Double 194, by Atomic Taco
"Double 194", by Atomic Taco

Note: See also Part II of this series.

Last Wednesday’s Metro brown bag was attended by frequent STB commenter Mickymse, who graciously took some notes and collected the materials for us.  Of most interest was the added detail on Executive Triplett’s plan to close the Metro budget gap, contained in Metro GM Kevin Desmond’s presentation (pdf).

There isn’t much we didn’t already know, but the chart below itemizes Triplett’s 9-point plan.  Sorry for the lousy image quality.

Click to enlarge

On Tuesday I got the opportunity to interview Kurt Triplett about this plan.  Over the next week or so, I’ll be going into each of these plan elements in depth.  However, the headline elements are:

  • a 25-cent fare increase in 2011, to go with the 25 cents already planned for 2010.
  • various operating savings, including a reduction in services like cleaning of shelters.
  • spreading out the $100m one-time surplus over four years
  • canceling all foot ferry service aside from West Seattle and Vashon, and move the property tax authority to Metro.
  • Cancel all unimplemented Transit Now services, except for RapidRide and service partnerships.
  • Apply an across-the-board “balanced” 9% cut.

Triplett remarked that his plan is still evolving, especially since the audit results don’t come in until September 1st.  The Executive releases his final proposal on September 27, and the Council has until the end of the November to enact a plan.  This traditionally happens on November 23, which happens to be the date that the new County Executive takes office.

Amusingly, Triplett pointed out that if Dow Constantine were to win the general election, he could very well vote for the plan in the Council on the morning on the 23rd, take office as the Executive, and sign it into law that afternoon.

53 Replies to “The Triplett Metro Plan (I)”

  1. What does Triplett mean by “Apply an across-the-board “balanced” 9% cut.”?

    If this means reduce service hours by 9 percent in every route, no matter how productive or non-productive it is, then it isn’t “balanced” by any meaningful definition of the term.

    1. That’s basically what it means. I’ll delve into it more at the end of this series.

  2. I agree. I think if you give the service planners the authority to revise service, they could accomplish the 9% cut in service and minimize the impacts. To just say reduce all routes by 9% is not the best way to proceed.

    Raiding nearly every reserve for future bus replacement and defering maintenance takes care of over half the shortfall, but at what price? Dirty, worn out buses, in several years, and little money set aside to buy new ones? Cannabalizing the fleet to keep things going. Trips cancelled for lack of equipment. Mr. Goodwrench would advise against such a foolish plan.
    Cutting 9% from each route implies that the system is in complete balance, no waste anywhere, no ecconomies to be gained. Hell, the janitorial staff could implement that stratagy using the calculator on their cell phones! Let the planners make surgical strikes, and get Mr. Triplett out of the cockpit of his B-52 carpet bomber. Any new exec is going to get shafted from day one, and pay the price unless the first order of business is to reverse this policy. This is when your managers, planners and scheduleres can really shine, and use their best skills. The longer the wait, the more bitter the fix.
    The customers deserve better than this.

    1. This is a good opportunity for Constantine to make some rain. I doubt anyone on the county council is particularly happy with Triplett’s plan. The plan the suburban councilmembers floated is better for transit riders than what Triplett is proposing.

      Dow should come up with a plan a majority and ideally the entire council can back. Ideally it is one that takes input from Metro employees as to where cuts can be made and how much the reserve funds can be raided without hurting the system long-term.

      As an added bonus it would give Dow something where he could go “top that Susan”.

      1. The suburban councilmembers plan is completely unspecific as to how the cuts are applied, so I’m not sure why you think that plan is better.

  4. I think that rather then doing an all across the board fare increase weather its Triplett’s plan or increasing it by as much as 1 dollar in some plans that metro needs to create a third fare zone. It seems crazy that if you only need to go a few miles you are only paying 50 cents less then some on that may be traveling 13 miles

  5. One of the little elements that caught my eye was the reduction in services like cleaning shelters. No matter whose plan gets enacted for the bigger issues, services like this seem likely to go. It would be lovely if community groups and others could step up and adopt a shelter to clean and take care of. Metro already does a good job of including groups who decorate the various shelters, so maybe we could extend that program to longer term upkeep.

    1. This issue struck me as well because we all know, all too many bus shelters are disgusting – if they are not strewn with litter, they are vandalized in other ways. I am always picking up litter at bus shelters and I am always letting Metro know what it ought to know already, but seemingly does not, whenever panes of glass have been shattered at its stops.

      I agree on the ‘adopt-a-shelter’ idea, but as always, this will not be a consistent across the board effort, but one likely concentrated in areas that are already nice and need to be kept nice. I can’t see anyone adopting stops on Third Avenue or Pike/Pine in Seattle, unless it also comes with a drug fix! Sorry to be cynical, but I do believe, that clean well maintained shelters and buses are important. There is little point in making the state of the buses and shelters mirroring the state of the economy. We like to feel better when we go out into the public sphere, not have out private worries stare back at us.

      1. “I can’t see anyone adopting stops on Third Avenue or Pike/Pine in Seattle, unless it also comes with a drug fix!”

        I can.

        Of course, I frequent both these areas many times a week.

      2. Well if you do, then go in broad daylight! I wander both areas too but it would be a thankless task I feel unless you have friends to help..

      3. It would probably be a thankless task wherever you do it. A lot of volunteer work is. You’re not going to just grab some rubber gloves from you kitchen and a few trash bags and tidy up when there’s the possibility of finding needles, broken glass, etc. But that possibility is true for almost every shelter/stop. There might be more needles on Pike/Pine or Third, but I’m still going to want to have equipment to handle them safely in Greenwood or Mapleleaf. Which is why you’d want community groups or businesses who can work together to get the safety supplies and maybe a little training and do the whole thing in an organized way. Paying one or two people to organize the adopting groups and do a few safety training days for the gorup leaders has to be way cheaper than paying crews to clean the shelters.

        I transfer twice a week at third and pine and usually don’t feel unsafe. That’s at 7pm, not 12am, but there’s no reason to clean the stops at night. Midday on a Saturday morning; no one’s going to harass you for picking up trash.

      4. Take a look at the shelter on the west side of the 5000 block of University Way NE. They couldn’t keep people from breaking the glass so they took it all out. Now it’s just a roof with some LED lights.

      5. How about eliminating shelter maintenance entirely in all but the unincorporated areas – shift the cost of maintenance of the shelters to the cities. Let Metro provide the basic shelter and allow cities to maintain them – or neglect them – as they see fit. Also allow cities to sell advertising on the shelters should they so desire.

        It would be a chance for cities served by transit to showcase their own commitment to public transportation, and a pretty big savings bite for Metro.

      1. Which makes sense if the economy’s good. If you can afford to pay professionals to clean shelters, it’s probably a lot more efficient and consistent than relying on volunteers. But the economy sucks right now and volunteers are free.

  6. Mike S is right on about the cuts – need to be much more surgical.

    second, the “original” revenue projections were a joke! How was an expectation os revenues increasing 30% over the 2008-2013 reasonable?

    third, in the 4th slide, there is still the expectation of revenue growth rebounding sharply – that is highly unlikely to occur. This is a “u” or “L” shaped recession, not a “v” shaped one.

    Recognizing that I was not there in person to listen to the presentation, the notes are not encouraging.

  7. As with everything in the realm of cuts as a philosophical answer to intractable problems, we need to talk about what the function of public tools is to be. Metro is essentially a local government tool that it operates to move people from area to area with convenience and frequency. It is not a for-profit enterprise that needs to be accountable to shareholders and raise them a dividend on their investment, but a for-service enterprise that fulfills a public need, especially necessary in areas that have little alternative means of getting around and where travel by car is prohibitively exepensive. This whole edifice, like health insurance, works because the healthier, ‘profitable’ high ridership routes support and subsidize the weak performance of the outlying unhealthy routes where only a few people use the service but welcome the bus when it does come.

    So, if we accept this model, then theoretically, we should oppose any and all cuts because it undermines the purpose for which Metro exists. Cut profitable routes in Seattle and from Seattle to key points east, north and south, and you will have even less money in the future to support services to communities like Enumclaw and North Bend and Carnation and Maple Valley. Cut the unprofitable routes and you won’t save a lot of money anyway because those routes are presumably being supported by the profitable ones. You also risk losing a bus constituency for ever, all further downscaling the available resources for Metro and it all becomes a self-fulfillung prophecy.

    This just leaves the question of what to do? My view is simply that the States and Local Governments have a revenue problem and not a spending problem. In other words, we all like the services local government is providing, but we ignore the responsibility we have to help pay for them and keep them going in lean times. An audit here and there helps find additional funds, but bottom line is that local governments I think need to look more into sources of additional revenue like charging people to enter County Parks, or exploring opt-in and opt-out clauses in our car tabs. We don’t need to make these tab payments either mandatory or permanent, but at least provide people with an opportunity to chip in if they want to. I have no idea how many would or how much money could be raised, but I know I would be happy to chip in an extra tip to support Metro annually and I have been out of work for 35 weeks now.

    We obsess too much on cutting services and too little on raising revenue. When sales tax revenue improves and/or property taxes increase, then sure, we can cancel many of the additional revenue sources but for now, I think we should explore the idea. Carpet bombing cuts is not a good idea and neither are surgical strikes on particular routes.

  8. Triplett was just now on KUOW, talking about county issues, including transit issues. Some points he made:

    It’s expected that the audits will yield about 5% of potential efficiencies. For example, reduce excessive layover times, at the risk of getting off schedule more often. Any savings would offset the cuts.

    Cuts would be appilied uniformly accross routes, but the cuts would be focused on lower performing trips.

    Rapid Ride is being spared because there are substantial federal dollars at stake.

    You should be able to find an archived copy of the interview at after 11:10.

    1. He expects 5% efficiencies AFTER the audit. Well, that’s half the budget shortfall. What’s he waiting for, a report to tell him what to do?
      It’s a BS guess, or if they really know how to save 5% of the budget (25M/yr), then it’s malfeasance for not doing so sooner.

      1. What’s he waiting for, a report to tell him what to do?

        Yes, he’s waiting for the audit results to come out. And I don’t know where you’re getting the 5% figure; there’s a big “TBD” by the audit results.

      2. From AW’s post just above mine. I didn’t listen to KUOW.
        Audits don’t happen in secret. Auditors sit side by side with employees, ask questions, review documents, and probe for waste. Supervisors ask the employee “how’d it go?”, and report up the line.
        If the 5% number is valid, then somebody knows a dollar amount of potential savings and the details of the sum, to get to a percentage. I’m sure Metro knows the guts of the report and where the big savings can come from.
        Now, if your shy about implementing them, then sure, wait for the final report for some cover.
        My point above is to get going now, not linger until the problem is much worse.

      3. My mistake on the 5% thing, but it was a guess by Triplett.

        I’m not sure why you’re so itchy to get the audit numbers now. As the post indicates, this won’t become law till November, and won’t get implemented till February.

        The audit’s coming out in a week and a half. Then we’ll have a better idea what the final cut number is.

      4. Itchy? Well, maybe so, but the budget crisis began last year, and reported extensively here on STB (Metro 83M shortfall in Oct ’08), and now it’s pushing 500M over 4 years.
        I guess another week, or month, or year won’t make any difference, so I’ll just shut up.

    2. Look for a fight over reducing layover times – those are the only breaks that drivers get. This means – especially for us part-timers when things are running late – often getting no break at all, even to use the bathroom.

  9. Triplett’s plan is typical of a government bureaucrat and is illustrative of why people become so frustrated with government in general.

    Let’s say this was a retail chain, such as Target. Now, if Target begins losing money and needs to improve margins, they close or cut hoursunderperforming stores. They don’t reduce hours at all stores, nor close a pre-determined amount of stores based on an arbitrary formula.

    Triplett’s proposed 9% across-the-board cut is insanity. The cuts need to come from the underperforming routes, it is that simple. Yes, I’m talking about the empty buses driving around the Eastside. These underperforming routes need to be scaled back to provide a minimal service to those truly in need, but the packed Seattle and commuter routes must be left alone.

    Again, transit is a political football in this region with everyone sticking their hands in the pot. How long are we going to put up with tis inefficient and overly-politicized structure?

    1. Metro is not a retail chain. Your analogy is crap.

      If Metro were a for-profit corporation, even with government subsidy, you would immediately stop all Access Transportation services. All those elderly and disabled people are nothing but a cost center. You would then identify the transit dependent-populations and cut service there to the bare minimum, because they have no choice but to use your service. You’d also cut some of them off entirely, because they’re not paying their way. Then you’d jack up fares to capture the surplus from wealthier riders, and then make sure the rich areas were well-served with premium service that’s more convenient that driving.

      What’s that you say? Those are undesirable outcomes? It’s because METRO IS NOT A BUSINESS and has objectives beyond carrying the most riders at the least cost, like making sure as many people as possible have the opportunity to take transit.

      1. Thanks for the constructive response. I didn’t say anything about cutting Access service. I said that an across-the-board cut is illogical when you cut busy routes in an equal proportion to empty/unused routes. And there are probably opportunities to cut certain routes mid-day and early morning to a bare-bones service.

        Metro is a public service, but at the same time needs to be well-run and should be able to carry out its mission without micromanaging from county government. Across the board cuts are not an adequate response to a budget shortfall, and we all know that such a move is 100% political. Maybe if Metro were allowed to run more like a business, especially when it comes to route planning (keeping in mind any federal mandates such as paratransit, of course), we wouldn’t be having this argument.

        Of course, Metro is hugely inefficient as it is, but that’s an argument for another day. Look, I’m not one of these anti-government right wing zealots, but I’m sick of these sorts of political compromises hurting the majority at the expense of a few.

      2. My point is that Metro’s objective has never been solely to maximize efficiency, and to suddenly pretend that it’s the alpha and omega of route planning is nonsense.

        There are tons of legitimate objectives beyond simply maximizing the number of boardings per a given unit of spending. For starters, reducing VMT, which favors keeping a lot of the really long-haul routes from Snoqualmie and such.

        I’m very sympathetic to the productivity argument, and I don’t know where you live, but I’m getting tired of the very convenient (and arrogant) Seattle-centric view that boardings are all that matter and any attempt to consider other objectives is “illogical” or “insanity.”

    2. “These underperforming routes need to be scaled back to provide a minimal service to those truly in need”

      Those truly in need are spread everywhere. Some are served by underperforming buses that might be cut, but others are not currently served by buses at all, in the sense that it’s a mile or two to the nearest bus stop. One of my mom’s friends who lives around Renton/Newcastle broke her leg and was essentially homebound for three months because there aren’t many buses in the area.

      Of course it’s worth asking, “Why didn’t these people think about this when they chose where to live, and picked something near a good bus line?” That is a problem, but not something that can be solved in the short term. I’d like to bulldoze Lynnwood and rebuilt it with Seattle’s density, but that’s not going to happen. In the meantime, the people who need transit are not just those who bought the house, but also their kids, the relatives who are staying with them, the homeless woman they’re sheltering, etc.

      1. It is worth asking, but as you mention, that’s a problem for another day.

        But I would ask, can’t low-ridership routes be combined? Can’t mid-day frequencies be cut? You can still effectively serve the “need” population without sacrificing everyone.

      2. Can’t mid-day frequencies be cut?

        This is exactly what the Triplett plan does. Spreading the cuts over all of the routes isn’t as illogical as it sounds. The high ridership routes are a greater proportion of total service hours. That’s to say that if you tried to focus all the cuts on low ridership routes the percentage cut would likely be more like a 20-30% reduction in their service to achieve the same dollar amount of saving. And this is on top of the fact that these routes started out with less frequent service to begin with.

        Now contrast that with a route like the 7. It has over 100 trips daily in each direction. A 9% cut means eliminating ten of those runs. Ridership, while still strong is less than half off peak and nights than during peak hours. The 9% reduction in service could be accomplished by increasing headways from 10 minutes to 20 minutes between 1PM to 4PM. Contrast that with low ridership routes that are already 30 minutes to an hour or more and it seems like a pretty equitable way to share the pain.

        But I would ask, can’t low-ridership routes be combined?

        Combined with what? If it’s a low ridership route there probably isn’t an alternate that serves the same need.

  10. I think the Triplett plan is a good one given the constraints with which he is working under. This is a short term fix. He can’t unilaterally change the 20/40/40 allocation. He’s not even an elected official. Likewise he can’t singlehandedly make wholesale changes to Metro routing. Selectively cutting 9% “across the board” will have the least system wide impact. Even on the highest ridership routes there are times of the day when buses are less than half full. It might mean that at night an in city route changes from 1/2 hour headways to 1 hour service. On the eastside it might mean a change from 1 hour headways to 2 hours headways! The exception would be peak only routes which I would expect are not going to see a reduction but rather the cuts would be in the regular service on that route.

    1. Triplett has said everything will get hit with the 9% cuts even peak-only service. It is a meat-axe unthinking way of cutting back that is also craven and shows a lack of courage.

      Frankly the suburban council members plan (and the nearly identical Phillips plan) is much better for both Metro and for the riders. Triplett simply could have proposed something nearly identical to the other two and not looked like someone trying to avoid making a decision.

      1. Chris

        I have no idea where you’re getting your information on the other plans. Phillips has no cuts because he blows through the whole fleet replacement surplus in two years instead of four. That’s the only reason. If new revenue sources don’t materialize, it’ll be ugly.

        The Council plan has absolutely no details on how the their cuts would be applied. Have you seen something more specific?

      2. I think Triplett’s is the only “honest” plan out there. The rest are trying “cook the books” and make it appear that little or nothing really needs to be done by pushing out the problem. This is time for a budget oriented solution not a policy oriented solution. The policy issues need to be addressed but this isn’t the time or place. Those will need to be tackled by the next County Executive and Council.

        One thing I like about Triplett’s approach is that it doesn’t make any changes that have unknown consequences or that can’t be quickly reversed if revenues bounce back. Things like large fare increases will undoubtedly decrease ridership and I haven’t seen any estimate of how much that will offset the increased revenue. Bus orders take a long time to push through and eliminating all capital expenditures pretty well eliminates any chance of federal grants that may be up for grabs over the next four years.

        Triplett has said everything will get hit with the 9% cuts even peak-only service.

        Most of the Peak Only buses are ST but for routes like the 256, at least the way I read the Triplett plan, the 9% cuts would be applied to the 255 off peak. It would be silly to cut trips on a route where you’ve added peak hour buses just because you eliminated a few stops and therefore gave it a different number. I think he was pretty clear that all the cuts would be during times of least demand.

      3. “Most of the Peak Only buses are ST”

        Really? Tell that to the folks on the 54 Express, 56 Express, the 57, the 76, 77, and 79, the 2 Express and many other in-city Metro Peak Hour Routes.

      4. I don’t consider the 54 Express to be peak only because it’s part of the 54 which runs all day and I don’t see any reason to believe that Triplett’s plan would single out the 54 Express for a 9% cut. I believe that 9% applies to the whole route; not the regular route and the 54 Express.

      5. Bernie – the 54x does not run the same route as the 54. The 54 runs California and the 54x is a limited express only route that diverges onto Fauntleroy during peak a.m. and p.m. hours. Both could be reduced 9%. This would be a huge issue (referring to all bus routes b/t West Seattle and downtown) for West Seattle – we are going to have a major, major disruption to our routes shortly (starting in 2010) for the Viaduct re-work, whatever happends with the tunnel irregardless, and to tell us that hey, your traffic will be worse for the next 5 years, you will not get new transit only lanes (exits/onramps do NOT count), RR will be delayed and now you’ll have LESS bus service! Just fantastic. Read = more people driving.

      6. Folks here were all fire sure that Seattle was going to be doubly hurt by service reductions being held to the 40/40/20 and then reinstated according to that ratio. That proved to be irrational worrying and I think this is in the same vein. The plan revolves around reductions during periods of lowest demand. Cutting service during a time of day when extra buses have been added would be silly. I think you can take any bus numbers that are printed out on the same route map and figure that service area will be lumped together with respect to the 9% cut. Of course the extra peak buses will result in the elimination of a proportionate number of off peak runs.

        Special service cooperatives are exempt from the plan. So, if WSDOT or City of Seattle is willing to put in cash to help offset service to mitigate construction delays caused by the viaduct that wouldn’t be affected.

        The metro peak only routes I’m thinking of are those like the 215 to North Bend. Although with the 214 that route has 16 buses morning and evening would only see a reduction of one or two time slots. Again this seems perfectly reasonable when you consider the 214/215 as a combined route. It would probably make the most sense to cut a couple of the 214 runs since the 215 is extended service and only has 6 runs AM and PM. You just have to have some faith that our County Executive and Metro are doing the best with a tough situation and not trying to screw over one population or sub area.

      7. I knew the Phillips plan was hitting various reserves more quickly than either the council or Triplett’s plan. However in many details what the council has proposed and what Phillips proposed were largely similar.

        As for the fleet replacement surplus, my understanding is this is a true surplus (in excess of fleet replacement needs) that pretty much all of the plans on the table will spend. My impression was the council plan didn’t touch money for actual fleet replacement needs whereas Triplett’s plan would raid some of those funds as well.

        The Council plan has absolutely no details on how the their cuts would be applied. Have you seen something more specific?

        Hmm, you’re right. I think I may have read/heard a quote from Dunn about this but I’m not sure.

  11. I am always wondering why there aren’t cuts in Vanpools? Maybe there’s not much in the way of expense there, but it seems like they benefit a select few. They seem like an obvious choice for cuts.

    1. Van pools don’t benefit a select few any more than Central Link benefits a select “few”. I say “few” because the reach of Central Link is to relatively few compared to everyone in the county that can be served by a van pool. Van pools are the best fare recovery option by far for anything Metro does (something like 60%). It also is extremely effective in reducing vehicle miles traveled. They tend to serve long distance commuter, there’s no dead head miles and there’s very little labor and management cost involved. And because there’s so little operational cost there’s really no savings to be had here. In fact replacing many rural routes with more van pools would achieve a savings.

  12. “Raiding nearly every reserve for future bus replacement and defering maintenance takes care of over half the shortfall, but at what price? Dirty, worn out buses, in several years, and little money set aside to buy new ones?”

    The Gillig diesel buses are already 14 years old, how much longer are they going to keep these aging units operational?

    Well, there’s the aging Bredas who are already at 19. But Metro needs to keep their bumper truck staff busy…

  13. Ridership-cuts would be better than across-the-board cuts, but that would lead to a protracted battle between the various cities who don’t want to lose “their” service. That would just delay the cuts until the payroll checks start bouncing, at which point they’d have to make an across-the-board cut anyway, one probably more disruptive because it wasn’t planned out.

    Ridership-based cuts are in the same boat as eliminating the 40/40/20 rule: necessary, but more or less impossible.

    1. Ridership-based cuts are in the same boat as eliminating the 40/40/20 rule: necessary, but more or less impossible.

      Route changes based on performance criteria (more than just ridership and fare recovery) are an on going process at Metro. Replacing 40/40/20 with something that is more performance oriented and based on some form of sub area equity can and should be addressed after we seat a new County Council and Executive. It won’t happen over night which is why this plan needs to be ready to sign off on as soon as the new executive takes office. It’s a plan for the present which buys time to plan for the future.

    2. Actually I think at least 5 votes could be found for getting rid of 40/40/20. There is growing recognition even in the suburbs and rural areas that it isn’t working.

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