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:
- 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.
- 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.
- Negotiate with the service providers to exclude overhead charges from their service agreements, saving about $125m.
- 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.