I’m not convinced that 40/40/20 — the policy where 80% of new service is sent to the suburbs, to gradually “correct” the disproportionately intensive service in Seattle — is a particularly great injustice.  However, “not a great injustice” is not the same thing as good policy, and Metro has enough objectives to worry about that a purely artificial numerical target doesn’t make it easier to achieve the things we should actually care about.   And in fact, it was a common sentiment in the King County Executive race that we should do away with this rule.

Unfortunately, the buck stops with the King County Council, and there are effectively four Seattle seats and five suburban seats.  I think discussion on this issue has been far too policy-oriented and not focused enough on naked political concerns.

Any alternate formula for expansion or cuts, viewed in isolation, has to pass a simple test: do five or more Council members see this as helping their constituents, or not?  In this effort we’re helped by the fact that Metro serves a fairly complicated set of divergent policy objectives.  I see three basic strategies:

  • Get to five. If you’re going to shift the formula to favor urban areas more, make sure to tweak it so that when you run the spreadsheet five districts come out ahead.  That would presumably be the four Seattle-heavy districts, plus either District 5 or 6.
  • Trade it for density. An intriguing idea championed by both Ross Hunter and Fred Jarrett during the executive race was to tie bus service to density.  As Greg Nickels is fond of pointing out, people here hate density and hate sprawl, so accepting density in your neighborhood is viewed as “taking one for the team.”  I think that’s the wrong attitude, but it can be used to good purpose.  It’s important that this density is beyond what’s already envisioned in the regional plan. Otherwise, you’re asking opponents to give something for nothing.
  • Trade something unrelated. Adding density is easy for me because I’d like to see it whether or not buses came with it.   If that doesn’t suit you, it’s a big policy universe out there.  In isolation, Reagan Dunn isn’t going to vote to reduce bus service to his constituents.  On the other hand, there are certainly issues his constituents care about more than bus service.  If Seattle councilmembers trade his vote on Metro policy for more logging rights or whatever*, we might have a deal.

Of course, if you’re the kind of person that wants to see Seattle get disproportionately more bus service you’re probably also the kind of person that doesn’t want whatever it is they’re bargaining for in Enumclaw.  But that really just brings us around to the question of “are you a transit advocate or aren’t you?”  If you support transit expansion to the extent that it doesn’t interfere with any of your other political priorities, I think the answer is “not so much”.

*Reagan Dunn is an example; logging rights are an example I made up.

58 Replies to “Getting Rid of 40/40/20”

  1. “If you support transit expansion to the extent that it doesn’t interfere with any of your other political priorities, I think the answer is “not so much”.”

    This is the most ridiculous statement I’ve read in awhile. Anyone who thinks being a transit advocate involves making all other issues secondary is foolish. Society is more complex than that and I find it shallow and nearsighted, and particularly disappointing for this blog, for you to be making this statement. I’m a huge transit supporter but would oppose in a second if the solutions involved something that would greatly impair this city in a different way. We need transit solutions that strike a balance between the many competing interests and needs of a city including transport, community, commerce, environment, and home.

    1. BWill,

      I chose my words carefully. Of course transit doesn’t have to be #1 in your priority list, and it’s right to weigh other issues in decisions. However, if you find that all of your other priorities are more important, then it really isn’t a priority for you at all.

      1. Maybe I read more into your statement that I should have, but I still think that Transit shouldn’t have to be obtained with a bargaining chip like Logging Enumclaw. We should expect our policy makers to make smart policy decisions because they are the smart ones not because they were the price we had to pay. Which I doubt we disagree on.

        But, I think its wrong to say we should consider strongly offering some big carrot to get what only makes sense, especially in the beginning. We’re allowing others to set the terms of the discussion when we take that approach and we should be driving the narrative along the first two lines. Option 3 seems like a bad one to me.

      2. Fair enough, I’d prefer (1) or (2) as well. However, as I say in the piece it’s easy for me to say “more density” because I want that anyway.

      3. It’s a tough question. I think you really have to look at the particulars of any horse trade that might bring more suburban/rural members on-board with ending 40/40/20. For example removing some of the more obnoxious and red-tape laden parts of the CAO for small landowners in exchange for junking 40/40/20 might be worth it.

        However I think the best bet is to get to 5 or 6 with Patterson or Hague. Their districts are looking more like Seattle these days and less suburban so allocating service based on demand wouldn’t harm their districts. Though from a political POV it is better if 40/40/20 is removed with a 8-1 or 9-0 vote which likely means some political horse-trading.

      4. If only politicians and community leaders would do the ‘right thing.’ But, can you see Kemper Freeman agreeing to have light rail go through Bellevue without a fight? I hate the idea of bargaining to try and find a solution because then everything gets so watered down that the final result is nothing what it was supposed to be from the beginning.

  2. Would a suburban Council member’s vote on eliminating 40/40/20 even have an impact on their re-election? Many suburban voters don’t care about transit issues, most voters don’t pay attention — particularly to the County Council, this is a wonky issue, and it’s unlikely the media would give it significant (if any) coverage.

    There are good reasons to eliminate it. If a compelling case is made and Constantine pushes for it, it seems like getting one or more suburban votes shouldn’t be a problem. Right?

    1. It’d be ridiculous to suggest that voting against 40-40-20 would cost someone reelection, but it will irritate particular constituents. Councilmembers view their purpose as serving their constituents.

    2. The media might not pay much attention to the issue, but it’s ripe for opposition campaigns: “Incumbent X voted to send even more of your county tax dollars to pay for Seattle bus service while streets in our town are crumbling. Tell Incumbent X it’s time to spend our town’s tax dollars on our town’s needs, and stop the Seattle subsidies.”\

      As long as Seattle gets more than its per-capita share of county-wide transit tax dollars, that argument will have some traction.

      1. As long as Seattle gets anything lawmakers from other parts of the region or state are going to beat up on it.

      2. Actually, we currently receive less than the per-capita share of county-wide transit dollars. I would be happy just to see a fair distribution. But your hypothetical campaign still stands….even if we just made things fair.

  3. Bellevue and the eastside have long been getting the shaft service hour wise for how much we are paying in taxes. The 40 rule is trying to even out things without canceling service in Seattle, I think it’s a good policy.

    1. Ah, but total service hours is not the only measure of good (or “efficient”) transit. The 40/40/20 compromise is political hot potatoes in Seattle, but I don’t actually think getting rid of it would make that much difference. Seattle has 100+ year old transit/land use infrastructure (streetcar suburbs, electric trolley routes, etc) that most other King County cities are just beginning to implement. If you want better service on the Eastside, the answer isn’t lots of service hours of buses driving around in circles. You have to look at the street-level uses that make transit work.

    2. I agree but 40/40/20 allocates service in a completely arbitrary way. That is the problem with it. It isn’t tied to any feedback mechanism. For example take Kirkland and Bellevue. Kirkland is extremely progressive and wants all the transit it can get. Downtown Kirkland is just about as dense as say the the Ballard urban village. Then take Bellevue. It is dense but it whole heartily attacking Eastlink, and isn’t changing it’s car centric ways in the least. Now don’t you think that Kirkland deserves to be rewarded for having a long track record of doing the right thing? Some kind of feedback mechanism, for example related to density, would help to achieve greater policy objectives than just make the books look more even.

      1. Does the 40% that goes to East King necessarily have to be spread out evenly through the subarea? What is to prevent that sort of rewarding to places like Kirkland? Is there any intra-subarea competition available? I’m not sure how it all works.

  4. Unless we get some new funding sources for Metro, 40-40-20 will be more relevant to major transit cuts rather than adding any new service.

    The good news is that the House Transportation Committee passed HB 2855 yesterday, which allows localities to levy a vehicle license fee to pay for public transit.

    This is a really important bill for transit service both in King County and around the state, but it’s going to be a tough fight to get it through the legislature. I hope to see some more coverage on this by STB.

    1. Melanie,

      I think you know this, but cuts aren’t governed by 40/40/20. They are instead done in strict proportion to existing service.

      1. I’m guessing she means that service re-added would adhere to the 40/40/20 distribution unless the original service was “suspended.”

  5. I disagree with the premise that eliminating 40/40/20 should lead to an emphasis on dense routes. Any replacement policy needs to balance the competing types of services Metro provides:

    frequent service by multiple routes on dense corridors
    commuter oriented peak service
    coverage over a wide area and time

    These separate service types need to be measured against performance metrics that are appropriate to the different types of service. Efficiency and farebox recovery are important, but shouldn’t be an overriding concern. The needs to be some measure of geographic equity so that areas that want or need service can get it.

    The rural areas need some transit service; they just don’t need a lot of it.

  6. What’s unfair is the eastside is paying for paying for 33% of the service, but only gets 17% of the service. Let’s scrap 40/40/20, and trade it for the eastside only having to pay for the service they get. Reduce their taxes, and/or bus fares until they are paying for the 17% of the service they receive.

    1. Service hours, not service altogether. Remember farebox recovery is much higher in Seattle, routes are typically shorter, and the electric buses cost less to operate (though are more expensive to purchase).

    2. Sam,

      Why is the subarea the magic level for equity considerations? If we go to the City level, Medina certainly isn’t getting enough service given the revenue they create. But putting more service there would be silly.

      Or we could just balkanize Metro into West, East, and South transit agencies and give regional boards the power to allocate funds.

      It’s a Countywide system seeking to meet a number of different priorities. It’s naive to assume that the best route system will happen to be perfectly equitable in terms of funding.

    3. I believe when farebox recovery is factored in Seattle (or more properly the entire sub-area including Shoreline and Lake Forest Park) only receives a slight subsidy. Even that is a bit arguable as the West sub-area pays for 50% of any all-day routes that also serve the South or East sub-areas like the 255 or the 150.

      The South sub-area is the big winner as they receive much more service than their portion of overall Metro revenue and much of their all-day and weekend service is split with the West sub-area.

      The East sub-area does lose out on a strict service-hour basis compared to the other two sub-areas, but it is the South county who is getting the hours East King is paying for not Seattle.

      BTW while the East sub-area pays for a larger portion of the Metro budget than the percentage of service hours they receive the East sub-area isn’t responsible for 33% of Metro’s revenue. Also remember that farebox recovery in the East sub-area is very low compared to even the South sub-area and especially the West sub-area.

  7. Why tie it to anything? Remove politics from it completely, and instead of the county council dictating where every single route goes, hand it off to professional planner who know what they are doing.

    1. Alex,

      I don’t think there’s an obvious single objective that planners can seek to maximize given a free hand. At a minimum you’re trying to maximize ridership and make sure everyone in the County has some transit access. Most people would agree that you also want to maximize reduction in Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) and support the growth of high-density development. Some people would say subarea equity is important. Each of these goals creates a somewhat different service profile.

      How you weight those five objectives is inherently a political question. As I said 40/40/20 is a pretty crude way to achieve some of those goals.

      1. Most policy wonks would agree with the importance of reducing VMT.

        But most people in King County? Do you really think that’s anywhere high on the priority list of voters in Federal Way, Carnation, Enumclaw, etc.?

      2. I think if someone is living in Enumclaw, Carnation, Fall City, etc., then riding public transportation is not a very high priority for them. Those are not the riders that we should be looking for, given the limited funds that public transportation has. It should be focused on the areas/cities that have a public need/desire for public transportation, not trying to fill a need that isn’t really wanted in the first place. Why spend so much money trying to fund bus routes to these far-flung areas when busses in Seattle are packed full and passing by people? Public transportation should be more focused(but not completely focused) on serving the public that actually wants/needs it and is ready to use it.

      3. I’m not discussing them as riders, but as taxpayers.

        Riders pay a rather small share of the system costs compared to taxpayers, so don’t be surprised if taxpayers have more policy influence than riders.

    2. Who will set the policies those planners are supposed to implement?

      Planning can’t be done in a vacuum, especially when the planners’ performance will drive public acceptance of the funding scheme for the system.

      Unless we change the system to make farebox revenue the largest source of funds, riders should not expect the system to put them first. Taxpayers have more of a stake in the system than riders — who pays the piper picks the tune.

    3. Getting rid of 40/40/20 is a political question as the council would need to vote to eliminate it. Furthermore as Martin points out you have to have transit goals to replace 40/40/20 with as professional planners are going to optimize for something. Systems built to maximize farebox recovery are going to look different than ones optimized for maximum ridership, which look different than systems built to maximize coverage and service to the transit dependent.

      1. I’m not sure how metro plans their routes, but when you have a large dispartiy in your service area (urban vs. suburban vs. rural) It would only make sense to have 3 levels of criteria to detirmine if a route is successful/productive or not. It would not make sense to apply the same standards as a route on capitol hill, to the bus to emunclaw. That being said, they should not be weighed totally eaqually either, but on a sliding scale so that your less productive lifeline services dont fall off as quickly.

        Presuming you could figure that math out, you could design some kind of formula, mabye even using ridership data of what % to keep in the subarea and what % to fund services in other subareas. Because obviously, just becuase a person rides outside the subarea it dosent mean their trip ends where they get off the bus in downtown seattle.

  8. I am certain that Reagan “I was named for Saint Ronnie” Dunn Lumber would go for the logging rights hook. Throw in some fishing rights he could pass on to his Uncle Slade Gorton of Gloucester, and you’ll have a deal!

  9. The city and suburbs need to work together for the good of the entire metropolis, not work against each other. I realize that’s politically difficult, but it’s where we need to go.

    Subarea equity a la Sound Transit seems to work well and is considered fair. The concept apparently didn’t exist when 40/40/20 was enacted, but now it has been proven. So replacing 40/40/20 with subarea equity sounds like a good idea.

    1. No, sub-area equity doesn’t really address the problem either. It’s simply another arbitrary division that doesn’t take into account regional planning goals and the reality that people are working and traveling in and out of each area.

      I like the idea put forth by Jarrett during the Executive’s race that we should refocus a formula on a three-way split between urban, suburban, and rural routes.

      It creates a hierarchy of where service should be concentrated, allowing Bellevue and Seattle to be treated equally, while acknowledging that Redmond needs more service than Carnation.

      It perhaps presents new goals for how to create routes and where to connect them, and maybe suggests different types of vehicles/modes running within and between those areas.

      And it breaks up some of the political argument, while supporting Martin’s goal of giving more service to communities willing to accept more density.

    2. It works to an extent. I think you need a % more than a firm line, although i think Sound Transit does seem to spend subarea money in other benefitting subareas (I.E. you could have downtown seattle improvements partially paid for by the Pierce Subarea, as you have sounder and ST Express serving). Making it a % would give some flexibility to planning, while still keeping the majority of the funds inside the subarea. Of course some thinks like equipment seem to be subarea independant and gets moved around at whim.

    3. I’m assuming that Metro’s existing practice for routes that span multiple subareas will remain: charge both subareas if it serves both directions AM and PM, or charge just the outer subarea if it’s inbound-AM, outbound-PM. That should account for regional planning goals.

      Urban/suburban/rural may be OK, but where do you draw the line at urban? Is all of Bellevue urban, or just the part west of 122nd? Is downtown Kirkland urban?

  10. “The city and suburbs need to work together for the good of the entire metropolis, not work against each other. I realize that’s politically difficult, but it’s where we need to go.”

    Or not, a la Detroit. There is a reason why folks move to the suburbs…

  11. Martin: the emphasis that five votes is policy is a good addition to the discussion. Please consider that raising new transit service subsidy should be considered simultaneously with service allocation. If new revenue does not attract five votes, major service reductions will follow. Good service investments can be made in all three subareas.

  12. Did anyone notice the changes the county council made in their motion creating a task force to examine KC Metro?

    Full details are here: http://mkcclegisearch.kingcounty.gov/custom/king/legislation.htm Search for 2009-0649.

    It requires equal representation on the task force from the three sub-areas and in cases when there are only 2 representatives from a constituency then they both cannot be from the same sub-area. For example 6 elected officials are suppose to be appointed to the task force with each sub-area required to have two reps. However in this case it goes a step further but limiting Seattle and Bellevue to only 1 rep. Not only is this 40/40/20 policy unfair in terms of where service and tax dollars go but even when we try to gather input on the future of the transit agency we act like its the US Senate and give representation based on arbitrary political boundaries.

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