Gilligs parked in the yard, by Atomic Taco
"Gilligs parked in the yard", by Atomic Taco

A lot of numbers have been thrown around regarding the looming Metro service cuts.  Rapidly reaching the point of confusion myself, I chatted with Metro Service Development Mangager Victor Obeso and Kevin Desmond to get the story straight.  The result is below the jump.

This year, Metro is delivering about 3.5m service hours.  March revenue projections (.ppt, slide 7) indicated a $224m shortfall for the biennium, or about 21%.   This Spring, Metro released a very rough estimate that this shortfall, if addressed entirely with service cuts, would lead to about 800,000 service hours of existing service lost in 2010-11, plus forfeiture of the 139,000 hours in Transit Now additions planned through 2011.  This would have been a 23% cut from current service levels.

KC Metro

In April Metro briefed that losing 800,000 hours would eliminate as many as 20m annual boardings out of a total of 109m.  Then, natural revenue growth would slowly get us back to the 2009 service level sometime around 2020 (see chart at right).

Thanks to various revenue and efficiency enhancements, it’s not going to be as bad as that.  Metro is planning 310,000 hours of cuts in the 2010-11 biennium that it’s currently planning for, or 9% of current service.  This number not only reflects the budget changes in the plan, but also the more detailed staff work that’s gone on.

At the moment, the Executive estimates a need to cut a further 275,000 hours in 2012-2013.  These numbers are subject to how well the audit savings turn out, how quickly the economy recovers, and if taxes go up; Desmond said that “the only plan” is for the initial 310,000 hours.   Furthermore, some of the Transit Now service increases are being deferred, amounting to 123,000 annual hours delivered between 2010-2013.   Deferred increases are not really the same in impact as cuts, but add it all up, and there’s a total of 708,000 service hours still under threat in the next four years, or about 18% of the 2013 service level.

However, these cuts (or “suspensions”) are to service hours.  The audit findings relating to operating efficiencies will reduce the time buses are in the field (“service hours”) while preserving the time spent carrying passengers (“revenue hours”).  For example, of the 50,000 hours scheduled to go in February, Obeso gave the (non-binding) prediction that 10-20,000 will be non-revenue, and therefore basically unnoticed by users.

I also clarified the source of the 5,500 new service hours delivered to the Rainier Valley this September.  Metro actually took 16,800 hours out to take over operation of the South Lake Union Streetcar, but through Transit Now funds and service partnerships with the City of Seattle, they were able to put in 22,300 hours to make up the difference, and then some, with more service on the 8, 36, 48, and 60.

30 Replies to “Getting the Numbers Right”

  1. Thanks for the clarifications. The outlook through 2013 is pretty bleak, with service levels being reduced by 708,000 hours, ASSUMING, the council buys into all the cost efficiencies and revenue enhancements identified in the recently released auditors report AND draws down many of the reserve accounts identified in Exec. Triplett’s plan. Getting the all planets and moons in perfect alignment is a rare sight indeed. As for new taxes or a robust ecconomy to bail transit out, that’s a real stretch.

  2. The graph is misleading because the vertical axis doesn’t start at zero. At first glance, it looks like the blue service cuts are close to 50% rather than the actual 23% cut. When collapsing an axis on a graph, you should always include the lightning bolt squiggly to let people know it doesn’t start at zero.

  3. Are “service hours” and “platform hours” the same thing? If not would someone please explain what platform hours are.

    1. Revenue hours – The number of hours a bus is operating scheduled trips is referred to as revenue hours. This does not include deadhead time or layovers.
      Platform hours – The total number a bus is on the road during the day.


  4. I see people all the time smoke on the platform at the stations and the other day i saw a security guard light up. They should inforce the NO SMOKING in transit centers and P&R on the platforms so yes we need these signs.

    1. I saw a Tacoma Link operator get out of the cab and berate a guy who was smoking on the platform. She told him if she ever sees it again, he’ll be kicked off the train. It was really something, because I’m used to riding the Paris Tramway where every other person is smoking on the platform…

  5. Metro actually took 16,800 hours out to take over operation of the South Lake Union Streetcar

    So actually the cost trade off is 16,800 hours of bus service for 11,000 of streetcar service. If the streetcar moved half again as many people as those bus hours it would make sense but it’s more like the reverse. Less service hours and less people served per hour.

    1. I don’t have a good sense of what 16,800 hours of bus service buys. Can you put it in terms of an existing run? (Would 16,800 hours pay for, say, all service on the 70?)

      1. That’s basically impossible to quantify so easily – not only does the frequency matter, but also the length of the route.

    2. Bernie, where are your numbers for the previous bus service and the current Streetcar ridership? You really can’t make these statements without them.

      Oh, and how about when Amazon and Gates Foundation open?

      1. Oh, and how about when Amazon and Gates Foundation open?

        And we bump the average number of riders per trip all the way up to 18. Whoopy! Those lucky folks save 5 minutes over what would be a 20 minute walk. They should just make the damn thing free since I can’t seem more than a handful of curiosity seekers paying if they’re not going to be transferring and it’s not worth the cost of fare inspection.

      2. Why do you care so much about the streetcar? You neither work nor live in Seattle, you don’t pay for it, you don’t even have to see it. You’ve been griping about it every chance you get, what’s the big deal? The streetcar has zero impact on your life.

      3. You neither work nor live in Seattle, you don’t pay for it,

        WRONG! Metro is taking over funding which I as a King county resident DO pay for. I don’t see why you wouldn’t care about wasteful spending when we’re facing cuts in transit service hours. I also care about it because ST wants to build another streetcar which I will also be paying for and I’d like to avoid a similar boondoggle by building it such that it has ridership that supports the cost. That’s not as likely to happen if misinformation like “streetcars are cheaper to operate” keeps being spread.

      4. Zed,

        Bernie has every right to be interested in and comment on any issue on this blog. We’re not segmenting commenting privileges based on where people live and work.

        Furthermore, I’m grateful that Bernie is both intellectually honest and willing to dive into the numbers. When he’s been factually corrected, Bernie is readily willing to concede.

        Bernie, go right on doing what you’re doing.

      5. While I think the Amazon and Gates Foundation campuses opening along with MOHAI moving and the park finishing should bring a few more riders. I don’t think the line is really going to be much of a success other than in possibly attracting slightly more development and investment to the neighborhood unless one or more of the following is done:
        1. The frequency is increased such that there is “a car in sight at all times”.
        2. The line is extended, even a short extention to 5th & Pine or 1st & Stewart would dramatically improve ridership, though a loop in front of the Pike Place Market would be even better.
        3. The line is made free, though this is less necessary if either (or both) of the above are done.

      6. I agree with your general statement and point 2, but not points 1 or 3. Maybe I’m misinterpreting “a car in sight at all times”, but are you expecting a 30 second headway for the SLUS? What transit system in any major city has that? Besides, I don’t think the current track infrastructure could even handle that many street cars, esp due to the single track design at each end of the line. As for point 3, who do you suggest pays for this line?

    3. Actually, the streetcar does move more people than many bus routes. It has similar ridership to the 31 Magnolia/Fremont/U-District. You’re also comparing apples to oranges by counting the streetcar base, while Metro’s figures do not include.

      There is no doubt in my mind that the SLU Streetcar has turned out to be a premature investment. City of Seattle did not have the capital funds to build the network that would create total system operating costs efficiencies. But no one knew that before October 2008.

  6. Interestingly, the streetcar if put along with the bus routes is 6th or 7th in ridership per mile based on this ridership table. After Amazon opens, it could very well become the highest ridership per mile route in the system.

  7. I’m concerned that many of STB’s readers are missing some important points that Martin has been trying to shed light on – Metro is in financial crisis, and the problem is getting worse.
    Even dire warning in today’s post (graph and all), merited only a couple of comments before the thread digressed into technical comments of graphing, definitions, smoking and SLU ridership. METRO IS BLEEDING CASH and it’s not being solved.
    Here’s one example, and I’m not picking on ST. SE Seattle has seen dramatic increases in service levels in the past year, with more to come. 5,500 ‘net-new’ service hours from Metro, and 70,000 new hours from Link serving MLK (plus DSTT and airport riders). In a recent SE Seattle meeting, Metro revealed they intend to add another 35,000 hours next Feb. to SE Seattle. (
    “Metro’s manager of service development said 35,000 hours of bus service will be added next February to local streets in Southeast Seattle.”
    A recent post on STB placed all of this in perspective, showing SE Seattle service hours (Editorial: Stand behind your agency)

    In one year overall service has dramatically increased, and more is on the way!
    But Metro is broke, and will soon begin to cannibalize reserves, degrade service, shelters, buses, customer service, and accept huge ridership losses and bus overloads. What’s wrong with this picture?
    Another example: Metro unveils a new Rapid Ride route from Burien to Renton. The post quickly turns to running light rail between the two, and places for the station. This sounds like GM unveiling a new Hummer variant just before they beg DC for more cash.
    I read and post to STB for several reasons. I’ve moved out of the area, but still have kids and grandkids who depend on a healthy Metro to get around and I still have lots of friends who work at Metro and am saddened by today’s financial crisis. STB is read, posted to and respected for presenting facts and ideas on transit when local media is off covering the latest fashion craze or pop star sighting. Plus it’s a fun read for a transit junkie.
    OK STB and readers — Metro needs your help. Constructive ideas Welcome!

    1. I think there were some good ideas revealed in past threads. I’m not really sure what else you would have us do. The harsh reality is unless Metro gets some new tax authority cuts are going to be necessary.

      I could see the argument for using the hours for RapidRide to reduce the cuts, but the argument for keeping it is also compelling, which is to give the voters SOMETHING for passing Transit Now.

      For the net new hours in SE I’d like to see how many of those are being paid for by the City. Otherwise I agree with your point that service hours shouldn’t be added without taking them away elsewhere. A general rationalization of the Metro system would likely lead to some areas seeing service increases while others see decreases. But this is just expanding to a neighborhood level what some have been arguing in a broader sense with suburban or rural service vs. urban service.

    2. The “new” hours being added have either been in planning for a long time or like RapidRide should be get grant funding which pays for itself. I don’t think it would be right to simply cut SE Seattle’s planned service adjustments due to light rail just because they happen to be unlucky enough for the system to come online during a financial crisis. Similarly I don’t think it would make sense to de-fund the SLU Streetcar simply because we can’t afford to build a Central Streetcar that would make more efficient use of the expensive streetcar base.

      There’s no easy answer to the probable 9% cuts. It’s going to be a mix of cuts, routes revisions, service partnerships, etc. I would like to see the county and cities at least try to take action on the MVET option. It seems unlikely to work but at least the county would have an additional bargaining chip with the state (“We tried that!”).

    3. “We” are very concerned about the potential loss of Metro service, and that it might take five or ten years to get back to the current level. But what can we do about it that we’re not already doing?

      It may sound contradictory to raise service and lower it simultaneously, but it’s two different processes happening at different levels. It’s the county council who will decide how much to cut in which subareas, and which policy to apply to cuts (across the board or ridership-based). The ordinary route planners can’t predict what the council will do or when. So the only thing they can do is continue with their existing plans. Not applying additional hours may sound like an easy way to help the budget and minimize double-disruption (adding now and a cutting later to the same route), but the cuts really need to be decided strategically, not piecemeal.

      RapidRide A is scheduled for next year. RapidRide B-E are coming in a few years, and who knows what the economic climate will be then. RapidRide F doesn’t even have a date yet, at least not that I’ve seen. It may not be until A-E are finished, which would put it in the 2020s. I don’t think Metro has done more than an initial sketch for F yet. Transit junkies naturally like to debate the pros and cons of specific routing, and a bus vs light rail, even if it will not be a reality until far in the future.

      RapidRide comes with a federal matching grant, at least for lines A-E. So it would be foolish to turn down the opportunity if we can possibly cover the local share. Transit Now does not come with a grant, so that’s where the revenue will likely be cannibalized to prop up existing service.

      Some at this site believe that light rail, streetcars and trolleybuses will become increasingly more cost-effective compared to buses as the price of oil rises, because there are many ways to generate electricity for wired vehicles but only a few ways to produce energy for self-powered vehicles. At some point, buses may disappear entirely if Metro can’t afford to run them. We need to be ready with an alternative when/if this happens. Europe, for instance, is weathering the current downturn better because they already have the infrastructure in place, while the US is finally starting to catch up. The biggest expense for rail is the up-front capital costs; after that it’s cheap to run. So we’re trying to front-load as much infrastructure now so we’ll have it for later. RapidRide is seen as a temporary expediency until rail is feasible on those corridors.

      Actually, given that RapidRide has more stops than light rail, the actual competitor to a Renton-Burien train may be ST 560 rather than the 140.

      1. Thanks Mike, Joshuadf and Chris, for the thoughtful responses to my frustrated rant. It’s hard to watch a wreck unfolding and be powerless to stop it.
        As for electrification, I couldn’t agree more. It’s foolish to contemplate dismantling the trolley bus network, as the audit report suggests, with ‘peak-oil behind us. See my OP-ED in the PI today on the same subject.
        Anyway, I’ll try to contain myself and maybe find the silver bullet(s) needed, or as Sid Morrison used to say, ‘silver buckshot’.

      2. The think to keep in mind with that anti-trolleybus point is, it’s just one auditor’s suggestion. His job was to report on all potential alternatives. He may have made mistakes in his assumptions, not being an engineer himself. It’s the county council (and Seattle?) who will decide, and they haven’t commented either way AFAIK. I believe there are people in Metro and in Seattle and the county who see the environmental and cost advantages of trolleybuses. If not, and a motion comes up to dismantle the trolleybuses, we’ll have to be ready to educate the politicians and show there’s public (taxpayer) support for keeping them.

        San Francisco was going to dismantle its cable cars in the 70s or 80s but the voters spoke loudly to keep them and refurbish the system. Today I’m sure they’d say it was an excellent decision that brought significant tourist dollars to the city in subsequent years. We may have to do something similar for our trolleybuses if an anti-trolleybus campaign gets serious.

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