Yes, Metro’s Deficit is Real

metro recession

Every so often, a local anti-transit or anti-tax group will write a hit piece against Metro, alleging, for a variety of reasons, that the agency’s financial crisis is made up. These pieces invariably rely on creative graph-making, conflating Metro’s primary tax-funded service with externally-funded contract service (such as that provided to Sound Transit), or making some other obvious error of fact. In this post, I’m going to present Metro’s raw data for sales tax collections and services delivered for the last decade, and explode a couple of myths in the process.

Myth #1: Metro’s revenues have increased each of the last three years. The agency has loads of money!

The chart above will be familiar to anyone who’s taken an interest in Metro’s finances, but seems to elude Metro’s drive-by fiscal critics, who’s data mysteriously always begins in 2010. It’s true that Metro’s sales tax collections have increased each of the last three years, and will increase again this year, but that omits the crucial fact that revenue fell off a cliff between 2008 and 2009, bottoming out in 2010, for a total drop of about $72 million.

Despite this plunge in revenue, the total amount of service Metro provides has dipped only very slightly. Instead, over the last three years, that hole has been filled with a combination of fare hikes and operational cost savings, along with about $344 million of one-time cash transfers, notably including $180 million from axed capital programs and $41 million from operational reserves.

Those measures, taken at the behest of elected officials, whose directive to Metro was to preserve service at all costs, are now exhausted, but an ongoing gap of about $75 million/year remains between what Metro needs to continue offering its current level of service, and what Metro’s sales tax is bringing in. Closing that gap will require either a major cut in the quantity of service Metro delivers, or new revenue, which, along with helping the dire state of County Roads, is what Prop 1 will do.

metro mvet sales

Myth #2: We keep voting to give Metro more money. Surely the agency must have lots of of it by now.

It’s true that King County voters have voted to give Metro more money several times since 2000, and so it’s natural to wonder where that “new” money went. In the long view, beyond the precipitous loss of funding due to the recession (discussed above), most of it has gone to backfill the loss of Motor Vehicle Excise Tax funding, which arose from the passage of I-695 in 1999.

Up until 2000, Metro was funded by a combination of local government MVET, and a 0.6% sales tax. When the MVET was abolished in that year, King County voters voted to fill about three-fifths of that gap with a 0.2% sales tax; the rest was made up by slashing administrative, customer service, and planning staff at Metro. (The “administrative fat cutting” the Seattle Times editorial board recently called for actually happened more than a decade ago). Metro obtained the last 0.1% of sales tax funding available to it at the end of 2006 with the passage of Transit Now; the recession began about a year later.

In addition to MVET being a more progressive tax, the amount of money brought in by the previous MVET+0.6% sales would have been both greater and more stable (in the face of recession) than what has been subsequently been raised by the 0.8% and 0.9% sales taxes. Even with all these votes, Metro’s total take of local taxes has, for the last decade, been less than before I-695, while the agency has delivered more service hours than before I-695. This, again, speaks to an agency that has already tightened its belt.

The raw data provided to me by Metro is here. The “Metro Service Delivered” lines on the charts above exclude SR99 and SR520 construction mitigation service, which is externally funded, and lasts only for the duration of those projects.




Comments

  1. yvrlutyens says

    Not sure that these graphs are that useful. Yes they show a drop and a recent recovery in sales tax revenue, but that isn’t the only source, and a funding gap only appears in comparison with the expenditures. Both graphs make it seem that the fiscal position of mid 2012 was the same as the fiscal position in 2008.

  2. Mark Dublin says

    Agree with analysis about KC Metro and the current Depression. But refuse to accept that either it or its reasons are incurable. Or even real. No foreign artillery or Tupelov or Heinkel bombers left our factories in rubble and our cities looking like Detroit.

    If we’d won a war on that scale, we’d have rebuilt our enemies’ cities in a tenth of the time our industrial belt has been rusting. And Great Depression II, like the world war, would be greatly Over- due to our country’s brave and generous efforts.

    Neither has the Yellowstone Caldera yet gone off with the continental destruction that will really kill real estate.. That’s a lot more Depressing than the collapse of an economy based on bets about housing prices, on top of forty years’ disposal of the very industries that cured our last Depression while they helped win the last World War.

    What I’d like to hear about Prop 1 is that it will become one of a wave of the exact public projects that the lastPresidential election should have kicked off. And which especially younger people should long since have been arming to fight for.

    It really bugs me to hear, especially from people college age and younger that present conditions are a fact of life.The Viet Nam war was considered as permanent as it was unwinnable. And the Great Depression was supposed to last forever. So was the Soviet Union.

    “Stimulus?” Our present Lousy Depression should curable by hiring at good wages enough able unemployed people to fix every public thing in ruins. Especially decent public transit. Deficits? Any business in this condition would not hesitate to borrow money to repair itself. Taxes? Any responsible owners would consider their money well-spent to save the firm.

    The more any project is discussed in those terms- and deserves to be-the better its chances across the political spectrum.

    Mark Dublin

    • Glenn in Portland says

      Much closer to home, that spirit and a sudden realization that public transit had its uses is what got us through the Arab oil embargo. Today, we would have armed gas gangs rather than expanded transit and gas rationing, if the 1970s were to repeat themselves.

      • Bernie says

        I was a teenager during that time. It was a manufactured “crises”. You could buy all the gas you wanted. The oil companies just created a perceived shortage by shortening the hours stations were open and government inventing rules about odd even fill up days. You got all the gas you wanted, you just had to wait in line an hour or so a week. The reaction was not an increased transit system. It was a shift to higher mileage cars. The Saudi’s learned that the shift to lower demand was swift and the return to high demand very very slow even when gas prices dropped to ridiculously low levels.

      • Glenn in Portland says

        TriMet’s services to Molalla with two bus routes, even into the 1980s, were remnants of the transit service expansions from that era. Not sure what they did in the Seattle area as far as that goes, but I bet there was something.

        The Emergency Petroleum Allocation Act most certainly did limit production of gasoline. Those long lines you remember were part of the methods used to limit how much people consumed. That, plus the price of oil quadrupled by 1974, further limiting demand and how much people wanted to consume.

        Imagine the response we would have if the price of gasoline went up to, say, $14.96 a gallon, which is about what we would hit in todays prices of that same quadrupling of the price per barrel happened. Those very long distance commutes quickly become quite a bit more expensive.

        Sure, it was a manufactured crisis, but among other things it created significant financial problems in several South American countries that were subsidizing their gas prices. It took Brazil some 25 years to get back on their feet after that.

      • Mike Orr says

        The transit increase happened in Europe, not in the US. The Europeans responded to the oil-price shocks by improving both local and intercity transit and raising gas taxes so that they’d be less dependent on foreign oil. Americans responded by ridiculing Carter for telling them to wear a sweater, and then buying gas-guzzling SUVs when the price of oil went down agan.

      • Bernie says

        The price of gas “sky rocketed” but remember it had been dirt cheap. I can remember 24.9 cents a gallon at the USA gas station at the Lakewood K-Mart. It was “sticker shock” when gas went over a dollar a gallon. It was much like when prices a few years ago topped $5/gallon. Pumps back then, this was the days of mechanical metering and revolving wheels, weren’t even capable of registering a price above 99.9 cents/gallon. For a short while we actually went metric and stations re-calibrated the old pumps from gallons to liters. I think people bitched more about that than the price! Anyway, we did significantly improve fleet fuel economy; some of that government mandated with CAFE. And people still spend more in this country by volume for bottled water than they do for gas. This is one area I will agree that tax increases are warranted.

      • Mike Orr says

        “We” didn’t go metric. Some gas stations did to avoid buying three-digit pumps. But the feds put a stop to it because consumers couldn’t grasp whether 40c/liter was a good deal or price gouging compared to $1/gallon at another gas station.

        There was a general move to go metric in the 70s, but not specifically when the oil inflation hit. One analysis I read thought it failed because the education focused too much on memorizing obscure conversion formulas rather than on just using metric units. E.g., too much emphasis on converting centimeters to inches, rather than on just using the centimeter side of the ruler and dividing by 100 to get meters.

        The most I’ve been able to cope with Celsius is to try to remember: 0 = 32 (hat, gloves, sweater), 10 = 52 (jacket), 20 = 72 (T-shirt), 30 = 92 (uncomfortably hot).

  3. goodluck says

    if this it the length required to explain why Metro needs an additional $40 per vehicle its almost guaranteed to fail.

    if 1999 was the first blow to metro, they have had 15 years to adjust their budgets through service cuts, optimization, etc to rectify it.

    i support metro, i support transit, i do not support paying more for the same service and I would imagine most commuters/part time bus riders and non bus riders will feel the same way (which is the majority). this isn’t a rant, its a realistic evaluation of what will be the result on voting day, but maybe i’m wrong. this is “Robbing Peter to pay Paul”

    • Martin H. Duke says

      if 1999 was the first blow to metro, they have had 15 years to adjust their budgets through service cuts, optimization, etc to rectify it.

      The entire point has been to avoid service cuts. Obviously if you’re fine with service cuts than the measure is of no value.

      • RossB says

        Sorry, that is ridiculous. Metro can’t “find a reliable funding source”. They are a public agency. If the fire department is low on money, are they supposed to “find a reliable funding source”? Maybe they should charge the owners when they arrive (it worked in the past). No. If the fire department is low on money, they cut services. People’s houses burn, and more people die.

        Metro is run by the county, and the state limits what each county can do. If not, we wouldn’t have this vote (a majority of the council thinks this is money well spent). But because this state is cowardly when it comes to taxation, this is the only way that anyone can fund Metro. We (the citizens) have fought for years to have the state do the right thing, and pay for transit. Now the county has given up, and this approach makes sense.

      • goodluck says

        Ross, I find your comparing Metro to the Fire department ridiculous. My point is that this proposition is poor and the funding mechanism is even worse. Let’s say 1/3rd of the county takes transit, the other 2/3rds wouldn’t step on a bus to save their life. I’ll agree there are ancilliary benefits to getting people off the road, but the average Joe/Jane doesn’t think that far ahead, especially if they drive. And since the proposition is asking for more money ($40 in reality, but I’d like to see how Martin gets to $16) do you honestly think that enough of those folks are going to vote for a tax that they won’t ever get a direct return on?

      • Martin H. Duke says

        They’ve been lobbying every year for restoration of MVET, a reliable funding source. They haven’t gotten it. Meanwhile, a VLF is also quite reliable, so it is in fact what you think they should find.

    • Martin H. Duke says

      And it’s not an additional $40 per vehicle. It’s $16.

      How is it that you “support Metro” without supporting maintenance of existing service levels? What is that support good for?

      • goodluck says

        I’d like to see the math on that, sorry if i missed it in previous posts.

        I never said I don’t support maintenance of existing service levels. I don’t support unsustainable budgetary practices. I don’t support tax proposals that offer no additional service and place taxes on one group of the population that is less likely to use the service.

        It would be fairer if vehicle tax increases were higher for those living closer to transit hubs than those that not. That might actually get more folks to vote for this.

      • d.p. says

        Martin, I do hope you’re able to leverage your cordial relationship with the news department over at The Stranger to get this post linked to on Slog.

        The sheer volume of “I’m pro-transit but I just can’t support the same fee on a Yamaha scooter as on a Lexus” complaints suggest that there’s a generation of voters who not only fail to understand the long-term budgetary impact of I-695, but who have no idea that a value-proportional MVET ever existed in the first place (before being banned).

        On the other hand, there’s another strong block of “I’m pro-transit but on the fence about this proposition because…” voters who object to what Bruce describes as the “directive to…preserve service at all costs”, without any sort of organized and concerted effort to make the system better while burning through the last of their reserves. (His troublesome “cuts” wording aside, I suspect this is what “goodluck” really means.)

        People hate to feel that they are paying more for something that stubbornly refuses to improve from its pervasive mediocrity. As has now been my refrain for half a decade, the Council and Metro and the transit advocacy community ignore the concerns of these voters — who also tend to be customers (thus the visceral frustration) — at all of our peril.

      • RossB says

        “I never said I don’t support maintenance of existing service levels. I don’t support unsustainable budgetary practices.”

        How is this unsustainable? There is nothing in the budget that suggests that in the least. This is a funding crisis, not a budgetary one. The only reason there is a problem is because the state cut the money to Metro. Did you even read the article?

        ” I don’t support tax proposals that offer no additional service”

        So, wait, now you want the tax to provide additional service? So, you would be OK with this tax if it was twice as big? OK, if that is the case, I suggest you vote yes this time, then try and get another vote passed.

        ” and place taxes on one group of the population that is less likely to use the service.”

        Do you feel that way about all public services? Should the areas that need extra police protection pay more for it? How about the elderly — should they pay more for Medic One? Public transit benefits everyone. Even if you don’t care about the greater good, even if you never take a bus, even if you never experience traffic in your car, transit benefits you. It benefits the economy, which benefits you. Even if you don’t work, you benefit from a strong economy, because your other services are higher, crime is lower, and your tax rate (for other services) is lower.

        Good God, I wish they taught civics in school.

      • RossB says

        @d. p. — The best time to make a change like that is when more of “the spine” is complete. Most of those routes benefit greatly from light rail. Unfortunately, it will be a while before it gets to Northgate. We could implement it sooner, but one of the key pieces (the U-District) won’t be done until then. You could rework buses so they go to Husky Stadium, but that area is a mess for traffic.

        More to the point, there is always frustration with a governing body, but it is best not to take the frustration out in this manner. That would be like voting against a school levy because you hate the way the school board is doing things. I’ve seen this happen (in this city) and it isn’t pretty. It never works the way that opponents want it to (the board still does what they intended to do). I know this, because my mom served on the school board. So, as you well know, if Metro loses this round, they won’t have a big soul searching moment, and rework their service. They will, instead, just make cuts, but keep the same model (buses will still mainly go downtown, there will be just fewer of them).

        I wonder if the representational model for Metro is broken, though. As I mentioned, the schools in Seattle (like every other city) are run by an elected board (unpaid, at that). The board is responsible only for schools. Meanwhile, we don’t elect a board for Metro. It is up to the county. The same is true for the city. These are the folks we also (indirectly) appoint to Sound Transit. With all of the work being done from a transit perspective in this city, I wonder if it is time to directly elect a board. You could elect county officials that serve on Metro as well as Sound Transit.

      • goodluck says

        I have a budget every month, i spend less than my paychecks bring in. Asking for a pay increase from my boss might happen, but probably not the best thing. The worst thing would be to spend more money than I am bringing in for years only to come begging to my boss for a lot of money. Even worse to ask a boss i don’t work for.

      • Martin H. Duke says

        The current tax is $20. The new rate is $60, of which 60% is for Metro. $60 x 0.6 – $20 = $16.

      • Martin H. Duke says

        It would be fairer if vehicle tax increases were higher for those living closer to transit hubs than those that not. That might actually get more folks to vote for this.

        Aside from the sheer complexity of administering this, and any possible legal restrictions, I reject the idea that tweaking the payment levels will encourage anti-tax (or “tax someone else”) voters to vote for it, or people who think cuts would be a catastrophe to vote against.

        Unless of course, you want the non-hub-living drivers to pay $0, in which case you’re looking at a much bigger levy, one that might exceed their authority.

      • d.p. says

        No, Ross, the best time to make changes was every previous time Metro got a supplementary funding injection and the vast majority of the populace said, “I understand the need for more funding but goddamnit the system functions horribly and why does no one at the top seem to care about that in the slightest?”

      • Martin H. Duke says

        d.p,,

        Regarding your two blocks of voters:

        1) Given the low-income protections of this measure, the steeply regressive nature of transit cuts, and the situation in the legislature, I can only interpret the equity dissent as “get someone else to pay for this” rather than a principled defense of the truly poor. If Prop 1 loses MVET is truly DOA. I don’t think the kind of voter that supports Metro funding only through a high-earners income tax (or whatever) is of any use to the cause for the foreseeable future.

        2) As you probably know, I share your desires for the way that Metro should reform and restructure. However, if the forces in favor of that were a more important political block than the “preserve the existing route at all costs” faction, I don’t think we’d be in quite the mess we are now. So I’m not sure it would be a net vote winner for Metro, but I would like to be convinced otherwise.

      • Martin H. Duke says

        d.p.,

        If people think the system functions poorly, that’s mostly a question of capital improvements. Route restructures can help, but the big gains are in transit priority.

        And if Seattle voters (to say nothing of King County) gave a crap about transit priority, they would have voted for the Vehicle License Fee in 2011.

      • RossB says

        “I have a budget every month, i spend less than my paychecks bring in. Asking for a pay increase from my boss might happen, but probably not the best thing. The worst thing would be to spend more money than I am bringing in for years only to come begging to my boss for a lot of money. Even worse to ask a boss i don’t work for.”

        Comparing personal finances to business finances (or government finances) is a big mistake. No business works like that. Businesses have good years. Businesses have bad years. They don’t party and blow all the money in the good years, then instantly fire people in the bad years. They save up money in the good years, then try and “weather the storm” for the bad years. This is because companies often “turn it around” and have good years after a few bad ones. When this happens, they are grateful that they didn’t overreact, and make cuts that would have hurt their business.

        Their are some similarities with a public agency like Metro, but some significant differences, too. First of all, they can’t save up money. There are similarities, though — for example, they have cut capitol improvements (noted here). So, in that regard, they have done exactly what you wanted. At the same time, they have a responsibility to provide as much as possible to the public. This is where the analogy breaks down. A company is self serving. Their only responsibility is to their owner. But Metro is supposed to provide bus service. If they made these cuts sooner, then we would have fewer buses sooner (and all the problems associated with it). Meanwhile, Metro was told repeatedly that the state would get its act together and provide sufficient funding. The state failed. But if it had (or if this passes) then it should be obvious that Metro did the right thing. Not only did it manage to provide service throughout this period, but firing and hiring is very expensive. So, had the state done its job, or if the voters approve this, then Metro will have run much more efficiently. In that regard, it is just like most businesses.

      • RossB says

        @d. p. That map, and the thinking behind it, depends a lot on a high capacity, frequent system running back and forth to downtown (AKA Link). It could be drawn without it, but things get a lot weaker as a result. As it is, there are winners and losers. There will be some people who, given a new system like that, would have a worse bus commute. Without Link, you have a much higher percentage of losers, versus winners. I suppose you could try to have RapidRide provide that kind of service, but I don’t think it is up to the task (even if implemented correctly). I think you just end up with a system that doesn’t have the frequency to warrant the change. You end up with a lot more angry people.

        Further, it is harder to sell. It is one thing to say “we are taking advantage of Link, by leveraging it” to “we are building a new system — some of you might hate, but others will like it”.

      • d.p. says

        Respectfully disagree on all counts.

        1) I’m not referring to the disingenuous-concern-for-the-poor trolls. I’m referring to the seemingly large number of progressive-leaning youngsters, not poor but likely debt-hobbled, who are either too young or too new to Washington to understand why mechanisms like a progressive-valuation MVET are off the table. They’ve never heard of I-695 and it may never even have occurred to them that local funding mechanisms need to be run through the Olympia shitshow. They are entirely ignorant of the history that has shaped Metro’s funding picture, and all they see is an increasingly expensive service stuck on “suck”. This is the group most likely to be swayed by knowing the full funding story, the context of which the Yes on 1 group has done a shockingly lousy job of communicating.

        2) You know as well as I do that politicians who heed only the voices of “no change” do a terrible disservice to all the constituencies who have yet to cohere because the services that would improve their lives do not yet exist. But in this case, they exist, and they’ve already voted with their feet by not using public transit for 80% of their in-city commutes and for 91% of their non-commute trips. They may have tried to use Metro, but found the systemic intransigence so galling that they’ve given up on it. And now they may actively voting not to further support the broken system. A better system = more riders = more stakeholders. The Council’s political calculus has been wrong, and we’re likely to see the very real harm of that next week.

        3) As lovely as priority treatments are — and SDOT continues to make some great investments in them, though Metro’s diffuseness limits their real and perceived reach — they are pure second-shaving wonkery compared to the need for a legible network that simply comes when you want it, and enables painless transfers to your destination. Anyone who has lived in a city where high-frequency (but not always super-fast) transit is the norm will tell you that frequency improves speed by smoothing out demand spikes and diffusing slow-boarding passengers across more vehicles, even in the absence of additional treatments. Even bunching is less infuriating when vehicles are only 7 minutes apart to begin with. The most infuriating recent revelation is that pre-695 Metro blew all of their considerable cushion on useless hourly midday routes to every single side-street in Seattle; it’s no wonder this city had virtually no transit constituency to go to bat for them in the post-695 legislative fight!

      • Bernie says

        First of all, they can’t save up money.

        Sure they can. That’s why Metro was in relatively good shape compared to CT and PT. Yes, most of that saving was in the capital replacement budget but if you cut service when revenue and demand is down you have that money freed up to maintain some service. If you use the “crises” to eliminate routes that just need to die, which Metro did some of, you come out of the “crises” stronger than ever; just like the business that weather the storm.

    • Mark Dublin says

      You know, anybody as careful with money as you and the taxpayers you mention should be able to beat a slacker like me on a pocket calculator. Dividing forty dollars a year by fifty-two weeks gives me seventy seventy seven cents a week when you round the second digit up by a thousandth of a cent.

      Tell me, what part of your car expenses can are you being deprived of by this bone-crushing tax? Let alone just plain squandering: a gumball is probably more. More change falls out of poor victimized Peter’s pants than greedy thankless Paul would ever notice, let alone bother to pick up, even if it wasn’t in a pile of leaves, trash, or dog crap.

      Look, if you want to try to take down people in government, fine. Even the really good ones, like champion boxers, benefit from a good opponent- or sparring partner. But don’t act like this one s about money. Any really cost-conscious voter wouldn’t be lazy and spendthrift enough to buy a calculator.

      Too bad you can’t get a pencil for amount under discussion. Good the ancient Greeks had more sticks, and miles of sand to calculate on.

      Mark

  4. Sean says

    Why does transit service deserve so much scrutiny? I don’t have kids but I don’t ask for an audit of K-12 funding every two weeks. Public transit is a utility like any other public service. It helps everyone whether they use it directly or not. I think this notion of being able to opt out of paying for a particular public utility is unfair. What if we were talking about laying off teachers or rural fireman? Maybe its only my philosophy, but are we expected to be that selfish?

    • Cascadia Bryan says

      It doesn’t. But there are some people who reflexively reject the notion of any taxation, whether it is actually a good idea or not. And rather than making a coherent argument for or against, they will make a series of statements, like the need to continually reevaluate the utility’s books, to cause doubt in the minds of people why aren’t paying attention (i.e. “If someone is questioning their finances, then there must be a problem”).

      The other tactic is the one we see during many school bond measure elections. “I don’t want to vote to tax ourselves to fund schools until the schools can prove they can give children a better education. Logically, they cannot provide a better education with less funding, but that doesn’t mean anything to most people. The same argument here would be that if we don’t provide transit with proper funding, then somehow the agency will find the means to keep service going anyway. In fact, one commenter above has suggested that they would not provide additional funding unless Metro *improves* service to some unspecified level in advance.

      Yes, many people are that selfish. However, they are not willing to admit that. So they will invent problems or unworkable solutions to cover for their true feelings.

  5. Ann Wright says

    @ Martin, I am not sure what math you are using when you say “The current tax is $20. The new rate is $60, of which 60% is for Metro. $60 x 0.6 – $20 = $16.” The tax is $60 you don’t deduct the $20 simply because it expired. At the end of the I pay $60 regardless of where it goes – its goes to King County. Don’t forget there is also the .1% on sales tax that also goes to King County. The County need to revisit all their budget and their effectiveness in utilizing these monies. I have voted for all previous transportation taxes to support KC as well as to support Sound Transit measure to date. During the great recession, I was told that everyone at Sound Transit took a pay freeze and that top executive when one year beyond the freeze level. Did King County? I know that they don’t have lots of money but I want them to to come clean they actions before I raid my purse. I am sorry but I am drawing the line here because from mypersonal experience that KC has not been very efficient nor are they effective in delivering their service — not just its bus service.

    • Mike Orr says

      You do get to deduct the $20 because what’s expiring is an arbitrary tax vehicle, not the cost of the service hours. The entire purpose of the 2-year fee was a stopgap until the legislature could arrange a long-term funding source. It wasn’t a “We need the service hours now but we won’t need them in two years.” It was a “We need to keep these service hours until we can fix the tax structure so it’s no longer an issue.” Otherwise you’re effectively saying that something that did cost money (bus hours) will somehow be free after a certain date.

      Opposing the fee is the same thing as saying “We don’t need the bus hours.” Which I think is the wrong direction to go. It will lead to greater car dependency and fewer choices, which is how we got into this transportation mess in the first place. We need to keep and improve bus service so that people have more choices.

    • William Aitken says

      If the resolution fails, I pay $0, not $20. You don’t get to count the $20.

    • Mike Orr says

      The $20 is buying something; it’s not going into a black hole. If the resolution fails, you pay $0, but you don’t get the bus hours either. You may not care about bus hours, or you may think they’re less important than something else, but if so just say that flat out. Focusing only on the tax as if everything else is equal, is false logic.

  6. josh says

    metro’s deficit is real, because like everything the city does, it wastes the money given to it. Fire them all, give the same amount of money to a private company and you’ll see how the budget gets reined in and quality of service improves.

    • Glenn in Portland says

      Those places that have tried this don’t seem to have been that successful at reducing costs this way. Sure, there are some things that operate better, but Veolia Transportation has shareholders, and they want to see a profit from their shares. So, automatically a certain percentage will go to the financial institution in France that owns them.

    • Mike Orr says

      Which private company is willing to run Metro (or any other American urban transit network)? Can they provide the same level of service and make a profit without tripling fares and driving riders away? Hint: no. So privatizing Metro is the same thing as eliminating it.

    • Brent says

      Maybe the Seattle Times and the Washington Policy Center should put themselves out for bid for outside entities to operate them under 5-year contracts. See how well that goes for them. That should help remove a lot of their fat. (It might also make it more difficult to fulfill their missions, but hey, if the believe in efficiency, let them live it!)

    • David Lawson says

      josh, Community Transit has already done that.

      Result: a significantly worse safety record, and only marginally less expensive service.

    • Mike Orr says

      I think the “privatize Metro” folks want to go beyond just contracting out operations.

  7. John Slyfield says

    If this thing fails and we have to cut service it may take years to get back to where we are now. Community transit is beginning to add service after losing over half of its service hours but in six years time if nothing changes from the state they will only get back half of what they lost. If they had the help we did then they’d be in much better shape. Pierce transit has such unreliable service now it’s a joke. Hourly service on the 402 and 500 during RUSH HOUR?

    That’s what happens when you “tighten your belt.”

    • Bernie says

      Actually that’s what happens when you don’t “tighten your belt.” Both agencies kept on spending well above the revenue that was coming in for years in the mistaken belief that the threat of impeding doom would buy them a reprieve. It the case of PT with the help of some Gerrymandering it almost worked. As for getting back service in Pierce County it may be decades. Now that people have adapted to living w/o transit it’s going to be a tough sell to try and reinstate something that failed. Especially with the military ramping down.

  8. Bernie says

    charts above exclude SR99 and SR520 construction mitigation service

    Why, did you exclude funding from the two year $20 car tab fee? That’s much shorter lived than the construction mitigation. Road construction is as sure as death and taxes so why assume there won’t continue to be mitigation funding? For me the striking thing from this graph is the inability of Metro, largely virtually exclusively due to political ineptness, to let the well paid Metro staff do their job. That is, we know there are lots of routes that shouldn’t exist, we know there is a significant reduction in demand when people are out of work; but the thumb screws are applied to “maintain service levels”. And some of that political stupidity is based on the gambit that if we can create a big enough cluster F*ck people will vote to increase the money they get to hand out as (political) party favors. And if it doesn’t work… Oh well, the politicians don’t ride transit.

  9. Norah says

    Really depressing comments on the West Seattle Blog again. You can say they’re just comments, but in the mayoral election almost all of them were for Murray, and he ended up not only practically getting all the votes in West Seattle, but he won the race.

    Has anyone seen any polls on this? With the comments going negative even here, I really don’t think it has a chance now.

    • lakecityrider says

      There’s no sense in polling. Neither side can change positions or adopt a more conciliatory stance like in a race between two or more people. It either passes or it doesn’t.

      I think the uptick in negative comments is “concern trolling” by the opposition to this measure. The proponents have done a good job with the so-called ground game. I see signs and flyers all over the place, both in Seattle and on the Eastside. They’ve put up things near major bus stops (including a couple of very big signs in Capitol Hill and on 3rd Ave), there have been customized flyers showing the exact routes at that stop that would be affected, and they’re even “fighting back” in the Seattle Times comment section.

      I’m doing my part, little though it may be. I’ve been driving my car a bit more lately, with a Pro-Prop 1 message painted on the window. A friend’s house now has signs on it that face a major street in Seattle. My coworkers are sick of hearing me talk about it but they’ve almost all said they’re voting yes and that’s after a some of them started out saying they were in vehemently opposed.

      I think it will pass. I think that thoughtful, non-rabble rousing voters know that this is the best of bad choices. I think it will be close, but I’m hopeful.

      • Transit Dork says

        I think polling would have been good to have a somewhat better idea of where people stand on this issue. It would also be useful for future reference to know why people are voting yes or no, especially if Prop 1 fails. If you don’t know what makes the voting population tick you’re not going to be successful in getting these ballot measures to pass.

        The only poll I’ve seen so far is just some online King5 ‘yes/no’ type poll on their website that has been overrun by Anti-Prop 1 trolls (it was about 75% No the last time I checked a few days ago). That’s not really helpful and if that’s the only polling that undecided voters see they’ll just say, “Why bother?” and throw their ballot in the recycling bin.

        I’ve seen scattered ‘Yes on Prop 1′ signs along roadways on the Eastside but they’ve been few and far between. It sounds like they are more focused on Seattle which seems like preaching to the choir to me. Fortunately, I have yet to see any ‘No’ signs posted anywhere on the Eastside so far. I’m wondering if the No camp figures by their numbers that they have the Eastside in their pocket and are now expanding their reach in Seattle to try to expand their margins. I thought that I read in another recent comment thread on STB (can’t remember which one) that ‘No’ signs and flyers were popping up a lot in Shoreline and West Seattle.

    • Scott Stidell says

      It has no chance. The “no” campaign has an easy to understand slogan and campaign, and their signs are seen in some of Seattle’s most liberal neighborhoods.

      The “yes” campaign? Signs on buses asking “will my route be cut?” A fair point for those who actually ride the buses, but meaningless in and of itself to all those in cars who are actually reading the signs. The campaign should have used a tactic such as “Don’t want 25,000 (or whatever) more cars on the road during your commute? Vote Yes.”

      Progressives tend to think the facts speak for themselves and that everybody will simply understand the common sense of whatever it is that is trying to get passed. That isn’t the case, particularly when you delve into something wonky like transit funding and taxation mechanisms. People who don’t have the time or inclination to understand the nuances respond very well to short sweet bites, even to the point of voting against their own self interest (living in South Carolina I’ve seen this over and over again). “No $60 Car Tabs” works exceedingly well in this regard. The yes campaign has been unable to combat it effectively, in my opinion.

      • Transit Dork says

        +1 Scott. I’m getting that sinking feeling that it is doomed (or is that just my lunch not digesting well?).

        I’m no PR expert, and haven’t ever worked for any sort of political campaign, but in my opinion I think the Pro-Transit community (or at least STB) needs to have a sort of ‘Come to Jesus’ moment if Prop 1 fails to really nail down what happened and find a better way to message these things going forward. We all have to realize that if we, as a minority of the population, are going to get the majority of people to vote for something that benefits them only indirectly, those indirect benefits have to be explained in terms that directly affect their lives as you said.

        Most people don’t care that ‘tons of bus routes will be canceled’ when the majority of the county doesn’t use the bus for more than the occasional discretionary ride. LOTS more people will care if you say, “traffic will suck even harder and your drive to and from work will be even worse if we take buses off the road and have some sort of basic, educated estimates of how traffic will be impacted.

      • Bryan says

        +1 as well. I am a weekday daily user of Metro (commuting) and occasional weekend / special trip user. I will be voting in favor of this because I am a user of the system and have bothered to look in to the details.

        While I get the difficulty of making a simple bulletized pro-Prop 1 statement, I think the focus on “don’t want to loose your bus route” is too targeted at the majority that likely would vote in favor, and is ignoring the benefit to those that rarely (if ever) set foot on Metro. They are the “silent majority” that need to be convinced in enough numbers to support this and the general public good it does for everyone directly or indirectly.

        I am concerned that the “No $60 Car Tabs” signs and statements are just too convincing to the casual voting citizen. Heading up Columbian Way at Spokane St on Beacon Hill Sunday there were about 8 “No $60 Car Tabs” signs to one lonely “Save our Buses” signs — the specific content of I can’t even recall exactly because the message is more nuanced and overwhelmed by the more direct NO slogan, even it if may not be technically accurate in and of itself.

  10. Mathew "RennDawg" Renner says

    I will never vote for more taxes for Metro until the county government stops being cowards and starts enforcing the law and make people pay the fare. I am sick of seeing people not paying and operators not doing anything. Drivers and other passengers should call them on it.

    • lakecityrider says

      Will you vote for more taxes for Metro so it can afford to put security officers on almost all buses? Because that’s what it will take. There’s a reason why businesses tell their cashiers to not chase down shoplifters and why Metro tells its drivers to not confront a passenger over a fare: Each has to do with the money being replaceable while the person isn’t.

    • David Lawson says

      Metro stopped treating its drivers as law enforcement agents after a driver was shot over a fare dispute. Drivers aren’t trained or equipped to do that job, and if they were, they would cost a whole lot more money.

      • Mathew "RennDawg" Renner says

        Fewer people not paying? Then how come there are web pages and facebook pages about the transfer colour? You know so criminals can reuse transfers and not pay. I was against the phase out of paper transfers now I think it cannot happen soon enough.

  11. says

    By the number of people saying they won’t vote for Prop 1 on a Transit blog in relation to the people defending it I predict Prop 1 has a snowball’s chance in hell of passing. That is unless all of these people I’ve never seen here before were actually sent here by some organization….

    Here’s my thoughts.

    1. CT cut a good portion of their routes and became unusable shortly after. Ridership (thus revenue from riders) halved thus increasing the need for more subsidies. Now they suck money from the budget without providing valuable service.
    2. PT cut a good portion of their routes and became unusable shortly after. Ridership (thus revenue from riders) halved thus increasing the need for more subsidies. Now they suck money from the budget without providing valuable service.
    3. It’s possible that Metro could be more efficient, we need to keep pushing for that.
    4. Cutting a transit agencies routes to save money doesn’t save money (see observation 1 and 2) so forcing Metro to cut service has no possible positive outcome.
    5. Cutting Metro service is not the same as cutting CT/PT service because there isn’t enough room on the roads or parking spaces in Seattle for all the bus riders to start driving whereas in Snohomish/Pierce Counties there was.

    • Brent says

      Metro’s complaint-to-compliment ratio is somewhere around 10-1. If better than 10% of the posters at the poshy Times are defending Metro, that is a good sign. But yeah, trolling is part of the air war in this campaign.

  12. Brent says

    Myth #4: Downsizing Metro will naturally increase Metro’s efficiency benchmarks.

    It took three and a half years to eliminate route 42 after Central Link opened. The 101 and 150 are not on the list of routes to be reorganized. Routes 158 and 159 still exist over a decade after South Sounder opened (but are on the chopping block, with route 168 asterisked to gain service). Not only is there far from 17% of fat to be cut in the routes, but some of the fat won’t actually get cut, even while the muscle gets strained and torn. If you are a transit efficiency geek who sees Metro cutting 17% as a path to a more efficient transit system, think again.

    There will be much less money for capital improvement that speed up routes. Passing Prop 1, and then using some of the $32 million *one-time* sales tax windfall to catch up the backlog of capital expenditures, is a much more real path to improved efficiency.

    The lowest-hanging fruit in the efficiency toolbox, though, is massively reducing cash fumbling. Funding the low-income fare program will do that in a big way (but the program won’t go anywhere until it has a funding source, which means it will linger on the shelf if Prop 1 fails). Having the low-income fare in place will remove the largest hurdle to having a cash fare surcharge for everyone else (which Metro is seriously contemplating).

    For those of us wanting to improve Metro’s efficiency and performance metrics, defeating Proposition 1 would be a huge leap in the wrong direction.

    • Mike Orr says

      #42: That was the last vestige of the county council’s “old thinking”. The first time they vetoed it. The second time they gave it a 1-year reprieve to outreach to the non-English-speaking community. That won’t happen again. The opponents know well which routes are endangered species (2, 4S, 25, 61), and most of them are English-speaking. The council knows it can’t mess with service hours any more. The only question is when Metro will be ready to drop the hammer. Metro has avoided promising it won’t reorganizing if Prop 1 passes; the opponents are already bracing for it (and some are voting No because they think they’ll lose their route either way). So Metro just needs to get a little more ballsy, and the council will go along. Metro just needs more reassurance from the council on that.

      #150, 101: There are legitimate tradeoffs on both sides of this. Metro has chosen one side, as it was vested to do. We should respect that, while at the same time trying to convince Metro to change its mind. Aleks’ network is the best evidence we have. So we just have to keep promoting it, and get the city councils to push for it, and find more service hours to make the transition less painful.

  13. Drew Dresman says

    State constitution amendment: Washington shall one form of taxation- a progressive income tax.
    Problem solved?

    • Martin H. Duke says

      Already done!

      I hope you’ll be equally interested in raising the gas tax to cover our maintenance backlog, and ending other subsidies for drivers.

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