[UPDATE 11:42 am: Interim County Executive Kurt Triplett just proposed a different plan. The key tradeoff appears to be deeper cuts (especially to Transit Now elements that don’t leverage matching funds), in exchange for stopping the fare increases at 50 cents by 2011 and not messing with the Ride Free Area. More reaction later.]
Last week, four suburban councilmembers released a plan to close Metro’s budget gap. It’s a serious proposal, with many details difficult to find from anyone running for office this year. The plan outline is here (pdf). Discussion of the plan elements and the merits of its claims are below the fold.
- Implement audit findings due September 1, as in the Phillips plan.
- “Reduce discretionary services such as bus washing and marketing by 15%, or $9 million per year”
- The City of Seattle pays $400,000 per year for the Ride Free Area. The plan contends that the cost to Metro is now higher, and therefore a higher payment is in order. The proper charge is estimated at $7m using some fuzzy math.
- The Transit Now service increases would be scaled back to the extent that the 0.1% increase now buys less service. This is unlikely to affect RapidRide, which has matching federal grants, but would fall on the high-ridership corridor and underserved area portions of the program. This is also similar to the Phillips plan.
- Obtain $13m by eliminating ferry demonstration routes, as the Executive and all major candidates concur.
- Raise fares by 25 cents a year, for a total of $1.00 by 2013. When this is complete it should generate about $50m a year. However, a 25 cent increase is already planned for January 2010*, and it’s unclear if this is included in the proposal or not. An inquiry to Patterson’s office was unable to resolve this question, nor the impact on youth, disabled, and senior fares.
The net result of all this is to reduce the total service cut from 20% of hours to about 4-6%. There is no word on whether these cuts should be allocated according to current policy or a different paradigm.
This plan is quite similar to Larry Phillips’, except that Phillips doesn’t raise fares, doesn’t do the ride-free thing, and instead draws more from the reserve fund surplus. So aside from those two items, it appears that there are five votes on the Council (out of 9) for this plan.
The other interesting thing is the speed with which this could lead to a large rail-bus fare differential for working-age adults. Any such bus fare would always be more expensive than a ride on Central Link. Meanwhile, youth and senior/disabled fares would approach their higher Link levels.
There’s a lot of posturing over what the “true” cost of the Ride Free Area, but if there’s a study out there on how much it really costs, it’s not public. However, a Metro spokesperson confirmed that they expect about 10.7m annual rides entirely within the Ride Free Area. Given that Metro’s total system ridership in 2007 was 111m, it’s astonishing that 10% of that is in this small area.
I got this additional statement from Metro:
Metro and the city of Seattle have had a RFA cost methodology in place since 1989 to estimate the difference between the value of the fares Metro would collect if a fare was charged for trips within downtown Seattle and the operating cost savings Metro experiences due to the faster travel times through the CBD. Since 1998 when the contract was renewed, the payment to Metro has been adjusted for inflation each year.
But now, with the significant ridership increases over the past few years – combined with 2009 and 2010 fare increases to deal with extraordinary fuel costs and declining sales taxes – the difference between fare collections and cost savings in the RFA is increasing much faster than inflation. The historical method of adjusting the annual payment for inflation does not currently seem to be keeping pace with the value of the lost fares.
Reagan Dunn’s $7m figure is largely guesswork, but his assumptions seem fairly conservative, and I think there’s a good case that $400,000 isn’t coming close to covering the costs.
* Youth fares are not currently scheduled to go up in 2010.