A month ago I mailed King County Exec Ron Sims about Metro’s 40/40/20 rule that was put in place in Metro’s last six-year-plan. The rule basically indicates that 40% of new Metro service should be created on the Eastside, 40% in South King County and only 20% in the city. When I read about it, it seemed unfair to me since the city is 35% of the county’s population. I asked Sims whether such a rule would be put in place in King County’s next six-year-plan for Metro and here’s the response I recieved:

Dear Mr. Smith:

Thank you for your email of May 21, 2007, to King County Executive Ron Sims, regarding the 40/40/20 percent policy addressing the distribution of new Metro service hours between the Eastside, South King County and Seattle/Shoreline subareas. Executive Sims asked me to respond to you on his behalf. This is a policy that has caused a great deal of controversy and confusion, but it has been supported by a majority of King County Councilmembers.

As background, it’s useful to know the existing distribution of service hours between subareas. Currently, approximately 64 percent of Metro’s service hours are allocated to serve the “west” subarea that includes Seattle, Shoreline and Lake Forest Park, which comprises about 35 percent of the county’s population. The other two subareas share the remaining 36 percent. Seattle has a greater share of service per capita primarily for historical reasons. When Metro was formed it absorbed the established Seattle Transit, which had an extensive route system and frequent service. Prior to Metro’s formation there was meager transit service in the suburbs.

Since the entire county contributes to Metro transit, there is a desire in the East and South subareas to gradually improve the level of transit service to get closer to the higher baseline for service that Seattle enjoys. It is easy to understand their point of view. The 40/40/20 policy, which addresses only new service added to the system, is intended to achieve a more even balance of service hours per capita between subareas over time.

It’s also easy to understand concerns in Seattle and Shoreline, where ridership and expectations for service improvements continue to grow, especially as gasoline prices have increased. This is one reason the Transit Now program established a “service partnerships” program. Metro can now provide matching funds to leverage investments by local jurisdictions and/or public/private partnerships in service or speed and reliability improvements that benefit transit. This program was created in part to allow Metro to respond to emerging transit demands and desires for a higher level of service than the baseline we provide county-wide. Some of the funds Seattle authorized through the Bridging the Gap initiative may be spent to add service in Seattle under the partnership program.

At this point, Metro does not plan to recommend reconsideration of the 40/40/20 policy; however, the County Council is due to revisit transit policies over the coming year, and if you want to pursue the issue further, you may want to contact your representative on the King County Council or the Council’s Regional Transit Committee.


Kevin Desmond

General Manager

Metro Transit Division

cc: The Honorable Ron Sims, King County Executive

De’Sean Quinn, Director, Council Relations, King County Executive Office

Harold S. Taniguchi, Director, Department of Transportation (DOT)

Victor Obeso, Manager, Service Development, Metro Transit Division, DOT

David Hull, Supervisor, Service Planning, Service Development, Metro Transit Division, DO

4 Replies to “Metro’s 40/40/20 rule”

  1. Thanks for the post. I had never heard a clear answer on why the 40/40/20 rule exists. I can see building out service hours and creating induced demand in the other subareas. Although the Seattle subarea is 35% of the population, I’m curious what percentage of total Metro boardings are within the subarea. It seems like people are much more likely to be taking transit within this subarea, and thus higher service hours in this subarea would be warranted. People within this subarea are MUCH more likely to not have a car and take transit for non-commute trips.

    I’m a semi-regular Metro rider who lives on the Hill, and I’ve noticed buses (particularly the 8) have been a lot more crowded the last few months, even at non-peak hours. (For example, standing room only at 8pm on a Sunday). I’d rather see service hours where the riders are, than making sure there are 1/4 full buses to the suburbs running every half-hour during non-commute hours. (Not to say they shouldn’t have service– they should– but if Seattle buses are running at capacity, shouldn’t we make more capacity for transit riders in the area where the capacity is needed? Are Sunday night buses to Issaquah standing room only?)

  2. Interesting point Brad, I was looking at the Buschick blog a while back and there was a topic based on monitoring people and buses. Metro, apparently doesn’t do this as often as we may think although I am not too sure on this. When someone pays fare, or swipes their transit card of choice, it doesn’t register as a head count of who gets on the bus. It gets tricky too with routes entering the free ride zone as well. When they do monitor how many people are using a particular route, they have a mat that is apparently on the 1st step of the bus that counts people boarding. However, like you, it makes me wonder if this is true, are we spending more where people aren’t than where they are? It seems as though the 33 is packed on Sunday nights when I do ride. I don’t know about the Issaquah bus, but I am guessing probably not? If the 20 of the 40-40-20 is paying more then it seems unfair not to give them more. I have noticed too recently with Children’s Hospital partnering up with Metro that they will in turn get more bus service. I think this is a great idea, especially for the financial part to Metro, however does that cut other potential routes that could have been helped out? Have you heard of anything about that D?

  3. Not for Metro, but I know Microsoft pays for some of Sound Transits costs of running the 545.

    And I think the “Boeing” buses to Boeing field and Renton are partly paid for by Boeing.

  4. The frustrating thing about this rule is that it covers bus hours, not bus costs.

    That is, when the 8 is packed, it’s probably close to covering its costs and might even make money for Metro. On the other hand, a random 1/4 full Issaquah bus has a long route to cover and fewer people contributing — its net cost is much higher per bus hour.

    I have no problem with making sure new bus costs are divided in proportion to the population. But that would give very different results from making sure new bus hours are proportionally divided.

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