisions, and many are questioning why they should pay more taxes because of decisions others made during their lives (having children they can’t afford to transport, or not planning for their elderly years during their working lives).

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