Flickr contributor mattsbasement
Flickr contributor mattsbasement

Metro’s having trouble getting any more tax revenue. We’ve been asked what we think they should do in the absence of new taxing authority, so here are two ideas.

As a guiding principle, if your preference to ride the bus is relatively weak, then you’re going to be thrown over the side. If an extra 50 cents a day, or another transfer, or another 10 minutes is enough to put you back in your car, then we’ll see you the next time Metro’s budget is sustainable. This is an unfortunate choice to make, and ultimately corrosive of the broad base of support Metro enjoys.  Nevertheless, when compared to alternative guiding principles this seems like a sound one.

1. Raise fares again, while creating a program to provide discount tickets to low-income people.

Fare increases have a remarkable return on investment considering the pain they inflict on commuters. First of all, to a significant extent fare increases are actually borne by progressive employers that buy passes for their employees.  Not only does this not hurt the employee directly, but often accrues benefits to Metro even if  he or she doesn’t ride the bus.  Secondly, many less-progressive employers still take advantage of federal tax provisions that allow pass purchases to be pre-tax. To the extent that pass sales equal fare revenue, this amounts to a 50% matching grant from the federal government on each fare increase.

However, this argument doesn’t really apply to the poorest among us. They often pay cash because they can’t scrape the money together to purchase a pass; their employment might be too infrequent for a pass to pencil out; or their employer won’t do the paperwork for the tax break. In many cases, their marginal tax rate will be very low or zero, so that the deduction doesn’t help them.

That’s why it’s important to use a portion of the proceeds from the fare increase to offer discounted ticket books (or ORCA card charges, or whatever) through existing King County low-income assistance programs. Depending on how the numbers work out you could merely freeze low-income fares at the current level or actually introduce a reduction.

Can King County administer such a program cheaply? That’s a critical question, but that’s why it’s important to implement it as an add-on to existing programs, even if that results in some other suboptimalities.

A 25-cent increase, as of 2008, was projected generate $11.7 million in revenue. It would take $2.25 in increases to cover the $100m shortfall, assuming this increase is linear, which it isn’t. That clearly isn’t an option. However, I would consider an extra 50 or even 75 cents as within the bounds of reason. After the low-income rebate, Metro might expect to close 10-20% of the 2010 budget hole, thus avoiding a service cut of about 2-4%.

2. Leverage the express bus network to reduce Metro operating hours.

The county has a unique opportunity in that as Metro service scales back, Sound Transit is adding 100,000 service hours as a result of Proposition 1. Furthermore, ST is still in the process of determining how to allocate these hours, opening up the opportunity for cross-agency coordination to minimize impacts to riders.

ST has pretty good coverage of most interstates and state highways in the County. Given the current situation, there really shouldn’t be Metro buses on these highways. Instead, redirect the local riders on these routes to transit nodes (light rail stations, park-and-rides, etc) and force a transfer. It’s true that this will reduce ridership, but by working with Sound Transit the peak-period express-bus headways can be reduced, and only the most marginal-preference riders will be affected.

For example, the 212 is a direct express from the Eastgate P&R to downtown Seattle, which is duplicative with ST 554. In the reverse peak direction, it also skirts the edges of the Factoria area before getting on the freeway. Under this plan, the 212 could be eliminated in favor of more 554 service paid for by Sound Transit. Riders who got on in Factoria could instead take Route 245 to Eastgate and board the 554 there, assuming ST committed Prop 1 funds to improve it to 15-minute headways in the peak.

In Seattle, there is less Sound Transit service to leverage, but there are opportunities for efficiencies along I-5, SR 522, and Central Link. Elsewhere, Metro could abandon the paradigm of peak-period routes from essentially every neighborhood to downtown and instead drop passengers onto primary N-S arterials (Aurora, 15th, etc) and force a transfer.

A systematic route-by-route analysis will have to wait, but in principle I think this could generate substantial operating savings, depending on your threshold for rider inconvenience.  I don’t deny the fact that this plan will substantially reduce ridership, leaving the state ever farther from reaching its VMT and greenhouse gas goals. No plan without increased tax or direct subsidy will.  If the state is not going to cough up any funding to meet those goals — or give King County the authority to — we’ll have to do the best we can. The advantage to my plan is that it selectively serves the people most dedicated to riding transit, out of need or conviction, no matter where they live.

I can’t yet claim Metro can cover the entire ~17% service cut you need by basically not putting Metro buses on the freeway. But Metro can close the lions’ share of the gap, thus minimizing the extent to which they are cutting overcrowded routes and abandoning service areas altogether. In the end, no compassionate plan for cuts is going to completely close the gap without some sort of tax revenue enhancement.

70 Replies to “Editorial: The Metro Funding Gap”

  1. I can agree to some of this but definitely not all of it.

    For one, I can agree that Metro should no longer handle certain express bus service. Routes like the 212/216 should most definitely be a ST bus. These buses however are heavily used by T-Mobile and employees of the Factoria Mall region. It would not be in anyones best interest to tinker with those routes. I know it is an example of what your saying but creating a transfer from a service that runs every 15 minutes to every 30 minutes simply would not pan out well.

    I would personally like to see ST take up at least 80% of Metro’s true express routes. Routes like the 152, 158, 159, and 162, which are mostly freeway with some local service should be the goal of ST, like they did with the 550. ST should not look at routes like the MT 123 over the 121 for example.

    By taking over at least a good portion of the express bus service to ST, which they do a very good job with, would allow Metro to focus on their local runs.

    But then comes the issue itself of; ST2 promises for expanded bus service. Ok, out of those 100,000 hours, where would ST make the cuts to frequent bus service at and just how many of Metro’s Express routes can ST take. Can ST really provide the 100,000 hours of service? These are the background questions that needs to be looked at first before we can even make the jump.

    1. Brian,

      What do you mean by saying that killing the 212 “would not pan out well”? People with a strong need or desire to take the bus could still take a short hop on the 245 to get to Eastgate, where there would be a 554 running at 15-minute headways.

      Will some people choose their cars? Absolutely. That’s the kind of rider my plan would lose. What’s your alternative plan for cuts.

      I wouldn’t view this as ST introducing a ton of new routes that actually match Metro express routes. Instead, existing ST routes would increase their frequency and capacity to absorb riders that used to have a one seat ride on Metro.

      To take the example of the 152, ST wouldn’t actually do the local run; instead, the 152 would terminate at Star Lake and riders would have to transfer to an express bus that stops there, with possibly more buses being diverted to stop there on their way up North.

      1. Martin,

        I should have been a little more clear at what I was saying and I fully didn’t read your post with more understanding.

        We could for example, cut the 212 and 216 and simply re-route the 554 to serve those at Eastgate. Since Expedia moved 90% of their workforce into Downtown Bellevue, most of the 212/216’s ridership has declined dramatically. The bu is basically empty now from Factoria/T-Mobile to Eastgate P&R, except for those that needs to transfer. The 554 running with a 60 foot bus could handle the loads that the route would see but I would personally like to see the bus continue down to Eastgate P&R.

        I like the idea of the 152 going just to Star Lake P&R. I am actually surprised that bus even runs with Sounder in place. The 577 or 594 could pick up passengers at this stop. That would be a benefit to the 594 the most, which runs mostly empty for a small part of its day. I personally would like it if the 594 would stop at Kent – Des Moines freeway station which would make it a lot easier for those in the South end to get to Seattle without having to deal with the 194 or 150.

        It’s really hard to manage services during a budget crisis but at the same time, all agencies should look at their overlapping routes. The 158, 159, and 162 are great examples of overlapping services. The only difference is their ending destination in Kent are all different but once they are in Downtown Kent/Kent Station, they provide a 4 to 15 minute headway service.

  2. Two points.

    ST1/2 have always been geared toward being the spine of a bus/rail network. Now is as good a time as any to make that transition. The only agency with any cash reserve is ST. It’s painful to force all Kent/Auburn riders to Seattle on to Sounder, but that was the plan from day one. Shadow STEX buses must pick up the slack during times the trains don’t run. Likewise, routes that can transfer to Link, should do so at the earliest station available, and additional STEX buses and routes should be created to shadow both North and East Link in anticipation of service, even though it’s still years off.

    Metro must re-evaluate the luxury of bus routes that duplicate each other, with minor variances (or mutations as I like to refer to them). A good example is the 2 and 2X. Both start at the same point on Queen Anne, depart within a few minutes of each other, follow the same route until a block apart in downtown, and arrive within a couple of minutes of each other. Everyone should feel some pain, while Metro makes the tough choices.

    Weekend service generally reflects the ‘baseline service level’ the agency is trying to maintain, or the lifeline. Weekday commute service has evolved over the years to accomodate unique and busy origin/destination pairs, resulting in a spinoff express route. Of course they save time and should be retained unless they can be accomodated under the logic of my two points.

    1. The one problem is a forced-transfer means a loss in riders, but still, that’s better than a forced-service reduction and a loss in ridership.

    2. Might it at last be time for off-peak and weekend service on Sounder to connect from and to local bus service in south (and to some extent north) King County?

    3. While ST may have more reserves than Metro, they are still funded primarily by sales tax revenues. ST’s revenues are enhanced somewhat by car tab revenue but I believe that money is slated to pay off existing bonds. Any money spent by ST to “take over” Metro routes will likely result in cuts or delays to service promised in ST1 or ST2.

      1. Proposition 1 contained funds specifically intended to improve bus service immediately. They’re in the process of determining the distribution of those funds now.

  3. How about a Seattle Transit District and more “partnerships”?

    Also, the city itself needs to get more involved in county government, especially transit. Ceding so much regional power to a county that has time and again said flat out that its main concern is the cities that aren’t Seattle is silly, especially considering how much we lose (For example, getting most of the service cuts when we get the least in terms of service increases).

    1. AJ,

      How would you make up for the fact that Seattle gets about 60% of Metro’s service hours, well out of proportion to its contribution to revenue?

      Funds that come from a municipal “partnership” aren’t subject to 20/40/40. So if the city coughed up some funds that could be directly applied to service in the city.

      1. I wouldn’t “make up for the fact” since you very clearly are trying to imply a lack of equity that isn’t there since we already went through the math to determine how much Seattle is actually subsidized for (“well out of proportion” is actually only about 2-5% or so). Don’t forget, Martin, that Seattle also heavily subsidizes bus bases and infrastructure within the city in a way that exceeds the subsidy it receives.

        We’ve already been through the fact that there are many places in the county where supply far exceeds demand. Buses in Seattle are filling up again, so there is something wrong with advocating against relief because of social math.

      2. AJ,

        If the gap is only 2-5% that still raises the question of how seceding from Metro makes the situation any better in Seattle.

        I suppose we can register your vote for the guiding principle for cuts to be simple ridership. That’s certainly a valid value system, if a little convenient for a Seattle resident and one that would be extremely difficult to implement politically.

        However, it’s not necessarily any more valid that using passenger miles, VMT reduced, farebox recovery, riders per revenue hour, geographic and temporal span, or, as I propose, strength of preference for transit as the core principle.

      3. Don’t forget the service hours for any bus serving multiple sub-areas gets charged to all of the sub-areas it operates in.

        In other words all of those downtown commuter express buses like the 229 have the service hours split evenly between Seattle and the Eastside or South County.

        This applies to all day trunk routes with frequent service primarily serving suburban areas like the 255 or 150 as well. Seattle is carrying a whole lot of suburban service in that “60% of Metro’s service hours”.

      4. The 229 is peak direction only, and therefore is not paid for by Seattle. It’s true that peak-direction ridership is probably higher on the 255 and 150, but as someone who rides the reverse-peak 150 pretty often I have to say it’s pretty full.

      5. I thought the split between sub-areas for service hours applied to all routes including the peak-direction ones?

        In the case of the 150 I know it is quite well used well into the evening in both directions. The 255 (which I used to take all of the time when I lived on Finn Hill) has a similar usage pattern.

        I’m just pointing out there are routes people may think of as suburban routes where 50% of their service hours are allocated to the North King/Seattle total.

      6. That is some good news. At least Seattle is only getting charged for the “two-way” routes.

        Still having to absorb 62% of the cuts is going to hurt and is going to mean even fuller buses in Seattle while there are still largely empty buses running in the suburban and rural areas of the county.

        For the most part the high-frequency suburban routes that operate into the evening also serve Seattle. This means Seattle is getting “charged” for part of a lot of the better quality transit service in the suburbs.

  4. I like your thinking. Having local buses feed into a main transit line is much more efficient even if you lose a few riders, and most people working downtown, including myself, will stick with the bus even with a 50 cent fare increase because it still beats paying $10 (or more) to park.

    1. Agreed. We also need to look at what will work to reduce Metro’s overhead. Would making a big book of timetables (like Sound Transit) be cheaper than the bunch of tiny schedules? Granted, Metro has A LOT more routes, it would still clean things up considerably.

      What about management? What about fleet management control? Would getting rid of the 20/20/40 make a difference? How about lowering driver wages (I keep hearing Metro’s is one of the highest in the nation)

      There are a lot of options but remember, if you raise the fares too much, you’ll quickly ridden your riders which will make the fare increase redundant.

      There is a reason why the 594 still carries far more riders than Sounder to Tacoma. That extra $1.75 makes a huge difference to peoples lives, especially in the South end.

  5. About the 212, adjusting its schedule would be difficult since in the peak direction it is interlined with the 225 and 229, which go on to the Lake Hills area. Also, something would have to be done about the fact that the 212 goes in the bus tunnel, while the 554 does not—it’s a lot faster and more reliable that way.

    If something does happen to the reverse peak direction, though, a better alternative would be to take a bus from Factoria to South Bellevue P&R, and transfer to the 550. Between the 222 and 240 there is 15-minute frequency between those places.

    1. ericn,

      Excellent point about using the 550 instead of 554. I think it helps to strengthen my argument that riders would have several decent options.

      As for the 212/225/229, it should surprise no one that terminating the 225 and 229 at Eastgate would be pretty high on my list of sensible stuff to do.

      1. That’s a good point about the 225/229. One thing I forgot to mention is that the June service revision will have the 554 going to 15-minute headways during mid-day and stopping just at the Eastgate HOV ramp flyer stop, not at the P&R itself. This could complicate transfers.

        If ST just took over the 212, though (in addition to the downtown-Eastgate parts of the 225 and 229), that would be fine. It would also be great if they could find a way to get the 554 into the tunnel, although with Link starting up soon that’s unlikely.

  6. I normally agree with the posts on here, and find most of them to be well informed. However, I think your example of replacing the 212 with the 554 is impractical. In order for it to work Sound Transit would have to directly take over the 212 route. During peak hours and in the peak direction the 212 (and 225, 229) are full, full, full and run on 6-10 minute headways. The 554 is generally full by the time it reaches Eastgate P&R from Issaquah. I would be in favor of ST taking over the 212 route if service levels weren’t affected. It is a very popular route with high ridership. I don’t think that tinkering with Metro’s most used routes is going to save them. What they need to do is eliminate the low-ridership suburban routes and DART service.

    1. Zed,

      I think we’re more or less on the same wavelength here. In the peak direction there will have to be a lot more capacity on the 554. Luckily, ST has Proposition 1 (and stimulus) money to expand service and buy bigger buses.

    2. Absolutely. Look at cutting massively underutilized routes like the 219 before talking about changes to the 212. While the costs to run the equipment are lower for the 219 (van vs. articulated bus) you’re paying the driver the same amount of money to drive one or two people around vs. 60 or 70 on the 212. Especially when the 219 overlaps with DART 925.

      1. In this case I say cut the DART, make the 219 useful. Right now the 219 is pretty much a Newport High School feeder bus. If it was extended just a bit to either Eastgate or South Bellevue P&R, people might actually use it to get downtown. Synchronizing it with the 240 would also make it a decent way to get to DT Bellevue.

      2. That’s something I’ve wondered about. The 889 runs by my house and it is 100% a school bus. Is Metro compensated 100% by the school district for the cost of providing this?

      3. I’m not sure if it’s 100% subsidized, but the Bellevue School District does buy student-fare passes for each student taking the bus. Back when I was in high school and rode the 219 it was always standing-room-only, so it’s likely that most of the cost was compensated for by the student passes.

      4. Even if each student paid the full student rate, 60 x $.75 = $45. $45 will not cover the cost of the 219 school tripper. (Full cost of operating an artic is north of $100 per hour although I don’t have an exact figure – I’m just a driver ;) Either Metro is footing the bill or money is coming from some other source.

      5. Some of the school trips are on buses that would run anyway, and are just changed to an articulated instead of normal bus (in Newport’s case, the 222, 240, and 921). I can’t say for certain, but it’s quite possible the money gained on these trips subsidizes dedicated school routes.

      6. I’d sure like to see a post that reviews Metro contract services. Do things like DART and Access amount to under-funded mandates? In the case of Bellevue School District they receive money from the State to provide transportation (operations and capitol). Obviously they feel they’re getting a better deal by contracting with Metro than running their own school buses for the High Schools. Is the county getting fairly reimbursed? I’d guess the biggest contract is with ST so knowing some of the details of that would be most important. ST I believe buys the buses and then contracts with Metro to operate and maintain them. It’s great to have the added transportation but does each additional route in effect put Metro deeper in the hole as far their operation budget?

        The whole issue of how the contract rates are determined would be interesting to know. The Bellevue Circulator was by law going to be required to contract with Metro to operate it. They aren’t for example allowed to go to “Microsoft Connects” or Shuttle Express to get a competitive bid. I’m guessing there are also statutes that prevent ST from looking elsewhere.

      7. Metro is required under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to provide Access paratransit service to persons with disabilties living within 3/4 mile of a local bus route. It is basically an unfunded mandate from the federal government. This group of people usually have no transportation choices other than Metro and should not be the first in line to get cut.

      8. Access and DART seem to be largely overlapping services. I have a particular beef with Access because I’ve seen them at three different locations in my neighborhood where everyone can afford to foot their own transportation bills. I’ve even seen them on our street and know for a fact everyone down the road is quite capable of walking there dog.

        I understand that these are important programs but I think they need to be looked at for what is essentially fraud. For thing I don’t even think we’re within 3/4 mile of a local bus route unless you count the 889 which only runs when Bellevue School District is session.

      9. DART and Access aren’t the same thing. DART is available to anyone traveling in the service area. Access is meant for disabled people who can’t use normal bus service for one reason or another.

        Unfortunately Access pretty much has to take whatever medical documentation of disability they get at face value. If you can get a medical professional to claim you can’t ride standard Metro service you can ride Access.

        Metro also can’t cut Access service below the standards set by the Federal government or it risks losing Federal funding.

      10. I can’t quite tell from the website info but DART is tied to Hopelink which is under the DSHS budget. If I’m reading it right, 1) Metro can’t cut the routes because they have a contract with Hopelink to provide the service. 2) and this is where it’s a bit hazy, Metro gets the money to operate DART from State DSHS money.

  7. Yes!! Cross agency coordination. What a thought. Does it take a reassessment and reallocation of resources? Maybe. Does it take one huge agency? Maybe, although that would be sad.

    One model is the big stuff and long runs go to a big multi-modal agency, and then have small local buses doing the loop de loop around areas to connect people to the major hubs, which by the way need to include ferries and heavy rail.

    Of course, that is a more suburban model and big cities like Seattle need their internal capacity.

    Don’t we have computer models that can be shared?

    BTW — I totally agree with subsidizing poorer people more. If we look at mass transit systemically, poorer people pay proportionally more sales tax and sales taxes are the funding source for ST, yes?

  8. Since ST doesn’t actually operate any buses, they’re contracted to Metro, I’m not sure what effect changing the designation from Metro to ST has. Certainly it opens access to more funding but at what rate of cost does Metro receive for providing the service? Since ST extends beyond King County is King County via the Metro contracts actually subsidizing regional transportation?

    1. ST contracts with Metro, Pierce Transit, and Community Transit in the appropriate places.

      It actually pays the full cost of operation, so Metro doesn’t lose any money on the ST routes. (Conceptually, its “farebox collection” is 100% for those routes.) ST of course funds the vehicles and their upkeep. It’s actually a good revenue stream for Metro.

      1. (Conceptually, its “farebox collection” is 100% for those routes.)

        I’m not clear on what this means. According to the ST budget they count ST Express fares as $15.6M in revenue and charge $93M to operational expenses for ST Express service. I couldn’t find a breakdown by transit agency as to who got what share of that $93M.

        $15M in fares against $90M in operations is less than 17% which seems really low. Given that these Express routes are generally full I would have thought they’d be well above the system average for ratio of fares to expenses. Maybe you’re right that ST is getting stabbed and Metro is using this as a tidy revenue source.

      2. I mean that Metro doesn’t subsidize anything on ST routes. To the taxpayer, obviously it’s subsidized either way. But ST is getting a new revenue stream in a few weeks, while Metro obviously isn’t.

      3. Also, commuter routes are going to perform worse in general with farebox recovery because you have to travel further and thus use a lot more fuel. Generally, commuter routes have “peak directions,” meaning the buses heading back into the suburbs (for example) are pretty empty and still traveling those long distances. Often it doesn’t even make sense for these “dead” buses to have revenue operations while doing the reverse commute. So yeah, it gets pretty complicated quickly.

        Though these reasons present a good argument for having more express buses begin to force transfers to light rail, especially off-peak, assuming the stops would be redundant otherwise. That could significantly reduce costs and get people to their destination more reliably.

      4. If the commuter routes can travel at a reasonable rate of speed then fuel costs should be much better than local stop and go service. Unfortunately that’s not the case on 405 and 520 (and plenty of other places). I wonder how much Metro would save in operating costs if say the HOV lanes from I-5 up to SR 522 were switch to 3 person occupancy? Ultimately I’d like to see HOT lanes but the switch to 3 person occupancy could be done immediately for very little cost. I bet it would even increase ridership :-)

        I tend to think of ST Express with an eastside bias where the “reverse” commute does have a large ridership. I can see though that there’s going to be a lot more people headed into Seattle from the north and south than going the other direction. On these routes maybe the separation of regional buses from the Metro fleet isn’t such a good idea. Would it make more sense for those buses to stay in town and be put to use providing inner city transport than dead heading back for a second or third trip?

        It would be nice if Link could shorten some of the long distance routes. This might be where the push to add stops and increase transit time comes back to bite us. Riding a bus from Federal Way and then having to transfer to a slower rail connection at the edge of the city isn’t going to be popular with riders. Because (as far as I know) there’s no way for Link trains to pass the option of an “express” is out of the equation.

      5. If the commuter routes can travel at a reasonable rate of speed then fuel costs should be much better than local stop and go service.

        That’s only half true. Most of the local stop and go routes travel a fraction of the distance as commuter bus routes. So while per mile they’re obviously less efficient, per hour they are not. And of course, a local bus typically has more travelers for each direction so “dead” buses aren’t a problem. You do make a good point that congestion is a big problem as well.

        I think for peak service it does make sense to offer one-seat rides. But for off-peak, it just makes some economic sense to force a transfer to allow for more efficient service. I posit that someone take a trip from Federal Way to Seattle off-peak is less concerned about speed than your average morning commuter, since driving off-peak will beat any form of transit. Luckily expanding Link will solve a lot of these questions of forced transfers.

        Obviously one-seat rides are awesome, but I hear you often wonder about why Metro has such poor farebox recovery ratios. These two things are very tightly woven according to Metro itself.

      6. I’m wondering what a move to 3 person HOV lanes would have on total capacity. I may have this completely wrong but back of the napkin calculations comes up with 2X as many people moving through the HOV lane and getting “there” twice as fast. Of course it makes the single occupancy lanes even worse but I’d argue they are about as bad as people are willing to put up with and there will be a decision to shift travel time, route or mode of transit (i.e. carpool or bus).

        The assumptions I made were one that the change would be only where and when the HOV lane would still be full with 3 person occupancy. Two, that the baseline is 2 person occupancy with cars occupying a 20 foot space and traveling 15-20mph. Three that a change would be a 3 person occupancy would be 50-60 mph with each car occupying a 40 foot space. I’m not trying to account for buses and the numbers are just a guess.

      7. Bernie,

        I think increasing HOV thresholds is a great and overdue idea, but likely to be stonewalled by the State DOT.

        However, if you get any traction on this let us know and we’ll be behind you.

  9. #1 doesn’t make any sense to me. Yes, we can create a bus system for the rich by continuing to bump up prices. But I’m not sure I want a bus system for only the rich. And creating some sort of food-stamp won’t be useful for the working class, which probably deserves much of the focus.

    How would I raise revenue? Raise taxes (gasp). Wasn’t it a ridiculous tax cap that put us in this situation to begin with? Considering the demand for transit I think the voters would love to bump up that tax cap if you’d let them. Has anyone asked the voters?

    1. Mr. Duke’s first two sentences point out that these suggestions are for what Metro should do without tax raises:

      “Metro’s having trouble getting any more tax revenue. We’ve been asked what we think they should do in the absence of new taxing authority, so here are two ideas.”

      1. Right. But working within such a question sets us up for failure. It’s like asking “Assuming we each have to murder someone every day, what’s the best way to set up a peaceful society?”

        The reason Metro is failing is that we have an increasing demand for services, but an artificially constrained supply of revenue. Working within these constraints is madness.

      2. It is madness, but it’s what Metro’s going to have to do unless the State Legislature or another stimulus package come and bail us out. What would be madness would be to irresponsibly assume that someone is going to come to our rescue when Olympia seems pretty set on a radical right-wing agenda.

  10. I agree that raising taxes is better answer.

    Gas is at the lowest its been for a while so it won’t hurt as much. Also, higher gas prices encourages carpooling, bus usage and other green forms of transportation.

  11. Here is my plan. First end peak and non-peak. Second no more zones. Charge everyone a flat rate of two dollars. Third, end the ride free zone in Seattle. Replace it with buses that only go through downtown Seattle. They can be free, Seattle will have to pick up the tab. Fourth make everyone pay when they get on. No more people getting off the bus and refusing to pay.

    1. Hey Mathew, is this really a plan to raise more revenue or just make the transit system go more toward a personal vision? Fares are going up past $2.00 within nine months, so I don’t see how this raises more revenue :)

      Seattle already does pay for the free ride area, btw. Ideally, Metro doesn’t lose money from it. Whether that is actually the case or not is unknown to me.

    2. > Fourth make everyone pay when they get on.

      If you think traffic is bad in downtown Seattle now head out to any park & ride and watch a 60 foot bus full of passengers unload with each passenger paying their fare. Now, picture all of those buses back in Downtown Seattle loading those passengers while paying their fare. Quite simply, it won’t work.

      Now, if we switch to a proof of payment system with random fare inspections, I’m with you…

      Another idea: Charge a higher fare for cash than you would for ORCAor ticket fares. People fumbling for change and/or bills really add a delay. (I’d also charge an fare for people who forget to pull out their pass, but that would be impractical ;)

  12. The whole county helps pay for the ride free zone. Only Seattle benefits from it. I know that the Seattle and the King County goverments think that all King County outside of Seattle exists to pay taxes to Seattle.
    I do not know how much Metro loses from the ride free zone. The Metro drivers I’ve talked to about this say it is so. They do lose money because when they leave the zone and are supposed to pay as they leave often people do not using the excuse that they thought they were still in the ride fee zone.
    I personially believe that one flat fare and no zones will increase rider ship among those traveling short distances(less than 5 miles) and are right on the zone border. If it is more that two dollars fine but lets have a flat rate.

    1. The City of Seattle funds the downtown free ride area. If Metro loses farebox revenue from it, Metro should charge the city more.. A negligible amount of people skipping fares (or more accurately, the bus operators letting these people skip fares) is not a way to inform smart transit decisions. We’ve talked about the ride free area in more detail here:

      Zones have problems, but long routes like the 194 cost more to run since they burn more fuel to travel long distances. Zones make sense. One-zone riders like me would have to pay more to help offset the revenue lost by eliminating zones. The issue right now isn’t making things less confusing or encouraging ridership. The issue is that the revenue stream for Metro has collapsed, leading to a potential 20% cut in bus service.

      1. If we are going to cut, cut the routes that are not being used. Don’t cut routes like the 194 that are used by so many.

      2. The 194 and 174 are a different situation than the 20% service cuts due to the revenue shortfall. Even if Metro wasn’t having any revenue problems the service on the 194 and 174 would be adjusted due to Link opening this Summer.

        According to metro policy at the moment the service hour cuts are going to have to come from each sub-area in proportion to the existing service hours. This means 60% of the eliminated service hours have to come from Seattle. While the suburban cuts can largely be made up of “routes that are not being used” you can’t cut 20% of the service hours in Seattle without cutting into some meat.

        This means empty buses out in the suburbs while routes with heavy ridership in Seattle see service reductions.

      3. A lot of routes that are “being used” would have to be cut if we had the deep 20% cuts that are predicted. Luckily, you can get to where you’re going with a transfer to a reliable rail system that won’t be subject to congestion. Some people won’t have any transit service at all. The situation is more serious than your personal itinerary.

      4. John, you state, “A negligible amount of people skipping fares (or more accurately, the bus operators letting these people skip fares)…”

        To be clear: Many drivers would love to enforce fares. We see the lost revenue and the fact that many of the fare evaders are also the passengers who cause trouble and vandalize the busses. However, Metro policy states that we are only to inform the customer of the proper fare ONCE – and only when we feel safe doing so. If they refuse to pay we can either write up frequent offenders or call for police assistance. Transit police are also rarely available just for fare enforcement. We are not allowed to refuse rides for non-payment of fare.

      5. I’ve seen how hostile some people get toward drivers. even after being given a gentle reminder of the fare amount. I don’t think drivers should be asked to do fare enforcement.

        I do think there is some level of improved fare enforcement where the increased revenue would offset the increased cost of enforcement.

        The cost of enforcement would likely go down over time as people get the message that fare jumping is no longer tolerated.

        FWIW I thought SPD provided a much more visible presence on the buses when they were providing transit police services in Seattle.

      6. Thanks for your post, Matt. I shouldn’t have said it that way. Metro drivers shouldn’t be put in the dangerous position of fare enforcement.

  13. This is not just my personal situtation. Just about everyone I know who rides the 194 and the 174 anr not happy about being forced onto light rail. These buses work. Link light rail may make sense if you are going to and from the airport. It just does not if you are traveling from the south end to seattle. Believe me a lot of people are upset about this.

  14. As of right now the 577 does not stop in Kent/Des Moines.

    Here in another idea I have. I was not sure if this is the right forun but, here goes. It is time to split up King County. Let Seattle by one county, the eastside another, the south end another, the rural area its own county and Vashon Island can be its own county or join the south end. This would put local transit services in the hands of the local counties. with cross county transit in SOund Transit or another multi-county transit agency. This way there is no disputing about fund.

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