Photo by Oran
Photo by Oran

Part III of this series is here.

Over the past week we’ve plugged $357m out of Metro’s $501m budget hole in County Executive Kurt Triplett’s Metro budget plan, which will serve as the basis for what the Council decides in November.   Now comes the part that’s more painful to riders.

But first, those famed audit results.  Aside from a $105m surplus in the fleet replacement fund, no findings have been announced prior to the September 1 release date.  Unlike the Council and Phillips plans, Triplett has not included a guess on the savings in his plan.  That is, any audit savings in excess of the fleet surplus can be used to offset some of the other sacrifices in the budget, presumably by bringing service suspensions from 9% to about the 5% range.

The other big revenue raiser is a 25 cent fare increase.  Due to prior Council action, the fares are scheduled to go up in January 2010 to $2.75 two-zone peak, $2.25 one-zone peak, $2.00 off-peak, and 75 cents for youth, seniors, and the disabled.  (This would mean that only the youth fare was unchanged.)  Triplett is proposing an additional across the board 25 cent increase in 2011, bringing fares to $3.00, $2.50, $2.25, and $1.00 respectively.  This will generate $12m a year, and $36m over the next four due to the delayed implementation.  More below the jump.

I asked Triplett about the proposal by four councilmembers to raise fares by a total of a dollar.  He responded that the 25 cent figure is “not laid in stone” and “I think you can have a reasonable conversation about whether you can go higher.”  That said, he believes “25 cents a year for four years is too much” and that they have to watch “the affordability of Metro so that you’re not driving away riders.”  That comment would seem to leave space for a third fare increase, but not a fourth as the councilmembers propose.  Two more increases would cut the necessary suspension by a third.

While on the subject of fares, I asked Triplett about his reaction to the Council proposal to significantly increase the charge to Seattle of the Ride Free Area.

There is a legitimate issue there about updating the agreement and making sure it adequately offsets the cost.  However, [Reagan Dunn’s $7.5m figure] is  a punitive price not really based on anything and doesn’t recognize how critical Seattle is to the system.

Triplett went on to point out that Downtown Seattle is “the heart of the system” with 50% of all routes going there, so “it matters that it works well.”  Although he agrees that “it needs to be renegotiated for a slightly larger contribution,” the Council proposal “shouldn’t have been done in that manner.”

I went on to ask him if he would favor eliminating the RFA if the City refused to renegotiate:  “I don’t.  The issue deserves furthery study.  We need every tool we have to keep downtown moving when the viaduct comes down.”

Tomorrow, details on the most contentious part of the plan:  a 9% route-by-route service suspension.  Please save your comments on that issue for then.

Also, next week, I’ll be posting about Metro’s existing low-income assistance program.  Suffice it to say, for the purposes of the fare debate, that Metro gives out lots of ticket books to over 100 human services agencies, and counts on them to make sure that people in need have a low-cost means of transportation.

34 Replies to “The Triplett Metro Plan (IV): Fare Increases, Audits”

  1. I’ve been trying to find out why Metro has such a deficit when ridership is increasing. Is it gas prices, taxes, lower ridership than predicted, cost of new buses, a cut budget? All of the above? It seems like we need to rethink our approach and management of our transit. The last fare hike drove my bus usage down. I now ride my bike whenever I can.

    1. Fares provide a pretty small share of the operating budget–if I recall correctly they cover around a quarter of the cost of running the service–so an increase in ridership doesn’t really help Metro make ends meet.

  2. I’ll be interested to hear more about this low-income assistance program. I’ll say that from the perspective of the human service agency I work for, it was selling tickets at a discount, not giving them away, and we lost the grant we used to buy them. And, even when we did have tickets, we could only give 2 tickets to a person a *month*, so great was the demand.

    Please prove me wrong here. Or at least tell me where I can send my participants. We get asked for bus tickets every day.

      1. Now I need an intern with time to follow-up on who actually *has* any. A number of the agencies I am familiar with on that list are out. But nonetheless, if other agencies had a similar experience, I don’t see how 2 tickets a person a month comes anywhere near “to mak[ing] sure that people in need have a low-cost means of transportation”. That’s a *single* interview, or doctor’s appointment, or trip out to DSHS.

        And again, those tickets are purchased, not given as was indicated in the post. Purchased at a huge discount, sure, but human service budgets are pretty tight.

        But, I don’t know what the solution is. I just know what the need is. And I don’t know how other cities deal with the issue either.

      2. I thought our lack of fare inspectors was all the policy we need for those that can’t pay.

      3. Yeah, that and there doesn’t seem to be any real criteria one has to meet in order to obtain a Regional Reduced Fare Permit/Disabled pass. Seems like I’m seeing more and more of those – from people with no evident disability.

  3. I’m sure increasing fare box recovery and making users pay for what they’re getting plays well with conservatives out in the suburbs, but perhaps we should point out to some of the County Council members that we would have one of (if not the) highest bus fares in North America.

    From a business point of view, you don’t increase your customer base by having the highest price for your product. And you certainly don’t solve any financial troubles when you increase your prices at the same time that you make cuts to marketing and customer service.

    These additional fare increases post-January need to be fought for what they are — attempts to kill transit.

    1. The only ways to successfully fight them are to get other revenue or cut service.

    2. It’s not an “attempt to kill transit” if it costs fewer riders by preserving service. Exactly zero Councilmembers have come out in favor of an immediate tax increase, so unless you think they’re all anti-transit, it’s a matter of picking your poison and making the best of a bad situation.

      Although I haven’t seen data on the ridership impact of a fare increase.

    3. You’re probably right.

      At $3.00 a day, twice a day for a 5-day work week, that’s $120.00+ per month just to get back and forth – on the bus. Unfortunately (at least for those who wouldn’t have to pay for parking) we’re starting to get into the territory where it costs a person less or as much to use their personal vehicle to communte to work with the added bonus of convenience.

      1. A car is certainly convenient for a lot of things other than commuting. However, AAA estimates even a small sedan costs $4200 a year to operate:

        Even if you get minimal insurance and an older car you’re pushing $2000/year, making even $120/mo on transit significantly cheaper. Bottom line is that if you don’t have an extra car (for example if your spouse needs the car), transit is a cheaper option.

        Ideally at that point one could actually spend less by living closer to work or working closer to home (see “My Other Car is a Bright Green City”).

  4. I agree that Seattle should be paying more for the RFA. I literally lol’d when I saw that we were paying a rate that was negotiated in, what was it, 1979. And that it had expired some time back. Why didn’t they renegotiate the price then? That would seems as like it would have been a smart and reasonable thing to do.

    Also, I have to agree, if fare prices go up much further you are just going to be hurting people that can’t afford it. Also, people that can probably won’t because they think, whats the point of paying so much to ride something that I am not that comfortable with to begin with. Maybe the bus drivers union can start holding bake sales or something. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

  5. The across the board 25 cent increase doesn’t make sense. It has the effect of creating a virtually flat fare structure. At least the two zone fare should see a larger jump; perhaps much larger. Don’t have current stats but 2005 numbers showed per boarding coast double for the east sub area over west (Seattle). Some of that is due to low ridership on local routes but I suspect a large part is because of long haul routes that often involve a considerable deadhead portion. Peak fare should probably increase a little more than off peak. More likely to retain that ridership. Some buses are standing room only. a larger differential may encourage a shift in some ridership to off peak and help balance the system.

    Charging at some P&R lots should be looked at. Not sure if it’s a good idea but it should be looked at. It could in effect at a surcharge to some of the long distance routes while encouraging car pooling to the lot which frees up more parking spaces.

    1. Charging at P&R lots is a pretty good idea. It affects people who own cars, which are on the high end of income level for transit users.

      1. By and large that’s probably true. The downside is there are a number of P&R users who can afford to simply drive into work and, even though they can afford it are very fare sensitive. Often it’s already taking them longer to ride the bus and if it starts costing more too then they’ll drive. Some lots more than others create a problem with parking poaching. That shouldn’t be too hard to fix/enforce but it’s an issue. Seems to be a big issue with Sounder but I don’t know much about the parking situation near stations. At the very least some sort of proof of ridership should be required. I’m not sure how the new parking garage works in Redmond but if they don’t have some sort of enforcement here I’m sure a significant number of the stalls are being used by people working, shopping or visiting in downtown Redmond. I would bet that’s a problem with Overlake Transit Center too. Then there’s the cost of collection and enforcement. If it can’t do better than break even then what’s the point.

        Instead of buying land or building stalls (required sometimes) I’d like to see a real emphasis on public private partnerships. I know there are a few churches that do this already. If there were a nominal fee to park this might be extended to more retail establishments which see their peak usage in the evenings.

      2. Why would you be concerned about non-transit use of the parking garage at Redmond TC? There’s plenty of free on-street parking nearby. It’s generally limited to two hours, but if you’re shopping or dining, that’s plenty. If you work in Redmond, I can’t imagine there would be any problem with employer supplied parking.

        The parking situation at Overlake TC is quite a different thing.

      3. The problem is many of the P&R lots are full early in the morning and have too many people driving to them from far away. People in Mercer Island would love to run off the people who are driving in all the way from North Bend and Sammamish.

        If the P&R lots charged a market clearing price the problem of the full lot would go away and there would be a revenue stream to justify (and pay for) building more parking.

      4. Yes, a market clearing price as you call it would help at Mercer Island and South Bellevue. I know there are more people that want to use the lot than there are spaces. If they were charge spots (I’d even be willing to provide reduced fare monthly stickers to nearby residents, I mean the goal is to shorten vehicle miles traveled) the outlying lots would get more use. Although I think Issaquah and east Bellevue are already pretty darn full.

        I figured Overlake TC would be a problem with the hoops Microsoft is jumping through right now trying to park everbody. If you’ve ever tried parking at the Redmond library or even City Hall you’ll see parking down there has been tight for a while. The density increase over the last year or two has huge. I think there’s still a lot of the six story buildings that are yet to be occupied. I haven’t been in the Redmond garage but my doctors office is just a block over and it’s usually running close to full. Any idea how the number of space compares now to the surface lot it replaced? I know that one was over capacity years ago.

      5. Yes, now that you mention it, the area around City Hall and the library (and the post office) has been a problem for me in the past. Still, Redmond TC is in an outlying area compared to Mercer Island and South Bellevue. Those are the places where a parking charge would make more sense. And the south line Sounder stations since they also seem to fill up.

      6. I guess Redmond comes to mind because it’s a fancy new multi story garage. That had to cost a bundle to build and even if there is street parking a lot of people would choose to put there car indoors than leave it out if it’s free. But I haven’t done more than walk by. I’m not even entirely sure it’s 100% complete yet. Anybody know if they do indeed charge to park there or have info on how full it gets?

        I don’t know that I’d characterize it as an outlying area. It certainly used to be the end of civilization when I was at the UW back in the 70’s and lived on Union Hill. Since then Redmond has grown so much, especially in the last few years that I suspect at least as many people boarding there walk as drive! It actually has pretty poor road connections for anywhere other than Education Hill.

      7. I believe the Redmond garage was paid for by sale of part of the original surface lot, with a slight net gain in spaces.

  6. Not having an across the board fare increase is a great idea. On, an unrelated note, this should also be looked at for link fare. The fare structure there is odd is in the same sense that distance is not the component rather it is destination.

    I bet Metro would see a lot more ridership with in Seattle if they were to hold the fares at current prices or maybe even drop them back a quarter.

  7. Whatever happens, I’d like to see Metro and ST working together on fare structures. It’d be much easier to have one integrated system.

    /broken record.

  8. The problem is, quite frankly, the inconsistent service you get from Metro. Would I pay $3 if the buses were on time and I could always make my transfers? Yes, but its not going to happen unless I am taking the light rail. My commute to work varies between 1/2 hr and 1 hr depending on whether the buses are running on time. 1/2 hour is only 10 minutes longer than driving, and I am happy and relaxed. 1 hour is painful, everyone is grumpy, I’ve missed transfers, the buses are crowded, etc.

    Also, would I pay $2.50 to get short distances, Fremont to U District, Capitol Hill to Downtown? No. It doesn’t pencil out economically to make these trips on the bus despite these all being neighborhoods that need incentives not to drive! Parking is terrible, but free in all the side streets, or after 6pm at these locations. There should be a low mileage Metro discount to encourage people to commute between dense neighborhoods by bus in the city.

    1. My commute to work varies between 1/2 hr and 1 hr depending on whether the buses are running on time.

      I don’t know what your commute is but if for those going across 520 it can vary from a 1/2 to an hour driving. I suspect the vast majority of buses end up behind schedule because of traffic delays. I guess the big issue with transit though is transfers. If you’re schedule is tight a bus that’s only a couple minutes behind schedule might be responsible for that entire 1/2 hour delta.

      Don’t know what the answer is. Shortened layovers will undoubtedly make this worse. One seat rides tend to be inefficient and limit schedule flexibility. It does no good to always be on time if “on time” is a half hour earlier than you wanted to be there. I guess route selection that takes into consideration schedule reliability need to be of primary importance. Somehow assure that the long haul main routes are not going to “get ahead” of the feeder routes. Lot’s more can be done with signal priority. Bellevue has a pretty slick system in the works. Of course Bellevue is a much simpler system than Seattle and it doesn’t come cheap. GPS tracking of the buses is a good first step. More dedicated ROW for transit is the ultimate solution. I’m not sure why so many people on this blog are dead set against building adaquate parking as part of new development but act as though on street parking were a constitutional right. Every row of parked cars is a transit lane not being used.

      There should be a low mileage Metro discount to encourage people to commute between dense neighborhoods by bus in the city.

      Monthly pass? If you’re a regular commuter those neighborhood trips are free with your pass. If you make a lot of these trips then a pass would pay off. If you don’t regularly commute or make frequent inner city trips then the occasional car use isn’t that big a deal compared to the revenue loss Metro would suffer by lowering the one zone fare. Lord knows we don’t need any more complicated a fare structure. But, if ORCA ever lives up to it’s promise distance based bus trips might become a reality.

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