You can read it here. The plan’s layout:

  • Raise fares 25¢ this year, and raise them again 25¢ in 2010.
  • Sell Metro-owned properties to cover the rest of the budget gap. Sims calls out the Metro base property in Bellevue, or “East Base”. Update See Below
  • Cancel capital projects of about $65 million, he doesn’t say which these are, but I am guessing Transit Now.
  • Raid the rainy day fund for $45 million ~ $65 million.

Even with this cost-cutting, property selling (that’s a huge property in Bellevue there), and fare increase, the budget deficit will return in 2011. Yikes. The bottom line: Metro is in serious, serious trouble, at a time when it’s ridership is growing faster than it ever has before. Out of sales tax funding with costs spirally out-of-control, it’s just a matter of time before something breaks, and it looks like service cuts could be coming in a few years.


I thought from my conversation with someone in Metro the Bellevue Lot was the empty lot next to the East Base, it turns out the lot is likely this one here on 6th and 112th. The land is apparently left over from the land the County sold to Bellevue for their city hall.  The land has an appraised value of some $13.2 million, but is prime for development and might fetch more than that, especially if Prop. 1 passes and a Bellevue station is located near there.

43 Replies to “Ron Sims’ plan to save Metro”

  1. This is terrible. He’s selling the family silver to avoid a lousy 25 cent fare increase. And if RapidRide is toast too… there really is no hope but ST.

    This thing better pass.

    1. His blog post says: “We must also remain steadfast with the implementation of the service expansion we promised voters when we asked them to approve the Transit Now initiative.” I cannot imagine that means cutting RapidRide.

    2. i hate to say it but increase the fare a bit more but at the same time switch to the honor system on fare collection. improved efficiency in fare control will help free up a lot of schedule maintenance hours and other wasted time at the farebox. fare evaders will always be fare evaders – one of the reasons why european transit works better (usually) than most US transit systems is fare control tends to be based on the honor system (plus roving fare control agents) which focuses on moving people not nickel-and-diming people who are not going to and will never pay the fare anyway. why waste the whole system’s time trying to squeeze $1.75 out of a small percent of the riders?

  2. I don’t think the property he’s referring to is East Base. I asked him about this, and he said it’s an empty lot that is currently not being used.

    1. well that’s a relief, selling off the East Base could potentially cost more than its worth because of increased distances busses would have to run to serve eastside areas.

  3. there seem to be a number of routes that are not too busy but still have the large bus, couldn’t you save quite a bit of deseil from that? Also is it too hard to switch to the smaller buses off peak?

    1. My guess is that all the van-buses they have are already in use. I know they’re used pretty extensively on the Eastside already.

  4. The interesting thing about this is that Simms will put a positive spin on this come November in hopes of killing ST2.1. He’ll say something about how he’s cut costs and increased rider ship all without reducing service and spending billions on new infrastructure. That will put a lot of pressure on RapidRide as soon as it comes out and lets be honest, this diet BRT will have little effect on traffic and is likely to cost more than predicted.

    1. I wish we could see more specifics on which capital investments are being sacrificed, but I think this is a strong victory for transit. We’re not cutting service, fares are only rising 50 cents over two years.

      Sims is wrong on Prop. 1, absolutely, but he’s doing a lot to protect bus service when the typical, easy response would be to cut service, increase fares, and still self-congradulate.

  5. Full park and rides + rising fares + pissed off Seahawk fans is not a formula for ST2.1 ballot success. Especially when the admin pushes down gas prices prior to the election.

    1. Well, it’s the situation we find ourselves in, so we better advocate for light rail expansion if we want work toward a long-term solution so that the backbone of our region’s transit system isn’t powered by diesel. These challenges need to remind us that now isn’t the time to fence-sit — it’s time for all transit advocates to educate and inform their friends, family, and neighbors.

      (Light rail/ST’s 520 BRT eventually does increase bus service since long-haul routes will be more on ST’s network, which allows Metro to use its 0.9% sales tax for more local service in all of King County.)

  6. We have two different situations here. We have to build the infrastructure for the future, and getting as much of our transit network off of Diesel is important, so getting Light Rail expanded will help on that. We also got to preserve what service we have in the short term. I would like to see Metro start a plan for electrifying bus routes within the city, and do not sacrifice trolley extensions to pay for diesel for buses in the suburbs. Now the planning proposals I heard for that last year include extending the 36T to New Holly/Othello Station, and eventually bringing the wire to Ranier Ave, connecting with the 7 running to Ranier Beach, maybe replacing the 36D(Diesel portion on Beacon Hill, with the 106 taking that over). The 14 will be connecting with Mt. Baker Station, or will Sims Sacrifice that? There was talk last year of the 7 pulling into Henderson Street Station.

    Now one thing I hope Metro does not do is the same thing Edmonton did, scrap all trolleys. Seattle is lucky to have the trolleybus routes, and a solution to some of Metro’s woes, probably short, medium, and long term, is literally staring them in the face. How much diesel does the 36-Ranier Beach use every day? I would like to see the 106 replaced if possible by a trolleybus, but extending the wire into Renton is a tough sell.

  7. //How much diesel does the 36-Ranier Beach use every day?//

    Hmmm… they get around 2-3 mpg, moving at around 10mph, times let’s guess an 8 hour shift… 32 gallons per bus.

      1. The 36 South of Othello Street is a Diesel Bus, for now. Personally, they should renumber it to avoid confusion, like they did with the 36X and 39X, because of their different routings than the local. I remember many people used to get confused by the 39X making that right turn at Genessee instead of left like the local. I got initiated to that confusion early, when I was in middle school and running late, caught the first bus but did not notice it was an express. Needed the local to get up to Asa Mercer on Beacon Hill.

  8. This plan is robbing peter to pay paul. The capital program is important as well as service. Gutting the capital program is a recipe for disaster and could spell the end of the trolley system, as mentioned above. You can be sure that there are no plans to expand the trolley network if capital projects is the first area of the budget that gets axed. Plus this plan raids the rainy day fund and in two years the problem is back. It is not good leadership to propose such an unsustainable solution. Despite the recent ridership increases, there are routes out there that perform quite poorly and some service cuts could help make the system more efficient overall (i.e. feed more people to Sounder and Link when it starts instead of retaining long peak-only routes). It seems short-sighted to propose this “preserve service at all costs” method when cutting service would provide savings that could be sustained. It is quite a gamble to propose a solution that only solves the problem for 3 years. But then again I guess Ron Sims will not be in office then so what does he care.

  9. I’d be very interested to see a serious post about the merits of electric trolley bus expansion posted by Seattle Transit Blog given the problems faced by a diesel-based transit system. I’ve heard that trolleybuses are used extensively in parts of Europe. Aren’t we always looking towards Europe to see how to realize better public transport?

    1. Multi,

      As a general principle, I try not to propose things without some idea on how to fund it. With Metro taxed out, and a huge fare increase not even covering the operational deficit, dreaming about huge capital projects is pointless.

      1. And they don’t sell enough advertising within the buses, but see my comment below: they need to start charging for parking. That would bring in a lot of extra money from all the P&Rs.

      2. some european cities rent out streetcars and buses for parties. they charge a premium for this and it brings in a little more revenue for the system. you’d be surprised by how popular such an offering is for weddings and special events, etc.

        then again, the trams are a lot more popular than buses because, well… we all know that argument…

    2. it would be interesting to do the numbers on that but i don’t see it penciling out. i love the trolleybuses, except when i need to rely on them to get somewhere quickly or reliably. trolleybuses, despite being quiet and not tied to fuel prices, also (by some old APTA numbers i saw) tend to run at much slower speeds (about half) of diesel buses. slower speeds = more service hours for the same thing. i’m not sure the capital costs plus the extra service hours needed would really make sense though if we got to $8/gallon gas anything could be possible i guess.

      on the other hand, electric transit works great on rail systems with exclusive ROW and lower operating costs and higher passenger capacities. as much as i scoff at seattle’s strange streetcar network proposal, it’s at least a start in the right direction (it would be nice to run the streetcars in a similar ROW as the MLK segment of link which is what tends to pass for streetcars in other parts of the world – rather than sticking the trams in with traffic and parked cars, etc.)

  10. Face it, it is time to start charging for parking at Park & Rides. They do this in other cities, and you even can buy monthly passes, or have to get on a waiting list for full up lots. But free parking is a luxury we cannot afford anymore. And don’t give me the “collection will cost too much” argument. This isn’t about driving people away from parking lots, it is about putting a value on the amenity.

    And I’m a daily Park & Ride user who will have to pay the price – or walk to my P&R stop, or ride another bus, if that’s the alternative for me.

  11. Charging for park and rides is one way to push people into driving more…

    Occasionally I use the park and ride to go into Seattle, but if I had to pay even a few bucks it would be the same price for me just to drive.

    On the weekends I know people that use certain park and rides to meetup with friends to carpool to go hiking.

    In short charging for parking is much like HOT lanes, great for people that can afford it, but punishes the poor.

    1. Free P&Rs subsidize sprawl. Yes, charging will push a few people on the line (yet have free parking in Seattle?!) to drive. But this is a real cost that they should be paying for.

      If you’re worried about all of the money the poor have to pay to drive to the city (or drive, park, and ride to the city), and you think the answer is to subsidize them, why not subsidize housing close enough in to take a bus directly?

    2. If you drive into Seattle you’re likely paying through the nose each day to park there. Charging $1 a day to park at a Park & Ride is not onerous and highly appropriate. In Chicago people pay $1.25 a day to park at Metra stations, and $2 or more at CTO Park & Rides (

      People use them and fill them up because it is still cheaper than driving and still a better way to commute than sitting in traffic for miles on end.

  12. Charging for park and rides, at least in this area, gives fuel to the political arguments against transit in general that its just a big social engineering scheme designed to take away people’s cars from them. While some would wholeheartedly agree that thats the whole point eventually, I think that the lots should remain free in order to give incentives for people to ride the bus and take other forms of transportation besides driving.

    I don’t buy the argument that free P&R’s subsidize sprawl. One could make the same argument for extending commuter rail lines all the way to Olympia and Mount Vernon and out to North Bend. Sprawl only happens due to lack of zoning regulations and poorly planned street layouts plus the never ending stream of people moving out to where they can actually afford something. All those towns that now constitute suburban sprawl all have old downtowns that were actually quite walkable. Would we stil be complaining about all of those towns and the people that live there if they had kept to that model for their growth and actually planned a walkable street grid?

    I say instead of making it extremely expensive and inconvienient for people to actually live where they want to, build the transportation infrastructure to allow them to get around quickly and easily and to actually have options. No one likes to be forced into anything.

    1. “Sprawl only happens due to…” cars. We subsidized cars by building freeways, bridges, and wide roads covering every block. This cost a huge amount of money, and changed our society to one of spread-out towns. These pave over nature and resources, create the need to drive, and create a culture of consumption (large houses you need to fill with stuff, heat and cool, lawns to mow, etc.). An argument I heard recently is that vehicle miles travelled have increased 95% since the 80’s (not sure I believe 95%, but I know the number is large). This is a phenomenon that is still on the rise – look out to the edges of the exurbs and you’ll see new houses.

      “live where they want to” I’d argue they only want to live in the suburbs because they’re cheap. They wouldn’t be so cheap if each house came with the real price of their commute. On top of freeways, bridges, and roads you’re going to add more free parking and not call it a subsidy?

      “Would we still be complaining about all of those towns and the people that live there if they had kept to that model for their growth and actually planned a walkable street grid?” Not at all! If these towns were walkable, then you could walk to a central bus or train stop. But they’re not. And we should stop encouraging them to sprawl further.

      Now I haven’t said much about P&R’s because others have argued we can start charging later, and eventually have the land for TOD. But let’s not pretend they’re not subsidies to try to lure people out of cars.

      1. I’ll agree with you that automobile oriented sprawl has happened. My general point was that some sort of sprawl will happen regardless even if you subsidize a rail line out to a small town in lets say Sedro Wooley or something (Streetcar suburbs in Seattle illustrate this). Also, the auto oriented sprawl will only cease to exist when the leader’s of the towns actually get a spine and start regulating their developers and how they lay out their street grids. Building or not building park and rides is not going to change that equation and its better to have people riding mass transit for commuting purposes and have options than none at all.

      2. “start regulating their developers and how they lay out their street grids” Good luck getting that passed in every one of our scores of suburban / exurban towns. Even a grid system won’t make sprawl walkable or dense (though it helps some). Sprawl will end when we stop building new roads.

        “sprawl will happen regardless even if you subsidize a rail line” But not without parking. Again, cars make sprawl. Stop making it more convenient for people to drive than to walk, and they’ll choose to live in walkable communities.

        “Streetcar suburbs in Seattle illustrate this” On the contrary, Streetcar suburbs are far from sprawl. Houses are close together (generally 30′ wide lots), and stores and services are a quick walk away (Fremont, Queen Anne, Ballard, etc.).

    2. “social engineering scheme designed to take away people’s cars from them”

      “No one likes to be forced into anything.”

      Oh…my…gosh…are you really going to call charging for parking social engineering? Are we freakin’ capitalists or are we? Someone needs to make up their mind here because I can’t stand all this flippity flip floppin’ garbage. Drives me bonkers. Capitalism is all about protecting people from being “forced into anything” by the big scerwy government. Leave it up to the invisible hand…ring a bell?

      If we aren’t going to charge fair market value for things (like parking and highways!), then lets be socialists. I’m cool with that. But!…let’s not beat around the capitalist bush anymore. And that applies to all things, not just keeping parking and roads free for everyone for life…mmkay?

      You can’t have it both ways, make up your mind. Just think of the Soviet Union’s iconic line around the block for toilet paper the next time you are sitting in traffic. Same thing…

      1. Actually I said it added “fuel” to the political arguments being bantered about back and forth. I’m not saying the argument is right or that it even has merit. I’m saying its being seen as that regardless of what you personally might think about whether or not we should charge for parking at park and rides and that’s a perception that people need to take into consideration when addressing the issue.

      2. You have a point, however, my stubbornness in this topic may not let me follow. I’m not so sure how much I want to support, by taking into consideration, this hypocrisy that I am well aware is espoused by our fearless government leaders, trumpeted by our media, and passed on with very little understanding by every individual citizen in this country.

    3. i don’t think there’s anything wrong with charging for park and rides – it happens elsewhere and is simply a user fee. as the supply and demand dynamics change, the “bait” of the free park and ride to attract suburban bus riders becomes tasty enough even when the parking fee is $2 a day or more. they’ve been charging at many park and rides in the boston area for years. it can work here too, especially given our screwed up taxation policies.

    4. Brian, what is it about this area that makes it so different? Seriously. Charging for parking, $1 a day, to help subsidize the expensive lots is something that people deal with in city after city. It is a totally appropriate use fee. A 350 car lot could bring in $100,000 a year if people paid $1 a day. Multiple that by all the lots out there and that’s a pretty penny Metro could be bringing in each year.

  13. I’m late to the table on this one but it seems like this might be a good time to push stop consolidation across many Metro routes. Increasing spacing between stops reduces the number of stops and starts on the route and, when looking at scaling problems, little things like this that happen a whole lot can add up. Stopping every block or two (as opposed to three or four) to load/unload just one or two passengers burns a lot of fuel. People will always bitch when their nearest stop is moved down the street but that’s life. Seriously, I’d rather see 5 blocks between stops on most in-city routes rather than making any further deals with the devil on Metro’s part.

    The main problem here that can be addressed is fuel consumption. There are still little things that can possibly be done to reduce unnecessary fuel consumption until different revenue sources can be found and brought online.

  14. Sims should consider getting some CNG or biofuel-based buses to reduce fuel costs. Oh wait, I’m stating the obvious. Hopefully he can find the money for it.

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