The final $90m of the $501m, four-year Metro budget hole is covered by a 9% route-by-route service suspension. As we reported yesterday, any potential savings discovered by the ongoing audit are likely to reduce this figure to as low as 4%.
The first important point is that since these reductions are “suspensions” rather than “cuts,” restoring them when revenue recovers will not be subject to the 40/40/20 rule, thus allowing relatively quick restoration of the status quo.
Here some details on the suspensions from interviews with both Kurt Triplett and Metro GM Kevin Desmond, after the jump:
- The first thing to happen will be productivity improvements that don’t reduce revenue hours. The example that kept coming up was reducing layover at the ends of each route. Although cutting layovers will reduce reliability, and possibly lead to labor trouble due to shorter breaks, when the alternative is cutting trips it’s attractive to planners.
- In each group of suspensions, the targeted routes will be selected according to existing subarea criteria (i.e. 62% West, 21% South, 17% East), with the least productive trips in each targeted first. In other words, the trips suspended in 2013 will be more productive than those suspended in 2010 from the same subarea.
No route will be eliminated, or its path shortened, unless its route is a “direct overlay” of another route. That means that certain express buses, like the 7X*, might be considered for elimination, as they almost entirely overlap others, like Route 7. In Desmond’s words, “the lines on the map stay where they are.”
- Although each route is intended to take an equal hit, the least productive trips will be the ones cut. That will usually mean weekend, late night, or possibly mid-day service.
- For routes with very small numbers of trips, a 9% cut (or whatever the final total is) will not be mathematically possible. The methodology isn’t totally decided yet, but by necessity some of these routes will be cut by more than 9%, and others less.
- Due to time constraints, the February 2010 reductions will be “administrative”, meaning there won’t be the usual multiple rounds of public comment. In fact, Triplett asserts that “under current authority, Metro has the authority to moderate a route up to 10% without going back to the county.” However, for obvious reasons they won’t use that power for subsequent rounds, and the February changes will go to the council.
When I got him on the phone, Triplett almost immediately launched into a defense of the “balanced” aspect of his plan. He denied that he chose this approach “because it was the easiest”, and insisted that instead “it was the hardest choice.”
He believes that his plan is “best positioned for optimism” that revenues will bounce back and be augmented by the State :
This region is really poised to fracture over transit service… Everyone is trying to use to make a play to protect what they have… It’s a recipe for disaster that will end us as a regional system. [We should] unite and do something together rather than fighting over the transit scraps… [My plan is] much more flexible on the upside… A massive fight would prevent car tab restoration.
He also pushed back hard against the idea that productivity is the only responsible metric for a transit system:
What is the purpose of transit and what does it serve? We want to maximize ridership, to serve commutes, balance productivity vs. transit-dependent riders… both ends of that scale are right… We cannot callously pick lives that win and lives that lose… you can’t use cost-benefit analysis as your only metric.
‘Low productivity routes’ are a euphemism for the transit-dependent poor. It’s not about dollars and cents, its about people.
Finally, I asked Triplett how it impacted his thinking that both candidates to replace him (Dow Constantine and Susan Hutchison) have suggested precisely that — cuts to low-productivity routes:
I have tried to balance the fact that I’m only going to be here for a while, but I am the Executive and I have to do what I think is right.. I believe that when they have all the information, they’ll moderate to my proposal.
Tomorrow: some closing thoughts on the Metro budget crisis and the Triplett plan.