Image from bill98117 in the STB flickr pool
Here’s Mike Lindblom of the Seattle Times writing about the budget troubles Metro Transit is facing. It’s the same story recently we’ve been hearing recent, more people are riding the bus because of higher gas prices, but at the same time costs have gone up for transit agencies due to the same rising fuel prices.

Sort of luckily for us, King County Exec Ron Sims has promised not to cut service, but unfortunately, that means we might see either new Transit Now service not materializing or a fare increase.

Service increases scheduled for September are not at risk, said Kevin Desmond, Metro’s general manager. But the extent of future service improvements funded by the Transit Now sales tax could be in question. The plan, approved by voters in 2006, calls for bus rapid-transit service every 10 minutes at peak hours to five corridors: Pacific Highway South, West Seattle, Ballard, Aurora and Overlake, to begin in the 2010s.

A guess canceling a planned service increase is not the same thing as cutting service, but it’s too bad either way.

The article mentions how the other agencies are going to deal with the budget problems.

Closer to home, Kitsap Transit has announced a 25-cent fare increase starting in August, along with cuts to routes that carry fewer than 10 people per hour, and a trim of four administrative jobs. That should cover fuel spikes through 2009, said director Dick Hayes. But he thinks fuel will continue to get more expensive. “The decisions get much harder from here.”

Snohomish County’s Community Transit has made no proposals to change service or fares. The agency will launch its Swift bus rapid-transit line on Highway 99 next year, and still is seeking bids this year for new double-decker commuter buses, spokesman Tom Pearce said.

Sound Transit can cover its fuel gap with reserve funds this year and hasn’t planned for 2009 yet. The spike affects not only its express buses, but the diesel-powered Sounder commuter trains, which carry 28 percent more riders than last year, mainly on its south-end line. “We’re not talking about fare increases or service cuts at this time,” said spokeswoman Linda Robson.

One winner is Pierce Transit, whose fleet runs on compressed natural gas, equivalent to $1.21 per gallon.

Go Pierce Transit!

So what should Transit agencies do? Take the poll below.
[poll id=”3″]

17 Replies to “Metro Fare Increase Talk”

  1. What transit agencies should be doing is following the lead of Pierce Transit and smaller LA-area transit agencies and move to CNG or other alternative fuel buses.

    But what they REALLY should be doing is building electric rail systems, including passing ST2 here.

    Or am I just turning into you?

  2. it would be interesting to see some routes (48, 15, 18, etc.) moved to electric trolley buses. this would require some capital investment to extend the trolley system but taking a few more of the frequent-service routes that run on or near existing trolley overhead and making them trolley routes with some more frankentrolleys would be interesting.

    also, i think it’s time the county council declares an “emergency” and suspends the 40-40-20 rule. i’m all for service cuts on the least-used routes (not eliminating the routes entirely in most cases, but perhaps ending the failed experiment with suburban buses that have the same headways as the #43 or #7 in town). if the goal is to serve as many customers as possible as well as possible, it’s time to ditch that rule. this also makes sense given the growth patterns and growth management we want to drive (and the explosive growth in-city). there is a letter i wrote about this in friday’s seattle times though it’s not really connected to the budget shortfalls.

  3. Metro seriously needs to consider emergency service cuts, especially in the suburban areas where buses can whiz by empty. If it isn’t electric, it needs to be rationed.

    1. They don’t have that choice. We have a nasty rule about what percentage of service hours go where, and so cutting suburban service would also require cutting urban service.

      As long as Sims is county exec, it’s going to stay that way, too. The short term thing we can do is elect Larry Phillips.

      1. Ben, I have been trying to put together a transit riders union since I’ve moved here, and I was wondering if I could simply refocus and join in with you and other relevant interested parties in getting this up and running.

        I’d prefer before November, of course, since it would take work to get things going. And actually, even earlier if possible.

        I say earlier since we’ll hemmorhage support from a large chunk of people at UW and in Central Seattle when U-Link gets going and people begin to feel that they’ve got what they want out of ST.

        A totally grassroots campaign could work, especially dividing out into subareas. Flyers and all that, a simple website explaining points, etc.. We could even hand-deliver pamphlets in our particular sub-areas if needed when people inquire but can’t gain access to the website. I don’t know if we’d have to go the entire route of using Robert’s Rules, but meetings could be created easily.

        I’ll go ahead and propose a meeting at Piecora’s at 14th and Madison on a future Saturday afternoon.

        First meeting to discuss direction, goals, support levels (as in “Positive toward all transit” or “Prefers bus, neutral on rail” or “Neutral on transit, economically minded, wants congestion solution”) and how far this should go. Given my experience with Metro (bus was 45 minutes late today, for example), I’d say the discussion needs to be opened ASAP.

  4. You know what? Go ahead and raise fares. It’s called the law of supply and demand.

    (And the last fare hike didn’t affect me because my bus pass is subsidized so I kept paying only $20 for a pass whose face value went up to $1.75.)

  5. I would first raise fares for two-zone off-peak use. Right now it’s $2.25 to go two zone on a Metro bus during peak but only %1.50 during off-peak — a 75 cent decrease.

    Morgan: “Supply and demand” can’t be applied to transit that easily. There’s a massive societal cost to driving including pollution, road maintenance, and congestion. I wouldn’t flip if fares were raised again because for most people it’s still a value compared to gas and parking costs, but anything we can do to increase ridership will in the future usher in increases in service.

  6. I would halt future service increases immediately. Expanding further will exacerbate the problem. Raising fares would be next, but after that, I’d start cutting service.

    Ideally, we should revisit the crazy 20/40/40 rule, which I need to write about.

  7. I haven’t invested much time in thinking about 20/40/40, but I think it’s a bit easy for Seattlites to say that we should get more service at the cost of the other guy.

    I think it’s more useful to planners to say what you’re willing to give up that you actually do value.

    I’d be curious what the funding flows are between the various regions. Does the Eastside subsidize us? Do both Seattle and the Eastside subsidize South County? I’m genuinely curious to know.

      1. Not really. We do subsidize both the Eastside and South County for new metro service. But we are subsidised for existing service.

  8. i should mention cutting low-ridership / redundant service in seattle should be as fair game as anything outside of the city – it doesn’t come across as clear in my suggestions above but there are plenty of places in seattle where virtually pointless service could be suspended (though i would argue the pickins are a bit more slim for core in-city routes)

    the whole idea of subarea equity – be it for bus service hours or any other transportation spending – doesn’t really make sense philosophically. proportionally distributing cash vs spending regional money where it can do the greatest good is beyond arbitrary. the nature of transit and transportation is moving people to, from and through places – building and maintaining these systems sometimes mean you need to spend more (or less) in different areas to make the whole thing work. tying funding to the notion of subarea equity just makes hard problems harder by adding a completely arbitrary extra dimension.

      1. i’d suggest reducing service, not eliminating routes – the pickings are slim though. most of the reductions would be taking 1-2 trips / day off of a bunch of routes – e.g. the 25, 16, maybe the 38 and a few other ones.

  9. I don’t think they should cut any service, it’s a chicken or the egg for many routes. I like the other posters idea to extend the electric trolley lines further.

    There is a bus that does a decent job getting to my work, but it only runs ONCE an hour, and I have a fixed schedule that would make me wait 45 mins before and after work.

    I’m sure that route does not have that many riders, but I would take it everyday the weather stunk if it ran more often…

  10. Let’s get rid of the ride-free zone downtown. It would make downtown buses faster and more pleasant and increase fare revenue.

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