594, by Atomic Taco
594, by Atomic Taco

The Sound Transit Operations Task Force (a subcommittee of the board) released a report (unfortunately not available online) that identified some potential spending cuts to plug Sound Transit’s revenue gap, amounting to as much as $463m over 35 years.

There are four basic elements:

  1. Expedite construction of the Sounder maintenance facility, saving $20m to $26m.  It’s not clear where the funds would come from to accelerate this construction.
  2. Lobby the State to relieve ST of the requirement to pay $17m in tax its payments to the BNSF Railroad.   This would be a direct transfer of wealth from the state to Sound Transit, meaning it has great merit but is unlikely to happen.
  3. Negotiate with the service providers to exclude overhead charges from their service agreements, saving about $125m.
  4. Competitively procure certain bus services, and take bus maintenance services in house.  This would save $138-295m over 35 years.  The current system, roughly speaking, allots routes to Metro if entirely in King County, and to Pierce Transit or Community Transit if they enter those other counties.

I spoke with a representative from Sound Transit on why a commercial operator would result in such large savings.  Community Transit actually subcontracts their ST service out to First Transit of Cincinnati, OH, and the estimates are based on the cost differential between that and Metro and Pierce Transit’s in-house operations.

The staffer pointed out that private companies like First Transit benefit from economies of scale in operations, as well as drawing from a nation-wide talent pool and having fewer political constraints.  Importantly, the estimates are based on a company that pays prevailing wages, which will avoid some political complications.

Of course, the third and fourth elements would have the unfortunate effect of making the budget problems of Metro, PT, and CT even worse. If ST isn’t helping to cover overhead, that overhead will be spread over less service.  Dow Constantine, who uncomfortably both chaired this task force and chairs the Regional Transit Committee that is trying to patch Metro’s budget hole, hopes that the tension can be resolved by “cutting fat” and reducing some of Metro’s own overhead charges.

However, since those savings are already being examined to plug Metro’s structural deficit, it’s unclear that they’ll also be available to prevent a cut in bus service if Sound Transit actually implements the recommendations.

10 Replies to “Sound Transit Identifies Potential Savings”

  1. #3–what are these “overhead” costs?

    #4: The current system allots routes to Metro if entirely in King County, and to Pierce Transit or Community Transit if they enter those other counties.

    Not quite: 565 enters Pierce county and are operated by Metro. And the 522 might, I just don’t know the Snohomish County line.

    1. Thanks, I edited the post to be more vague. I was trying to touch on what happens without getting into the weeds.

  2. Buried deep within the ST2 planning documents are plans for an operating base in East King County and another in Pierce County. Sound Transit’s planners have planned for an in-house takeover for a few years now. The projected cost savings are what would be saved if the operating bases were staffed with competitively-bid contractors instead of Metro, CT, and PT. They are however forgetting the potential cost of building a maintenance facility in the event that the contractor awarded the contract does not correspond to whomever CT contracts their commuter service to. Another oversight is the fact that Kasch Park is owned by CT, who would not likely allow outside enterprise to use their facility, especially if it is to their detriment.

    The only real savings would come from accurately calculating interest rates and taking the greatest advantage through bonding. Unfortunately, I believe the window for this has passed, as the interest rate will start going up later this year.

  3. Martin: who writes this stuff for you to post?

    If you had the report you should post it. If someone just told you about it, then it stands to reason they also told you what to post. Let’s see this report that isn’t posted at the agency’s website.

    1. I got a press release. Based on it, I interviewed Chair Constantine and talked to Sound Transit staff.

      The four bullets points substantially condense the press release, and the rest is all mine.

      I write for myself; thanks for your concern.

  4. I have never understood why there are so many firggin’ transit agencies in this region. Tri-Met in Portland is far from perfect, but sweet jesus what we have up here is a confusing jumbled mess.

    1. They have different purposes. Look at KC Metro’s 40-40-20, for instance, or the split between CT and ET up north. Each area has its own needs, so they’ve gotten transit agencies to meet those needs at different times. ST, for instance, is really an infrastructure agency, they just contract out.

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