The last agenda item in the June 17 Regional Transit Commitee meeting was a review of Metro’s financial policies. The report itself (.doc) was even more boring than it sounds, but there were some interesting comments and ideas from the committee afterwards.
The much-publicized $105m Revenue Fleet Replacement Sub-fund surplus could fund Metro’s deficit through the end of 2010. Committee members seemed to latch on to that as meaning they could avoid any pain, but of course it merely postpones the day of reckoning. Metro service volume will not recover to 2008 levels for the better part of a decade barring a permanent new source of revenue, as Chair Dow Constantine pointed out:
It is remarkable how much you can throw in, in terms of money transferred from fleet replacement, in terms of new revenues, and still not make a huge dent in the number of service hours we’re faced with potentially having to cut.
The February 2010 25-cent fare increase will bring Metro to 25% farebox recovery. 30% recovery would require a further 50 cent increase. Sammamish Councilmember Kathy Huckabay said she was strongly in favor of such an increase if it meant keeping today’s service, and ending the Ride Free Zone if that resulted in any savings.
Both Huckabay and Constantine were interested in coming up with a way to provide discounted fares for low-income riders so that they could raise fares more freely, but Metro General Manager Kevin Desmond pointed out there was no mechanism in place to administer this.
King County Councilmember Jane Hague asked for input on using the County’s new authority to increase property tax by 0.0075% for transit. Unhelpfully, Seattle Councilmember Jan Drago (1:19:30) is “adamantly opposed to going back to the voters for a property tax increase.” Ms. Drago is apparently unaware that a vote of the people isn’t necessary for that levy. Constantine, on the other hand, said that a Property tax increase “has to be a part of the conversation.”
Shoreline Mayor Cindy Ryu was enthusiastic about pursuing a transportation benefit district to a enact a vehicle license fee. Constantine replied that “The King County Council is planning on having a discussion [with] all options available… The Transportation Benefit District necessarily involves a regionwide discussion with all of our cities.” He also pointed out that a license fee, unlike an MVET, as a flat per-vehicle fee, and therefore isn’t progressive. To enact a TBD, 60% of the cities, representing 75% of the population, must agree.
Drago also brought up Metro’s rainy day fund, reducing the cost of Metro service, and general govt overhead. King County Overhead consumes 8-9% of Metro’s operating budget. Some of that is for services like IT, but some of it is a general government fee levied on all County departments for the privilege of being administered by it.
Cost of service reductions are difficult to realize, since blatant inefficiency tends to be attacked when it is detected. Moreover, extensive bus service is inherently inefficient, as low-productivity routes tend to be the last to be added. The quickest way to make big productivity gains is to allow massive service cuts.