180 by Atomic Taco
"180" by Atomic Taco

Last summer we described Executive Kurt Triplett’s proposed response to the Metro budget crisis, which involved a 9% (310,000 hour) cut in the 2010-2011 biennium.  The Budget Committee of the King County Council has softened the blow by deferring most cuts till 2012-2013, in the hope that the state legislature will provide the additional taxing authority to avoid the blow altogether.

The bottom line for riders, although this budget has not yet reached final approval:

  • no significant reduction in service frequency or span on any routes, at least for the next two years;
  • a 25-cent fare increase (except youth) in 2011 to go with the one long planned for 2010;
  • full speed ahead on RapidRide, including the F line; and
  • return of bus wraps, but with a 15-inch gap that allows riders to actually use the windows.

Details below the jump.

Metro now anticipates much greater efficiency gains than they did previously.   The coming biennium’s cuts come in two categories: “Scheduling Efficiency” and “Supplemental Low-impact reductions.”  I have to dig into this a little more to fully understand the difference, but the Council has received assurances from Metro GM Kevin Desmond that these reductions will not generally have an impact on headways or span of service that riders experience.  See the table below of planned service hour equivalent reductions:

Scheduling Efficiency Supplemental low impact reductions
Feb 2010 25,000 25,000
Sep 2010 50,000 25,000
Jun 2011 50,000 25,000

This amounts to a total redo of the Metro schedule using advanced techniques.  Triplett originally proposed 310,000 hours of suspensions in 2010-11 and a further 275,000 in 2012-2013, so although projections that far out are dicey we might be facing a 385,000 hour cliff in 2012 if more revenue is not found.

This low-impact plan allows the County to sidestep the politically sensitive “cuts” vs. “suspensions” debate, which would dictate whether service reductions would be restored as they were cut or in accordance with 40/40/20.

The other key differences are an attempt to realize audit savings immediately (Triplett’s plan came out before the audit results), cutting 43 positions (39 currently unfilled), and reauthorizing bus wraps with a 15-inch gap that helps riders see out the window.

The plan also draws only $40m from the $105m fleet replacement surplus over the next biennium, rather than Triplett’s $45m.  Triplett originally proposed a property tax for Metro of 5.5 cents per $1,000 of assessed value (0.0055%).  The maximum authority is 7.5 cents or 0.0075%.  This was to be revenue neutral due to corresponding cuts in the foot ferry district (4.5 cents) and the AFIS levy (1 cent).

The Council has pushed that up to 6.5 cents (0.0065%) while remaining revenue neutral.  Part of it is due to a deeper cut in the ferries (from about 5.9 cents* to about 0.3 cents), and part of it is due to the fact that property values have fallen.

The Council approved Triplett’s 2011 25-cent fare increase, but adding an exemption for youth. The youth fare will remain at 75 cents while the senior/disabled rate goes to $1.00 and all other classes increase by 50 cents over two years.  The Council also reiterated their support for RapidRide, planning to open the F line in 2013.  They did not accept Metro’s proposal to delay C line opening until 2012, in order to avoid opening in the middle of viaduct teardown chaos and tarnishing the brand.

The Council budget as a whole will be released on Nov. 20th.  It still has to go to the full council for approval.

* AFAIK you can’t find the 5.9 cent figure anywhere online.  In 2008 the revenue level was 5.5 cents, but for the ferry district the Council sets a revenue target and then the rate is set to match.  Council spokesman Frank Abe tells me that in 2009 the levy rate was set at $19.33m, or 5.9 cents.  You also get non-round numbers for levy rates and therefore sums don’t add up due to rounding.

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30 Replies to “County Budget Committee Advances 2010 Metro Budget”

  1. I’m all for bus wraps… More revenue and chances for more creative ads. Bring back the Life-Savers bus! Many drivers loved driving that thing around – Several of us have pictures in front of it (at the base or a layover of course).

    1. Maybe Metro should offer some long-term wrap contracts. I wouldn’t mind seeing a bunch of coaches done up with a Life-Savers wrap as their more or less permanent color scheme.

    2. When I was doing the 550, the hostler knew I liked the Life-Savers and the Green Naked Bus, so I usually had on about 4 times a week.

    3. My Grandfather tells tales of back in the day when some buses were painted (the ‘wraps’ of the time) to look like similarly packaged products, like Wonder Bread, Saltine Crackers, etc.

  2. I am pretty sure I remember reading somewhere that adds on bus shelters is against City of Seattle code.

    1. Yes, off-premesis advertising such as on bus shelters is contra Seattle City code, but maybe it’s time to change the code. We’ve got a new mayor and a couple of new councilmembers; let’s give it a shot.

      1. There are other purposes that ads could be use for as well. In other cities they use ad contracts to get new bus stops or bicycle share programs. Since the city has to give the permission it would probably avoid the 40-40-20 policy too. I think it is all around good way to get more money.

      2. I just happened into a conversation about this recently, and the suggestion was made that the City Attorney’s office had given Metro difficulty on this issue. I’m hoping to sit down with Pete Holmes and put it on his radar.

        Why can’t we work out legal language that would allow for a transit exemption to the sign code?

      3. Technically, the shelters are King County property,so shouldn’t they be subject to King County code rather than Seattle City code? It’s the same reason that the County Sheriff’s office has primary jurisdiction on the buses and at transit facilities rather than SPD or other city’s police.

  3. I hate bus wrap. I can live with the 15 inch gap but I remain curious about how much extra revenue they’re getting going with those instead of the fully unblocked windows. At one point they said they couldn’t market those but there are a bunch on the street now.

    1. I have been a proponent of increased commercial revenues for transit agencies… BUT I really, really hate large bus wraps.

      I think branding is a critical need for transit agencies, and I should be able to look up and know that a Metro bus is coming down the street towards me. Maybe I’m Downtown-biased and used to seeing vehicles from multiple agencies, but it just annoys me to see, say, a red bus followed by a white bus or green bus and not know what the hell they are and who’s running them.

      1. I think you can assume that if it is not a yellow school bus, it is a Metro bus. The number of wrapped buses and the market for them is very small–30 to 50 buses max.

      2. It can be confusing at some of the major Downtown stops where you also have Sound Transit buses that are wrapped.

        There is also a challenge for folks with limited vision when the colors on the front of the bus aren’t consistent.

  4. Not that it’s Metro’s budget, but on a similar topic, why are there not yet ads in Link, or more ads in the downtown tunnel stations?

    It’s nice that Seattle is so aesthetically aware and concerned about visual pollution, but on the other hand, I’d rather have ads than eventual budget cuts. Also, honestly, ads in those contexts don’t really bother me. The moving ads in some of the London Underground stations are a little freaky, though!

    1. Sound Transit recently awarded a new 5-year advertising contract to Clear Channel Outdoor. So we may begin to see ads on Link.

      Under the terms of the contract, CCO will operate Sound Transit’s advertising program on commuter and light rail lines and on stations from Everett to Tacoma. The contract also includes advertising on the Tacoma Street Car and on 243 Sound Transit busses.


  5. Just no more sponsorship stations like on the SLUT though. I hate it that “Pacific Place” station is at Westlake, while Pacific Place is two blocks away. The Pan Pacific Hotel is not a regional destination. UW Physicians is a long way from the UW Medicine station. I’m sure that confuses the hell out of tourists, who expect a station named X to be adjacent to X. The train announcements/signs/maps are inconsistent, with one saying “[Avenue] & [Street] station” and the other saying “[Sponsor] station”. It’s particularly annoying when the announcer’s voice says, “Westlake & Denny Station, sponsored by the Pan Pacific Hotel”. Nobody cares who the sponsor is; they don’t want the loud ADA voice repeating it and interrupting their thoughts.

    Does any other city announce its station sponsorships, or allow sponsors to name stations they’re not adjacent to? Would it be feasable to buy back the naming rights? I don’t mind putting the sponsor in small letters on the map, but not in the announcement and not as the official station name.

    1. Um, get off SLU Tram at the south end of the line, turn left one very short block and you are at Pacific Place, or to put it another way, “Where’s the lake at Westlake station?”

    2. Westlake is the name people are familiar with for intermodal transfers. I agree that it’s a dumb name, but “Pacific Place station” is even dumber.

  6. The current full-wrapped buses seem to have fully unblocked windows. Is that slated to change to slightly unblocked windows instead?

    I like seeing wrapped buses around. It makes some of the beat up, rusted, bondo covered Gilligs look a little less old on the streets.

  7. Noooooo bus wraps on the windows! A 15 inch gap is NOT cool.

    I find they badly impair visibility from inside the bus, especially at night… you can’t read street signs. I also think they make the bus hotter in summer and generally make the interior claustrophobic.

    If you are a company considering sponsoring a bus wrap that covers the windows, please know that some bus riders will hate you and avoid buying your product.

  8. There’s also a public safety issue with bus wraps that seems to be getting ignored. Police officers and fire fighters will have limited visibility when responding to any incident that occurs on a wrapped bus. I can’t believe that the transit police would be comfortable if they are called to handle a violent incident on a wrapped bus. Emergency aid responders could also be slowed down if visibility if blocked by a vinyl wrap. Is 15 inches enough room to give police and emergency responders visibility so they can perform their jobs or will worst case scenarios become even worse because of an I-pod ad?

    1. How does a wrap limit response capability? And in any case, they’re promising to unblock the windows this time.

  9. We should at least try the partial wraps and see how they are for riders. I was on a mockup with several people of different sizes and it seemed pretty well placed for visibility. Full wraps really limit visibility on dark, rainy winter nights, but I think these would be okay.

    1. On a really basic level I don’t understand why the folks at Metro think it’s appropriate to cover the windows at all.

      I also find their pitches for bus wrap kind of fishy. Initially they said they couldn’t market the buses unless the wrap fully covered the windows and then they said no one wanted to pay for advertising on the uncovered window buses (which is clearly untrue currently as there are a bunch of them in service). Now they “have to have” all but the 15″ band covered? What about folks who are standing – shouldn’t they get an unobstructed view as well?

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