Kurt Triplett
Kurt Triplett

Note: The first installment in this series is here.  Part III here.

To cover the 4-year, $501m gap between Metro’s planned service level and projected revenue, County Executive Kurt Triplett has proposed a nine-point plan.  This post will cover the first three of those items.

$36m in savings comes from deferring planned Transit Now service increases.  RapidRide and Service partnership programs have matching funds that the County won’t pass up, but the “high capacity corridor” and “developing area” improvements that haven’t already been introduced are on the chopping block.  More information here.

Interestingly, this approach effectively negates the 20/40/40 balance of TransitNow in the short term.  Three of the five RapidRide lines are in Seattle, and they were meant to be balanced by the high capacity and developing area service.  (Service partnerships were never subject to the rule.)

Triplett seemed genuinely surprised when I asked why the 83,o00 service hours already implemented under the high capacity and developing area programs weren’t in line for their own 9% cut.  It may be a simple oversight, one that could save Metro about 7,500 annual service hours.

The second item is reduced capital expenditures, mainly through fewer bus purchases.  There have been rumors that this meant fewer trolley buses, since they’re more expensive.  When I asked Triplett this, he said that he’s “not proposing to make that switch” and that we have “3 years to make that decision” because the current trolleys have that much life left.  The $83m in savings over four years comes from buying about 200 fewer buses, thanks to less planned service.  There are also some cuts in things like bus mobility improvements and passenger facilities.

The third item, worth $27m through 2013, is a 10% cut in “complementary programs”.  This includes things like marketing, customer information, landscaping, cleaning, security, and support for special events.

I also asked Triplett what this meant for “station” and “enhanced” bus stops in the RapidRide program.  It’s not well understood that only a fraction of RapidRide stops will have off-board payment, next arrival message boards, and so on.  Further cuts to these amenities would make RapidRide little more than a frequent express bus with a new paint job and fare inspectors.  Triplett insisted that “our default is no,” but that “we’ve been asked by [citizens] to take another look at that.”  So for now, no cuts to RapidRide amenities, but that’s subject to change.

That covers the $146m of the $501m budget gap.  In the next installment, we’ll tackle property taxes, reserves, and the fleet replacement fund.

22 Replies to “The Triplett Metro Plan (II)”

  1. Having seen some of this stuff go down in my previous life, I can tell you right now you’re in extreme danger of losing the electric trolleys- and getting them back wouldn’t be easy.

    The process is disarmingly simple- first, when you ask, they tell you “Nobody’s thinking of that”. And then, suddenly, it’s all “Well, that decision was made long ago, there’s nothing to be done about it now”.

    The institution is tilted against the ETBs. The overhead is expensive and requires skilled crews to maintain. The routes can’t be easily changed and the ETBs can’t run on other routes. Nobody employed by the system today was alive before the diesel bus ruled the roost. And bureaucracies love pie-in-the-sky alternatives, like hybrids, which can only default back to the bureaucracy’s inherent tilt in case of failure.

    This could be balanced by the knowledge that ETBs use hydro power and don’t contribute to global warming, that the ETBs run almost silently, to the great joy of riders and people who live along the routes, that the ETBs don’t emit exhaust fumes, and that they’re actually cheaper to run on hilly routes than the diesels. Do you see anyone at the agency talking up the good points about ETBs, or proposing to add more routes?

    If they weren’t quietly preparing to jettison the ETBs, Triplett’s answer would have been “No, of course not, we’re not going to lose the only buses we have that can keep running when oil prices go up”.

    This is like watching the seal swim underwater, when you have to read the ripples on the surface to know where he is. The agency obviously has no love for the ETBs and would be content to “discover” that replacing them or maintaining the overhead would be “too expensive”.

    Be afraid- be very afraid.

    1. It sort of reminds me of what has happened with the Waterfront Trolley. Even today the official line from Metro is that the service suspension is “Temporary”. As we know from examples at MBTA and SEPTA such service suspensions have a suspicious way of becoming permanent.

      Hopefully there is some Federal money for adding new or extending old ETB routes in the next transportation bill. I suspect the grant Metro received in the 90’s for electrifying the 70 what kept anyone from having a notion to eliminate the ETB’s in the last 15 years or so. Having to maintain the overhead in the tunnel and the electrical parts of the Breda’s probably didn’t hurt either.

    2. No one at Metro wants to eliminate the trolleys. The City of Seattle on the other hand (read Greg and the planning goons) wants them all gone and replaced with … Streetcars! Yep, more Streetcars. They also get to remove more parking and car lanes! BTW, Metro didn’t kill the waterfront trolley, SEATTLE did in a series of moves to prevent it from being resurrected after the “Art” museum’s sculpture fiasco was foisted upon us.

      1. Speaking as someone who lives on a trolley bus line, replacing them all with streetcars would be OK. It’s replacing them all with regular buses that I think is a problem for many of us. Noise, exhaust, ugh.

      2. No one wants to replace all the trolleys with streetcars. That is a strawman argument. Not a single proposed route is fully along a trolley corridor. Not one.

        Streetcars remove car lanes? Really? Where?

    3. Indeed, we should be concerned about the future of the Electric Buses – one wonders whether, when petrol is US$20/ gallons, we’ll be able to look back and say that KCMetro made the correct decisions by ordered 250+ new electrically powered coaches and closed the gap on 23rd Ave between Madison and Rainier to allow the south end of the 48 to become electrically powered as well.

  2. My concern about RapidRide on Aurora is that it doesn’t have any underlying local service, meaning that it makes every single stop the #358 it would replacing does now. I would rather see it operate as a true express bus, generally stopping every 10-20 blocks, but leaving the stops in-between to local service.

    Part of the complementary programs being reduced is the # of bus schedules. For those who do have and know how to use the Internet, Metro’s long overdue for making their online bus schedules printer-friendly, and for that matter making significant changes to their website to make it more user-friendly, the latter as the Municipal League has recently suggested.

  3. Serial Catowner has it correct. Just remember the George Benson Waterfront Streetcar Line, how it met its demise. The long knives were out, and they found their mark.

  4. Getting rid of the Waterfront Streetcar and probably the ETBs, demanding more money, cutting more service than anywhere else, gutting system upgrades, dismissing density arguments… it’s pretty clear Metro doesn’t particularly care for Seattle.

    I’m surprised they haven’t said “we won’t run Link trains or the Streetcar, SDOT and ST need to do that.”

    1. Talking to Metro planners, there’s a lot of grumpiness over having to cough up the service hours to run the SLUT.

  5. To be fair, the county council passed the requirement that sub-areas take a proportionate share of service cuts. Similarly it is some council members who are saying the RFA is costing Metro too much money. Not really “Metro’s” fault as they are part of KCDOT and dance to the tune of the Executive and Council.

    On the other hand since the county gets paid to run Link and the streetcar I doubt they would be eager to give that up since it helps offset some of the fixed costs of Metro as a whole.

  6. The $83m in savings over four years comes from buying about 200 fewer buses, thanks to less planned service.

    Is that $83 million each year or $83 million over four years?

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