King Count Executive Kurt Kurt Triplett announcing Metro funding increases.
King County Executive Kurt Triplett announcing Metro funding increases. Photo from West Seattle Blog.

RapidRide will be saved, announced interim King County Executive Kurt Triplett. Triplett announced plans today to use recent legislative authority to create a transit share of property taxes of 5.5 cents, while cutting other levies to make the plan tax neutral.

“This five-and-a-half cents for Metro Transit would provide 23,000 additional passenger trips a day on our most heavily used corridors during a time when overall bus ridership has jumped 20%,” the Executive said in a press release. This would amount to about $18m a year for Metro, compared with a structural deficit of about $100m a year.

The legislature granted property taxing authority of 7.5 cents per $1000 of assessed value for public transit. The legislature also allowed for enactment of an MVET, but the Governor vetoed that portion of the bill.

Funding would be used primarily to save the beleaguered RapidRide bus rapid transit network that Metro is planning to roll out over the coming years. Failing to deliver on RapidRide could have been politically infeasible given that the 2006 Transit Now! measure campaigned heavily on the idea of rapid, frequent, and fast RapidRide service servicing the fastest growing areas in King County. That measure that increased Metro’s sales tax authority by 0.1% to a maxed-out 0.9%.

The legislature mandated that a portion of the property taxing authority must be dedicated to SR-520 service. Metro is receiving millions in urban partnership funds to buy new buses for the 520 corridor, but no money from those grants fund bus service. Tolls are set to begin along span next year.

Since all of this funding will be used to fund RapidRide and SR-520 service, this additional revenue may not help avoid deep service cuts. Triplett said he will announce a plan next week that will outline the expected deep service cuts and perhaps fare increases. Last November, the King County Council approved a 50-cent fare hike that will finish phasing in next January. It’s hard to say how much more fare riders can stand to pay, particularly without some sort of hardship or poverty exemption.

Read on for more details after the jump…

Though Metro benefits from these changes, the King County ferry district certainly does not. Funding will remain for year-round West Seattle Water Taxi and Vashon service and boats, but new demonstration routes featuring passenger ferries will be cut before they had a chance to leave planning stages, much less the ports. Funding may be restored in four years.

The demonstration ferry routes are “a luxury we cannot afford when Metro ridership has gone up 20 percent yet is facing deep cuts,” Triplett said during the announcement, according to West Seattle Blog.

In a position of having to choose, I’d absolutely agree that keeping bus service is a higher priority. However, I’m not sure if this plan itself really helps with the cuts picture — it seems to merely keep the politically-sensitive RapidRide on track. Many of the RapidRide routes do serve high-ridership and high-demand corridors, but what about the high-demand routes most of use which that aren’t one of the five RapidRide corridors? We’ll see next week, it seems.

Special thanks to the reporting of West Seattle Blog.

30 Replies to “Metro to Fund RapidRide with No Net Tax Increase”

  1. I think it does help the cuts picture: the cut baseline includes planned service, and so included all the planned TransitNow stuff. So it does reduce the headline deficit that’s been reported.

  2. “Ridership on the 520 corridor is expected to jump 35 percent or one million additional passenger trips per year if Metro can pay for operating costs of the new Urban Partnership service.”

    A million passenger trips is like two additional express routes with 15 minute headways during peak. (60 people per bus X 8 buses per hour X 8 hours a day X 5 days a week X 52 weeks). That’s assuming full buses only one direction. In reality I think the 520 buses between Redmond and Seattle are likely to be pretty balanced. 60 per bus eight hours a day might be a bit high but it’s not counting anything for mid day, late night or weekends.

    If a million is a 35% increase it means currently there are less than three million passenger trips per year across 520? Each commute equals two passenger trips, right? 260 work days in a year would work out to about 5,500 commuters every day riding the bus to work in Seattle and the eastside. That number seems awfully low doesn’t it? Again, that’s not even accounting for the off peak/non commute ridership.

      1. Ah, that makes the numbers seem more in line. I wonder what percentage of 520 passenger trips are on ST vs Metro? RapidRide seems to make it even more fuzzy what the function and responsibility of each agency and “brand” of bus is supposed to fulfill. Throw in that Metro has operational responsibility for all flavors in King County and it’s even more confusing.

      2. The bulk of Metro buses on 520 are peak hour commuter routes. There’s one CT route to Snohomish/Monroe.

        The only all day buses across 520 are the 255, 271, 540, 545.

        From Bejan’s 2007 average weekday ridership chart, the 271 and 255 each had almost 4,000 boardings, the 545 had almost 5,000 boardings, and the 540 almost 2,000 boardings. So the 545 has 1/3 of the boardings. This is for entire routes not just 520.

      3. So the numbers are pretty evenly split with Metro providing a little over half (~53%) of the trips. If you take all Metro boardings as being trips across SR520 you come up with 4,000 people a day. That’s a little less than the 5,500 I derived from the press release numbers (i.e. 1 million = 35% increase) but I only counted work days, not weekends. So the number of daily commuters on the SR520 corridor served by Metro looks to be right around 5,000 give or take. Given that that’s both young urban professionals commuting to Redmond and Bellevue and yokels from the hicks going into the big city the numbers seem surprisingly low to me. OTOH, somewhere around 50-60 thousand people use SR520 every day so Metro and ST combined account for 10-15% which is pretty good. I think even the most dyed in the wool SUV/SOV driver would have to acknowledge that that many additional cars on the road would adversely impact their god given right to drive ;-)

      4. Don’t forget the UW and BCC students! Those figures above are for weekdays only.

        Other routes on 520 (the peak hour routes) are 167, 242, 243, 250, 252, 256, 257, 260, 261, 265, 266, 268, 272, 277, 311, 555/556. Given my daily experience waiting at Montlake, I would guess around 1,500 additional commuters. Also, 280 suburban night owl service but that’s negligible.

  3. I’m glad to see Mr. Triplett has seen the folly in the toy boats plan. The West Seattle route has proved popular in the summer; we’ll see how it holds up through the winter. I found an interesting article in the Seattle Times archive, King County delivers pair of foot-ferry plans for Vashon Island to governor. It goes over some of the history of the Vashon Island to Downtown POF. It makes a lot of sense to me to run this route if it’s purpose is to squash the idea of a car ferry from Southworth to downtown. With that in mind I can even see the justification for the service to be funded by a county wide ferry district since reduced traffic downtown is a benefit to people county wide.

    It also explains the dilemma of trying to work in cooperation with Kitsap County which wanted to run its boats without the maritime unions.

    One thing I haven’t heard discussed is what will be the effect of pulling ridership from the WSF runs from Vashon to Fauntleroy. Will the State decide a decrease in frequency of car ferries to Vashon is warranted due to the loss in revenue from the walk on passengers and some vehicles? Mmm, I guess that would drive more people out of their SOVs so it’s not all bad. Plus, Metro would end up seeing an increase in revenue on the West Seattle routes.

    1. A decrease in car traffic coming from the ferries and across the West Seattle Bridge in the morning would also be a HUGE benefit to everyone — both transit and SOV users!

    2. A bunch of us have been wondering why Kitsap County was locked out of the proceeds of the Chinook/Snohomish sale. Interestingly, nobody at Kitsap Transit seemed to know the answer. I suppose we should be reading The Seattle Times a little more closely; that article explained a lot.

      Cannibalization of WSF passengers and funding the systems have been major issues hovering over planning for Central Puget Sound passenger ferry service. We’ve been told that select WSF runs will likely be cut if passenger ferries siphon off too many passengers from WSF, due to the decrease in revenue. Part of this equation, though, is the perennial complaint that ferry and bus schedules don’t mesh, although all we’ve gotten for years are excuses and finger-pointing from the transit agencies involved. A lot of folks have said they’d definitely leave their cars at home if buses met the ferries and the buses got them where they needed to go in a reasonable amount of time. As long as that’s not happening, I don’t think people will willingly give up their vehicles.

      This might not matter for the foreseeable future, at least in Kitsap County. Even if Kitsap Transit’s problem-plagued, long-delayed passenger ferry prototype eventually passes muster, there are no funds to operate one boat, let alone a fleet. Two separate Kitsap County ballot measures funding fast passenger ferries have failed, and Kitsap Transit just announced a new round of service cuts to its already exceedingly inadequate bus service.

  4. From the press release:

    Metro carries nearly 400 thousand passengers per day

    I sure wish they’d quit with these misleading statements in County press releases. Clearly the 400 thousand is the number of boardings. Anyone commuting is going to account for at least two boardings (one in the morning and one in evening). A lot of trips are two or more boardings. I think the number of passengers (people that use Metro) is probably closer to 50,000 (5% of the work force) than 400,000 (20% of the entire population).

    1. I agree the boardings is not total people, but how do you figure 50,000 people? Even if everyone did 4 boardings (2 buses each way) that would be 100,000, right?

      (Also, my wife and two kids use Metro all the time, and they’re not in the workforce.)

    2. And how are they supposed to tell how many trips are unique trips? Put RFID on everyone? As far as I know every transit system (including airlines) uses boardings as their main statistic. I’d hardly call it misleading.

    3. Bernie, the only metric that can be measured accurately is the number of boardings. Number of trips taken would be great, and we can get a better idea of that with ORCA, but number of *people* isn’t really useful information.

      What we want out of our metrics is how many miles of car trips are being replaced by transit – we don’t care who takes those trips, just that trips are taken.

      1. Right. He’s saying that they can’t tell how many people ride per day, so they shouldn’t represent the number of boardings as the number of people.

      2. Exactly, an official press release shouldn’t muck up the water with misinformation. I think it’s all useful information. If you increase the number of discretionary trips you’re not reducing VMT. Not to say that increased mobility is a bad thing but it’s not saving the planet. Knowing the number of employees which use transit is very useful information and the County and Sound Transit use surveys to estimate those numbers. It’s especially important to know where people are commuting from and what employment centers are gaining or lossing percentage so that land use and transit planning can be done intelligently.

        The 50,000 is just a guess. I think the numbers County wide for commuting is about 2.5% (not sure on that) and there’s roughly a million jobs in King County. I’m figuring half of transit use is purely commuting, could be more or less. Non-commute transit dependent riders are going to see more boardings per day because they make multiple trips. Anyway that puts it somewhere around 50,000 people that ride Metro. If someone can make a more refined guesstimate that would be great. I know everyone gets some benefit from public transit whether they use it or not but it would be useful to compare the amount of tax dollars spend per person on transit vs other needs (like schools) which must all be funded by the same pool of tax payers.

      3. The other metric which can be measured accurately is revenue. You can get pretty close guessing how many trips each pass equates to and you can come close figuring out the number of cash fares (I think there’s a pretty good handle on the number of fare evaders if you want to count them). Adding these together would give you a rough idea of number of trips taken.

      4. P&R utilization is good for the outlying areas. Overlake Village has been a perennial laggard in utilization compared to all of the other lots in Redmond, Bellevue and Kirkland which makes me wonder why planners seem to think it’s such an important Link destination. There might be privacy issues involved but I think it would be great for Metro to use some sort of automated license plate capture technique and map origination of cars based on vehicle registration. I know not every registration is where cars are actually parked but overall trends should be easy to see and provide an idea of where new lots or feeder service would be viable.

        Metro’s Route Performance Reports do not include rides within the Ride Free Area in the evaluation.

        I’m not following. Are you saying that they can differentiate rides within the RFZ. How do they know if someone boarding in the RFZ is getting off again or actually boarding to go somewhere? I would imagine that a large percentage of all trips originate in the RFZ.

        Another point of confusion is SLUT. I understand there are sensors (pressure or optical) which measure boardings on buses but on SLUT I’ve read that ridership is quoted based on operator surveys and it’s been impossible to replicate those figures by independent parties. Why no automated boarding sensors on SLUT, or are there?

        Boardings are a great thing to measure but they shouldn’t be reported as something they’re not. A boarding does not equate to number of passengers and a 20% increase in boardings doesn’t equate to a 20% increase in ridership. What’s important are percentage of fare recovery, passenger miles provided, vehicle trip reduction,etc. It’s fine to report number of boardings but it’s not really very useful unless it’s translated into something more tangible. For example, what’s going to happen to boardings when Link is fully phased in? Will boardings increase because there will be lots of short haul trips to and from stations or will they decrease because bus service is replaced by light rail? What if boardings remain unchanged? It obviously wouldn’t be a valid conclusion that Link had no effect.

      5. Yes they can. 15% of Metro’s fleet are equipped with an Automatic Passenger Counting system. They are rotated to collect a sample of ridership for every route. In conjunction with the bus location system, they can have counts at the stop level. They count how many people get on and get off at each stop.

        An example of APC/AVL reports at http://www.psrc.org/boards/advisory/rtf_62008_KCMetro.pdf

        Now I wish there was an easy way for us to have a look at that data.

  5. Bernie, I agree that the terms used can seem misleading to non-transit types…

    That said, you don’t get to just make guesses as to what numbers feel right to you, either.

    Most planners I know DO assume most transit trips are return, and not just one-way. OTOH, I actually regularly commute only one way and get picked up to return home depending upon what I do after work. I’m sure I’m not the only one. And while many non-commute trips make involve multiple stops, you’re providing no data to assess how many vs. folks like my husband who takes the bus round trip to work twice a week for medical appointments, making one and only one stop.

    Of course, just to really mix things up with something I hate about Metro: Does he count as two trips or one, since he can often use a transfer to make the return trip home? (I think transfers here should be directional.)

    1. Sure there’s all sorts of edge cases but I think there’s enough tools available that Metro could come up with an reasonably accurate estimate for the number of trips and even a good estimate for number of people. Boardings on the other hand is really a pretty useless statistic if you can’t place it in context. How many boardings are just people hopping on and off in the ride free zone? How many boardings are just someone riding two blocks to lunch because they have a pass? Rearranging routes can force a transfer and increase boardings. Is this a good thing? Maybe, if the same number of trips is being made more efficiently. On the other hand you might have more boardings but actually be losing ridership because the extra hassle pushed some people back into driving. So if Metro is claiming ridership is up 20% just because boardings are up by that much I call BS.

      1. But boardings are the only thing that can be counted and the only number that would be accurate. Anything else would just be an estimate and then they could be accused of over-estimating. Metro has plenty of statistics available for internal planning use, but they’re not going to cram them all into a press release. I think you’re over analyzing things and looking for a problem that doesn’t exist.

      2. YouTube tells how many views and people find that acceptable. Boardings is what every agency in the US uses so it works as a comparison even though the news media don’t get the difference between unique riders and boardings.

  6. I still think they should not be rolling out anything new when they are cutting service hours. Foot ferries and rapid ride are great if we could afford them, but it appears we can not.

  7. Love this story.

    First off, Sims and BRT caucus are shown to have over-promised Rapid Ride in order to make a bOgus comparison with light rail.

    Second, the light rail-hating Discovery Institute gets their you-know-what handed to them for pushing the ridiculous “least cost planning” micro ferry concept. Considering the fact these jokers pushed monorail, BRT, DMU’s, Mag-Lev, and passenger ferries as “alternatives” to light rail, their record is now 0 for 5.

    Thank you, Bruce Agnew and Bruce Chapman. And a big thanks to Microsoft, for wasting $10 million on these idiots. Seriously, who is in charge of their money burning machine?

    1. Well, the “Discovery” Institute also thinks that dinosaurs roamed the earth four-thousand years ago. They’re not exactly a powerhouse of rational thought.

  8. No, multimodalman – it’s not boarding which cout. It’s passenger miles. If a homeless person gets on at Pio Square and gets off three blocks away, that’s a boarding. If somebody gets on a train at SeaTac and travels to Westlake Station, that’s 16 passenger miles. Distance us what counts. Nit bums who are too lazy to walk a couple blocks.

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