Council Democrats Release Alternative Cuts Plan

This week a King County Council majority of Democrat Rod Dembowski and four Republicans* backed a plan to not enact any of the Executive’s proposed cuts except for the September 2014 round (see the breakdown of what disappears when here). PubliCola reports that yesterday

Republican county council member Kathy Lambert… proposed (and passed, with support from Dembowski and the council’s other three Republicans) an an amendment that would preserve a half-dozen Dial-a-Ride Transit (DART)** routes in unincorporated King County that were deemed, under Metro’s service guidelines (which consider factors like ridership, cost, economic justice, and social equity), to be “low-performing.”

The DART service is operated by Hopelink, a nonprofit that serves seniors and people with disabilities. Lambert is on Hopelink’s board of directors.

Meanwhile, the other four Democrats presented their own “compromise” plan (with legal text) that technically enacts all four rounds of cuts. However, only the first two would be certain to happen. The Executive would have until November 30, 2014 to inform the Council that it had identified additional revenue (through new revenue projections, a Seattle tax package, or some other “efficiencies”). It would then have to submit by January 7th a “plan consistent with the Metro Transit Service Guidelines recommending restoring some routes and service included in the February 2015, June 2015 and September 2015 service changes.”

Rob Johnson, Executive Director of Transportation Choices Coalition and friend of the blog, said that on Monday his organization would back the Democratic proposal because the Dembowski/Republican plan “is a bad idea” and the County must “face reality” that some cuts will be unavoidable.

Although the differences between these proposals are largely technical, there is one significant advantage of the Democratic plan. Rather than preserving existing service patterns, it would subject a larger portion of current service to the Metro Service Guidelines, the path to a more rational, ridership-maximizing bus network. This is partly because it enacts all the cuts and then restores the service hours according to the guidelines, and also because it avoids this grubby bit of pork-barrel DART spending.

The Council will consider both proposals Monday at 1:30pm in Council Chambers. As always, public comment is welcome.

* The Council is officially nonpartisan, but all members either previously ran with party affiliation or proudly declare their allegiance.

** Specifically, 903, 909, 919, 927, 931 and 935.

Comments

  1. says

    I don’t understand this approach at all. What is the KC Council Democrats’ long-term strategy here? What do they expect to be gained by supporting cuts to the bus system? Transit voters don’t want those cuts, so enacting them undermines the effort to get Seattle to approve its own revenue as well as undermines a future countywide vote (since we know from Prop 1 that people won’t tax themselves for service they don’t expect to ever use).

    Transit advocates should be fighting against cuts whenever they’re proposed. I’m not sure that the Dembowski/Republican plan is a good one, but it does have the advantage of avoiding cuts. So I’m left at a loss to understand how the Democrats’ plan gets us to voter support of a better bus system. The electorate does not want Democrats to preside over transit austerity.

    • Kyle S. says

      Transit voters don’t want those cuts

      This transit voter wants to do whatever it takes to force Metro to shift from unproductive milk runs to grid-based frequent service.

    • David Lawson says

      The Dembowski plan only “avoids cuts” by saying “If we bury our heads in the sand, we can’t see the revenue crisis coming.” Adopting it will just force sudden, unplanned cuts later as Metro literally runs out of cash.

      • says

        I’m not sold on his plan. But it does have the benefit of trying to find a way to avoid cuts, at least until Seattle voters have weighed in. That’s where transit advocates ought to be. I never thought I’d live to see the day when transit advocates are calling for bus cuts. Which led me to my question: what is the long-term strategy here?

      • Matthew Johnson says

        The Dems plan also avoids cuts IF THERE IS MONEY TO DO SO. It also gives Metro the flexibility to make the most of it’s money by restructuring service to meet rider demand.

        From what I’ve seen the Dembowski plan is hope for the best, make no plans for dealing with a shortfall, while at the same politicizing service planning.

      • GuyOnBeaconHill says

        The September 2014 cuts are mostly cuts that need to happen.

        By February 2015, if Seattle voters pass a funding package, some of the Seattle cuts can be avoided. The Feb15 cuts target Queen Anne, First Hill, Rainier Valley and are going to generate a good deal of controversy and opposition. This is where the changes to routes 1, 2, 3, 4, 8, 12, 60, 106, 107 (and others) are scheduled. This will be the most painful cut. Some of the changes are good; but some are going to cause hardship. Kent, Kirkland, Federal Way will also see cuts in Feb15, but those communities haven’t voted to support their service, so they will get cut.

        In June 2015, Fremont, Magnolia and North Seattle get their cuts. I think these changes are less controversial than the Feb15 cuts and the Council find less controversy here, although NE Seattle may make some noise.

        The September15 cuts target West Seattle and Bellevue and don’t seem likely to generate much controversy. In fact, many of the Sep15 cuts are quite logical, like combining the 36 with the 70 (why are we waiting until September 2015 to do that?).

      • David Lawson says

        Service planning has to have a political aspect, but should be depoliticized to the extent possible. That is exactly what the Council tried to do by passing the Service Guidelines into law. They did so because they had grown to realize that the alternative was endless council bickering which ultimately resulted in service patterns that were horribly inefficient because they were based on individual council members’ whim and influence rather than any relationship with need or demand.

        And the service guidelines have largely succeeded. The October 2012 west-side restructure didn’t go as far as it could have, but it dramatically grew ridership by focusing service on areas where it was needed. The 2011 Eastside restructure similarly grew ridership. Now the Dembowski wing of the council apparently wants to go back to deciding where to put service based on a single council member’s parochial interest; they voted for an amendment that would restore 6 DART routes with bad to horrible ridership only because Kathy Lambert is on the board of the DART contractor.

      • David Lawson says

        GuyOnBeaconHill, I have to disagree emphatically about the later rounds of cuts being less painful. The West Seattle restructure is the worst and most painful in the entire proposal, for reasons I detailed here. The Northeast Seattle restructure has good bones, but cuts frequencies so far that several corridors will be either unusable (71) or plainly well below needed capacity (32, 68/372, 73, 306/312/522).

        We don’t combine the 36 with the 70 because, so far, they have different frequencies reflecting higher demand on the 36. That changes because the 36 gets its frequency cut off-peak and the 70 gets a frequency boost during peak to make up for the deleted 66.

      • Warren On Beacon says

        “In fact, many of the Sep15 cuts are quite logical, like combining the 36 with the 70 (why are we waiting until September 2015 to do that?)”

        Just be aware that Rt. 36 takes a service frequency reduction in the process. So, you if you want to combine the 36 and 70 together earlier that Sept 2015, you want to see the Rt. 36 reduced. I think we’ll be okay with the reductions JUST AS LONG WE GET ARTIC trolleys/buses to insure capacity. Another issue to consider, is the more frequency of bunching of buses together. If the University Bridge goes up on the Rt. 70 Southbound, it will definitely affect the 36 outbound performance, to a point that bunching can be possible..

      • Glenn in Portland says

        In June 2015, Fremont, Magnolia and North Seattle get their cuts. I think these changes are less controversial than the Feb15 cuts

        I’ve actually been fairly surprised at how much those Magnolia routes get used, even at times they shouldn’t get used at all. I’ve even boarded a #31 being run as an articulated and thought “What in hell?” only to find that by the time to crossed the bridge over 15th it was pretty full.

    • djw says

      What do they expect to be gained by supporting cuts to the bus system?

      They don’t “support cuts.” They put a plan to avoid them on the ballot, and they endorsed that plan. What they oppose is the complete cannibalization of capitol investment in an effort to stave off cuts just a little longer, which would have significant deleterious for the agency long term, especially without additional revenue streams.

      • Glenn in Portland says

        Also, if you read Martin’s article:
        Rather than preserving existing service patterns, it would subject a larger portion of current service to the Metro Service Guidelines, the path to a more rational, ridership-maximizing bus network.

        Seems to me that is a worthy goal.

  2. Mark Dublin says

    1. Which of the two plans contains the better means for a swift re-adjustment if the plan doesn’t work out?

    2. Besides focus on keeping or removing routes, what effort is anybody making to get everyday operations working as well as possible?

    3. What positive effort is KC Metro making to include its first-line operating workforce in dealing with this whole situation?

    4. Starting with frequent contributors whose icons include buses: If answer to #3 is “none”, why isn’t the union in front of TV cameras, the King County Courthouse, a radio microphone- for starters- demanding the chance they deserve to save their employment?

    6. How much money did it cost tax-paying voters to enact the lie about party affiliation? Mentality behind it is one of main causes of every one of the agency’s problems.

    See everybody Monday afternoon. Incidentally, remembering past unpleasantness, how early do we have to be there to avoid spending whole meeting waiting in line to get through Security? Can we get in early by Fourth Avenue entrance?

    Mark

    • GuyOnBeaconHill says

      2. Besides focus on keeping or removing routes, what effort is anybody making to get everyday operations working as well as possible?
      3. What positive effort is KC Metro making to include its first-line operating workforce in dealing with this whole situation?

      Metro keeps saying that they’ve cut overhead and management to the bone and that eliminating bus service is the only remaining option. But I’d like to know how much efficiency Metro has really generated over the last decade. There’s a constant annual cost increase of 3.8% built into Metro’s financial projections. How much of that increase could be eliminated if six-figure managers would listen to $20/hour front line workers?

      • William Aitken says

        What $20/hr front line workers?

        The big problem Metro has with costs is front line labor costs. These were allowed to grow much faster than inflation between 2000 and 2008, and we are now stuck with some of the highest labor costs in the nation. Good luck getting these costs under control: the workers obviously don’t want to see any moderation in their salaries, and I’ve come to the conclusion that the King County Executive isn’t really interested either.

      • David Lawson says

        We pay workers a lot because it costs a lot to live here. Cut driver pay more than a little bit, and you will have a hard time recruiting drivers. Metro already had that problem when the labor market was stronger in 2004-2005; it cut a planned service increase in 2004 because it couldn’t recruit enough drivers to run the service.

        If you only pay as much as Pierce or (god forbid) CT’s contractor, then people will go work for those employers because the cost of living in those areas is so much cheaper.

    • David Lawson says

      1. The compromise plan. It allows the executive to restore service according to the Service Guidelines without further council action if extra money is available. The Dembowski plan requires further council action (or will precipitate a very messy crisis) if the magic funds it relies on don’t appear.

      2. The latest word about that is the most recent (2013) followup report on the performance audit.

      3. Email Mr. Desmond and ask him.

      4. The union was a big supporter of Prop 1. But I understand that not many layoffs will be required if the cuts go through — hours will be reduced and no new drivers will be hired.

      • Mark Dublin says

        David, thanks for straightening out the comment on drivers’ wages. But let me speak to William’s concern about compensation.

        Every contemporary entity, public and private, now routinely bases critical decisions on the recommendation of consultants. The operative rule in public transit that a consultant’s compensation is generally in precise inverse proportion to their experience actually doing any of the work necessary to implement their recommendations.

        Considering the cost of the average consulting contract, and the results of one or two recent ones, twenty dollars an hour is on the cheap side of reasonable for people who know what they’re talking about. Remember, on any balance sheet, every debit is matched by a credit.

        Of course, accurate reading by an auditor who can evaluate both boxes on the sheet.

        Mark

    • Kyle S. says

      Or you might determine that the Republicans see this as an opportunity to gather public support for driving Metro to the absolute brink and ensuring that instead of just suffering cuts, the entire system collapses.

  3. asdf says

    In my opinion, Metro planners have made some horrendous routing and schedule choices on the 927 that make the route almost designed to fail. First off, it’s schedule has no coordination with the 554 whatsoever. In many cases, the connection requires a 20-25 wait per direction at Issaquah Transit Center. On top of that, it forces people in north Issaquah (the only unique coverage area of the route) to take a slow circuitous route to Issaquah Transit Center, rather than connect to the 554 at Issaquah Highlands P&R, which would take much less time. Third, the 927 spends a significant portion of its time driving through the south section of Issaquah, which duplicates other routes (and the connection from south Issaquah to North Issaquah is so indirection, it may as well not even exist – you could do the trip just as quickly by walking). Finally, the 927 terminates on its north end about one mile shy of downtown Sammamish.

    North Issaquah and Sammamish do need some sort of coverage, but the ridership data shows that route 927 is the wrong way to do it. Rather, if I were designing service to Sammamish with the current resources of the 927 (which I presume from the very limited schedule, is just one bus), I would split the 927 into two routes like this.

    The first route would connect the city of Sammamish to Issaquah Transit Center like this: https://maps.google.com/maps?saddr=Renton+Rd&daddr=E+Lake+Sammamish+Pkwy+SE+to:228th+Ave+SE+to:228th+Ave+NE&hl=en&ll=47.546408,-122.030725&spn=0.059789,0.132093&sll=47.543077,-122.052784&sspn=0.029781,0.066047&geocode=FdFu1QIdx3e5-A%3BFeLA1QIdHKe5-A%3BFXYV1gId8uK5-A%3BFZCQ1gIdHeO5-A&t=h&mra=dme&mrsp=0&sz=15&z=14

    The second route would connect the city of Sammamish to Issaquah Highlands P&R like this:

    https://maps.google.com/maps?saddr=Highlands+Dr+NE&daddr=SE+Issaquah-Fall+City+Rd+to:SE+Klahanie+Blvd+to:228th+Ave+SE+to:228th+Ave+NE&hl=en&ll=47.551622,-122.034073&spn=0.059551,0.132093&sll=47.607928,-122.02991&sspn=0.029744,0.066047&geocode=FYd71QIdliO6-A%3BFVm71QIdYEy6-A%3BFdLz1QIdBku6-A%3BFXYV1gId8uK5-A%3BFZCQ1gIdHeO5-A&t=h&mra=dme&mrsp=4&sz=15&z=14

    The two routes together would provide the same coverage as the 927 does today, but they would each move considerably faster, as the deviations through parking lots would be eliminated. Residents of downtown Sammamish (probably the only multi-family housing with 10 miles) headed to Seattle would have the choice of either route with the 554. Of course, connections with the 554 at both endpoints would be carefully coordinated with Sound Transit.

    Google estimates one-way drive times for the two routes to be 13 and 16 minutes, respectively, so with just one bus in circulation, we would probably be looking at 90-minute headways on each route. (The two routes would be operated by the same bus – the bus would enter downtown Sammamish as one route. Then, after a brief layover, would leave as the other route). For the sake of maintaining predictable schedules for people making connections, these would each be fixed routes, not DART routes.

    Finally, to maintain local service through south Issaquah after that segment of the 271 gets axed, Sound Transit should simply add a couple of stops to the 554 along Newport Way, which the bus is already going right by anyway.

    • David Lawson says

      I feel pretty much totally sure you won’t be able to run both those routes in a 90-minute cycle with one bus and required recovery time. Google Maps driving estimates are too fast even for cars around here; a good very rough guideline with buses is to double them.

      Metro didn’t so much “plan” the 927 as have it evolve by default. I know they would like to completely restructure Sammamish Plateau service, but so far other places with off-peak riders that number more than 20/day have taken priority.

      • asdf says

        Thinking about it afterwards, I think you are probably right that 90-minutes would be a bit optimistic, especially with whatever additional layover would be required to achieve reasonable connections with the 554. Nevertheless, a reliable bus every 2 hours with well-timed connections is still much better than an unreliable bus every hour and 15 minutes with poorly timed connections. Alternatively, maybe it would be better to just skip the eastern of the two routes and accept some loss of coverage, so that the western route could run every hour with a single bus. Either option is still better than the current route, which prioritizes avoiding a few steps of walking to reach a small selection of destinations over actually getting somewhere in a reasonable amount of time.

        In any case, something doesn’t smell right planning resources to figure out how to structure service have to be prioritized, as the cost of planning routes and schedules of any route is negligible compared to the cost of actually running it. A single day of keeping the 927 on the road in its current form, probably already costs more than going through the process of fixing it.

      • David Lawson says

        Planning is a lot harder than you’re giving it credit for. It’s easy to draw lines on a map, but a lot of work has to happen both before and after you draw the lines. You have to evaluate the potential line and alternatives in terms of the factors in the service guidelines (and its impact on the performance of other service under the service guidelines), you have to determine in fine detail whether the route and schedule you planned are operationally feasible, you have to ensure that there are no knock-on effects (such as pushing other service to a farther-away base with longer deadhead time), and so forth. And this is with a planning staff that was gutted in the wake of the financial crisis and the 2009 audit. It takes a lot of resources to plan a restructure, and I don’t blame the staff for focusing on high-ridership areas first.

      • asdf says

        I don’t blame the limited planning staff we have either on focusing on higher ridership areas first. But maybe the problem is that, politically, gutting the planning staff appears to people on the outside like cutting adminstrative fat and, hence, we cut it too much.

        That said, planning and executing a restructuring somewhere where there are fewer buses and fewer riders should be much quicker and cheaper than figuring out how to shuffle the 71/72/73 around. Way fewer knock-off effects to contend with, and fewer existing riders to storm meetings and oppose any kind of change. Metro did execute a restructuring of service in the Snoqualmie Valley this past year, and it had to have been much cheaper to plan and execute than the service restructuring around the opening of the C and D-lines.

        Also, it is infrequent routes that connect to infrequent routes where schedule coordination is so critical to giving the route any chance of success. Force users to wait 20 minutes for a connection to go 3 miles, in both directions, and no one who has any alternative option, will ever ride it. And if it’s not worth the cost of paying somebody to sit in front of a computer and figure how how to juggle the schedule to fix this problem, it probably isn’t worth the paying a bus driver to operate the route every day, in perpetuity, in the first place.

        In the case of the 927, any debate on what form it should take is largely academic because the underlying reality remains that Metro does not have money to spare a single bus on a corridor with such low ridership potential. And there is no point in going through the effect to plan a service restructuring now for a service that is going to be going away in a few months. (And with 40/40/20 gone, will probably remain gone indefinitely, even if sales tax revenue bounces back).

        That said, there are other examples of coverage routes that will continue to exist, but are being cut to bone and, in some cases, will involve additional transfers beyond what’s required today. For example, how well Metro can coordinate schedules of the new 234 and 236 with the truncated 255 will have a huge impact on the usability of transit in general for riders at the tail end of these routes.

  4. Anandakos says

    Perhaps someone upthread has already noted this, but how in any sense of the phrase “freedom from conflicts of interest” can Councilor Lambert vote on a proposal which directly benefits an organization on whose board she sits?

    Wow; just wow! The hypocrisy that politicians exhibit in order to grease their favorite activities is sickening. It happens on the Blue team, too, but I believe to a lesser degree.

    • David Lawson says

      I’m preparing a post on the DART amendment, and I’ve emailed Councilmember Lambert to ask whether she thinks her voting on the amendment presented a conflict of interest. If she responds, I’ll incorporate the response into the post.

    • Brent says

      HopeLink is a non-profit outfit. I’m betting Councilmember Lambert does not get paid one dime by them.

      • David Lawson says

        You don’t need to be paid for a conflict of interest to exist. It’s sufficient to have duties to two entities that are in conflict. Here, it seems to me that her fiduciary duty to HopeLink is in conflict with her duty to the county.

      • Anandakos says

        David is exactly, 110% spot on right. There may in fact be a greater conflict if the organization does something one supports emotionally.

        There was absolutely nothing wrong with her raising the issue and proposing legislation; representatives all have policy preferences which they wish to support. But voting in this instance was pretty egregious.

    • aw says

      There’s only one element that might be worrying WRT a conflict of interest.
      The executive is supposed to produce a report that “describes how the county has worked with its contract transit service provider to manage and potentially mitigate fiscal impacts of service changes”.

      The DART routes aren’t really saved; they will be examined to see if there are other service alternatives that would work better. Lambert has been a fan of alternative service delivery and pushed for its use in her own district for the Snoqualmie Valley Shuttle.

  5. Mark Dublin says

    Question for anyone who has actually operated Dial-a-Ride service, from the desk or the driver’s seat anywhere in the country:

    Am I right that this form of service habitually under-budgets for both fleet and maintenance? And that the best scheduling and communications can never make up for the lack of enough vehicles for the job?

    Flexible route small-vehicle service seems to operate very well in countries where not only are wages and benefits far below ours, but also where very few people have cars of their own.

    Bottom line: In this country, if Dial-a-Ride were a bargain to operate, rural cab companies- which would also still exist- would already be doing it. If this were Turkey or Tanzania, average roadside wait would hardly exist.

    The reason for First World countries to exist- let alone their governments, is to deal with what their people need whether it’s profitable or not. And that it also work. Sanitary systems cost more than holes and shovels,

    Mark

  6. John Bailo says

    Transit must be preserved, but fair taxation must be enacted.

    Constantly adding taxes to an already egregiously high sales tax, and penalizing motorists who need their cars (lacking alternatives) can’t go on.

    I would use this opportunity, especially Republicans, to consider statewide initiatives towards fair and equitable pro-development, pro-growth and pro-business tax restructuring.

    • Mark Dublin says

      Suppose you could add or repair something on your car that would automatically prolong its life- for an extra dollar and fifteen cents a week? Maybe the next campaign should advertise on late-night TV and offer people something futurists to clamp on the fuel line.

      Seems to me the worst obstacle to attracting and keeping productive business in the Seattle area is having both personnel and freight stuck in linear parking lots marked clearly with “No Parking” signs and street names on posts. And Interstate highway system shields overhead.

      This isn’t about either commerce or taxation. It’s about a wasteful mode of development externalizing its costs- meaning keeping profits while making other people- and businesses-pay to straighten out the mess.

      No deal.

      Mark

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