Student Downtown Lunch Bus Rush
Photo by Oran

If you live and work in Seattle, the Metro budget crisis is probably worse than you realize.  According to my source, King County policy is to cut routes in proportion to the amount of service hours currently in each service area.

These numbers are off the top of my source’s head, but Seattle would take about 62% of the cuts, the Eastside 17%, and South King 21%.  Moreover, unless the routes are “suspended” for a short time, future increases would of course be subject to 20/40/40, resulting in a permanent shift of resources to the suburbs.

UPDATE: I finally dug up the policy statement that covers both this rule and 20/40/40.  Open this pdf and scroll to strategy IM-3.

Another interesting tidbit: “two-way” routes that serve two subareas count as 50% against each.  For instance, Seattle “pays” half the cost of the 150 and 271, while the Eastside would bear all the costs of the 229 or 257.

In the current context, that means the Seattle share of cuts may not come entirely out of one-digit and two-digit routes.

28 Replies to “Metro Operating Cuts”

  1. Obviously that policy has to be done with if Dow Constantine or Larry Phillips expect major support from environmentalists in November.

  2. As much as I’d like better transit on the eastside I really can’t think of any justification for the 20/40/40 rule. Seattle is where transit works best, Seattle is where transit is needed most, and Seattle provides the lion’s share of the revenue (both taxes and fares).

    One could argue that the eastside is where transit is “needed” most or best positioned to reduce SOV use but there’s no reason Bellevue and Redmond shouldn’t be footing the bill for this (maybe we do?)

    On the surface regional bus service makes sense but maybe the reality is we should shift back to city controlled buses and let the ‘burbs negotiate for service.

    1. Bernie,

      It feels to be on the other side of this argument, but I’m pretty sure the Eastside actually generates the larger share of tax revenue.

      1. I don’t believe that is the case, but under the formula Metro uses to allocate costs the East and South subarea pay a larger share than they receive in service hours.

        However I’m not sure allocating a route that serves more than one sub-area to each sub-area equally is fair. A route like the 255 primarily serves the Eastside but is charged equally to the North and East sub-areas. Similarly the 150 is mostly a South route but gets charged to South and North equally.

        If the split on multi sub-area routes reflected the level of transit service they provide within each sub area then the allocation of overall service hours wouldn’t look so skewed toward Seattle.

        Perhaps it is time for a split like they have in Snohomish County? Have the City take over all in-city routes and service. The county can take care of everything outside Seattle. Express routes from the rest of the county that happen to serve Seattle would be Metro’s problem.

      2. Snohomish County is not quite that simple! Everett Transit is city owned and has existed for almost a century. Community Transit serves Snohomish County. CT used to serve routes in Everett due to the fact that county riders needed to goto Everett (obviously). The problem is that Everett residents don’t pay sales taxes for CT so they get a free ride. They pay taxes for ET and Sound Transit. To keep things fair, CT decided to drop most of their service to Everett. They tend to operate “communter style” to Everett in morning, to the county in the afternoon. The obvious solution to this dilemma would be to merge. CT has tried for years to do so but ET adamantly refuses! To be honest, ET has a .6% tax rate while CT has a .9% rate so I can understand Everett’s reluctance to increase the tax rate by joining CT even though would be so much easier for us Snohomish County residents who work in Everett!

      3. The other reason Everett might favor keeping ET and CT separate is they feel they get better and more responsive service than they would if they merged with CT.

        I can imagine fights over service as people in Everett felt their taxes were subsidizing service in the county and vice versa. Much like the fights that take place over Metro.

        Seattle used to have its own city run transit system. It was merged with the privately owned suburban bus services when Metro took over transit service in King County in 1973.

        Perhaps it is time to go “back to the future” and have the city take over Seattle service again?

  3. Seattle-centric arguements from one who does not show the basics of respect for other individuals are going nowhere these days.

    Your arguments are hurting the credibility of Metro, not helping it.

    The issue of fairness in marginal service is complicated, but your simplistic knee jerk rationalizations mean nothing if you can’t apply the same rational to requests for Seattle getting more than its fair share, like with Bernie who just makes up facts to support his false assertions.

    There is only one appropriate way for rights as a citizen, that’s to harrass others, like you and your fellow losers are doing to the people of SE Seattle.

    Why not, instead, focus on building good relationships AND GOOD PROJECTS than working to insure we get crap?

    The folks at Seattle Transit Blog should be ashamed to be associating with the likes of you.

    1. Douglas,

      That’s an odd perspective, since of all the STB contributors I’m the most sympathetic to 20/40/40.

      However, a lot of readership lives and works in Seattle, and hates 20/40/40, so I thought they should now what the implications of the budget crisis are.

    2. Douglas, we’ve had very good discussion of this complicated issue, with opinions on all sides: In Fact, King County Subsidizes Seattle Buses and a day later “Subsidy” is a Loaded Word. The takeaway for me was that if you look at revenue/hours Seattle gets a good deal; if you look at revenue/passenger-miles Seattle gets a bad deal. Neither perspective seems any more “fair” to me, and I don’t think we’d be having this discussion at all if we weren’t in a budget crisis.

      I’d also like to point out that we actually want SE Seattle to be a more livable, vibrant, and walkable place for people of all income levels. It is possible to agree on results while disagreeing about specific projects, you know.

  4. Personally I’d like to see Metro concentrate its limited funds on the people who need it most: low-income residents who go to work at odd hours. This would mean cutting peak service, which also might make the state, cities, and employers a bit more interested in fixing this problem.

    1. Realistically speaking, given our current economic situation, I think the opposite will happen. Cutting non peak hours in favor of serving the highest number of people on the most popular routes.

    2. Good point that cutting or eliminating the most popular routes at peak times might provide the political will to fill the budget hole.

      Cutting mid-day or evening service won’t have nearly the same effect.

      I’d also say raise the fares and extend the peak periods. Peak hours should be from the first AM buses until 10 AM and from 3 PM until 7 PM. Fares should be $2 off peak and $4 for one-zone peak and $5 for two zone peak.

      Of course we could also fill the budget hole by shutting metro down entirely for 1 week out of every 5.

  5. While I can understand the perspective of those against the 20/40/40 rule and using current statistics to back up their claims that more service to the burbs is bad policy, it’s not quite fair to compare it that way. Given that the eastside has less service and fewer routes than Seattle, it makes transit much less convenient and, compared to Seattle, less available. One could argue that suburban design also hinders transit useage. But the only way to get more riders on the Eastside is to provide more routes and more frequent service. For most MT routes on the eastside, 30 minute peak headways in limited corridors are the norm which really isnt conducive to the attractiveness of transit. I’m not saying that giving more bus service is going to get Jane Lexus and Joe Mercedes out of their SOV but ridership on several eastside routes is quite high given the relatively low service standards.

    1. There are a fair number of low-income people, disabled and seniors out in the East and South sub-areas. Many of these people either can’t afford a car or can’t drive. In addition much of the Eastside transit ridership is during peak periods where service levels are somewhat higher than during the rest of the day.

      1. Right, I’m hypothesizing that more service on the eastside will (obviously) boost ridership as well as make transit a more viable option for many who are willing to take it provided there are more routes and more frequent service.

        For me personally, I live 7 miles from work by car. If I walk 1 block to the nearest bus stop, I can catch a bus that will take me within 3 blocks of my work (253). Unfortunately it takes close to an hour and I’ve actually beat the bus running home from work. My other option is to bike to a 520 flyer stop (5-7 mins) and then take an MT bus to work. It takes only 5 minutes more than driving, but since I’m a casual biker at best, that option really only works in the summer and because service is so relatively sparse, I can’t even try to transfer from a closer bus to a freeway stop bus and have it be any less than taking the hour long way.

  6. At first glance, It would seem an odd policy choice to cut the most crowded and profitable routes first in the midst of a budget crunch. One would think you would want to keep those routes so that you have the most cash flowing in and cut the empty routes that are just a driver and one or two people.

    I haven’t read the PDF yet but will later.

    1. The problem is most of the routes with extremely low ridership are in the East and South sub-areas that won’t see many cuts. Outside of late evening hours there are few routes in Seattle that will have entire trips with no passengers. Even in the evening many Seattle routes have very high loads and standing room only.

      So even if you only cut service hours or eliminate routes with low-ridership in Seattle you are going to be cutting service that would be considered very well used were it in the East or South sub-area.

  7. Extremely low ridership? Do you mean like the route 33 from downtown to Discovery Park, that on Saturday and Sundays often has no more than 4 people on a bus?

    1. Yes, obviously, any low ridership routes should be the first to go compared to high-ridership hours.

    2. If they are in city, yes that would need to be looked at. Blanket rules like 20-40-40 are hampering the response to the financial crisis. While some compromise is needed, the sad fact is that some people are going to lose service. Trying to spread the pain evenly around is just a recipe for making everyone angry and making the bus service dysfuctional. Example, cutting service on a already standing room only route. Unfortunatly, here in this region there exists a mentality of “we can make everyone happy” which leads to decisions that absolutely defy common sense.

      Assuming though that the higher ridership routes subsidize the lower ridership routes, it makes no sense to cut the high demand routes if you are looking at cash flow.

  8. Your update shows that 20/40/40 is doubly a rip off. Seattle only gets 20% of service hours, and a lot of that goes to paying 50% for suburban commuter routes.

Comments are closed.