[UPDATE: Some P&Rs are actually owned by WSDOT, so those would require legislative authority to introduce fees. For county-owned P&Rs, the legislature doesn’t have to do anything.]

[UPDATE 2: Metro spokeswoman Rochelle Ogershok points out that $50m is a rough estimate of the annual deficit, after planned cuts, in 2012. The “long term” deficit, going out to 2015, is actually $100m. Corrected below.]

At tonight’s meeting of the Regional Transit Task Force, they’ll be looking at an executive summary of Metro’s various revenue options. It’s a treasure trove of information about what Metro collects now and what else is out there. Metro’s long term 2012 budget hole, after the various efficiencies applied, is still about $50m annually.

  • There’s still 1-cent-per-$1,000 of property tax authority, unfortunately worth only about $3m.
  • Theoretically, the County could create a Transportation Benefit District and levy a vehicle license fee of up to $100 — raising $125m! — but the cities have been busily taking this authority for themselves.
  • King County can tax parking in unincorporated areas only, where of course there isn’t a whole lot of paid parking.
  • The State has a local option tax for HOV systems, which by applying an MVET or a head tax could top off the capital fund. A lot of Metro’s federal money is already restricted to capital expenditure, so it’s unlikely that this money would free up cash to spend on the operations gap.
  • Each quarter you raise fares – not listed as an option in the report – generates about $12m.

There’s then a discussion of taxes that would require legislative action to authorize. For reasons unclear to me, charging at park-and-rides is listed as requiring this, and would generate between and $850,000 and $2.3m annually. There’s a strong case Metro and ST should do this anyway at high-demand park & rides, so in my view the revenue is just a bonus.

Aside from that, my favorite proposal is eliminating one of the state’s biggest (and under-appreciated) subsidies to drivers: the sales tax exemption for gasoline. Without any special dispensation for transit, simply applying existing transit taxes to gasoline would raise $28-40m annually for Metro, patching more than half of the hole. It would generate an even larger amount for Sound Transit, which has revenue problems of its own, to say nothing of its positive impact on state and local general funds, and other strapped agencies like Community Transit. We spend a fair amount of money in this region encouraging people not to drive, and it’s senseless to simultaneously subsidize the opposite.

124 Replies to “Transit Task Force Looks at Revenue”

  1. Is there any political support whatsoever for doing this (removing sales tax exemption for gas)? I’m a fan, but I just wonder how realistic it is.

  2. I imagine that any political support wouldn’t come until after the November elections. Any move to remove a tax exemption or place a new tax (or extend an expiring tax) is akin to political suicide in this environment.

    That said, I think addressing the gasoline sales tax exemption should be very high on the priority list for the incoming legislature.

    1. I support removing this exemption as well. The sales tax is a consumption tax and it should be placed on all consumption to support the general functions of government. there is no valid reason to exempt it. it is another bias toward driving.

      1. Really adding sales tax to gas?

        Right now a gallon of gas is running around $3 with federal and state taxes part of that price. That means the Federal tax is at about 7% right now, and the State tax is about 15% for a combined tax rate of 22%.

        Taking say…Kent for example, the combined sales tax rate is 9.5% (or are we all talking about either the State or Local portion but not both?) which would add another 24 cents to a gallon of gas right now (presuming gas demand is inelastic), and a total current combined tax rate with the existing Federal and State taxes of over 30%.

        Good luck politically selling this concept.

      2. Well remember that those gas taxes are supposed to be “user fees” that cover at least part of the cost of maintaining roads. So gas sales don’t make the same contribution to the general fund that any other sale would.

      3. The U.S. has the lowest rate of taxes on gas of any developed country in the world. Even Canada is higher, and Europe and Japan are much higher.

      4. California does it.

        When oil prices shot up to over US$4.00 per US Gallon in Summer 2008, gasoline purchases fell; the fact that California was making up some of the loss of the per gallon fees through a percentage of the higher price per gallon lessened somewhat the overall drop in fuel tax revenues.

    2. Extending the sales tax to gasoline is a great idea. It would be something common-sense for transit fans to rally around. And even if it fails, it would remind the public that gas is getting special tax treatment.

  3. I would support removal of the exemption, although it would make a nice target for Eyeman. For that matter, I’m of the opinion that a federal tax on gasoline would do more to encourage the production of fuel-efficient vehicles, reduce individual miles traveled and encourage use of transit/walking/cycling than by directly mandating manufacturers produce more efficient vehicles. I’m on board with a large, across the board tax. I know this would impact everyone beyond the pump; it would have (depending on the magnitude and time-frame) a transformative effect on many aspects of society.

    That said, I agree that there is little political support for more gas taxes, particularly for the purpose of funding transit, so my hopes aren’t very high. Playing devil’s advocate: Can transit advocates point to a gasoline-fueled society as unsustainable but then rely on gas taxes for ‘stable’ funding sources for transit?

    1. There is a federal tax, but it’s currently only $0.184 per gallon according to Wikipedia.

      There is more support for raising the gas tax than you might think, particularly if it’s ostensibly for roads (not that we’d necessarily like that). One interesting source of this support is the auto industry; here is GM exec Bob Lutz (as they say, definitely no environmentalist!) explaining why. Basically, the government (via CAFE regulations) is forcing automakers to sell more fuel-efficient cars but not giving people a good reason to buy them, which puts the automakers in an odd spot and distorts the market and incentives in weird ways. I personally don’t think we should charge everyone 3x cost for a 12 mpg Suburban if some of them are only going to drive theirs 500 miles a year; rather, we should let them buy it at the fair market price but simply make it expensive to operate. Which makes sense because it’s mostly the operation and not the manufacturing that has the outsized impact.

      Much less importantly, Adam Carolla (anybody remember The Man Show?), who was going to be one of the hosts of Top Gear USA and has a podcast about working on cars, has said he thinks the gas tax should be raised to $3/gallon and explicitly put towards transit. So that’s two constituencies right there! ;-)

      Anyway, I think some federal gas tax money does go to transit now. If this large pool of money for “transportation” does materialize, I’d think we can skim off at least some of it for transit.

    2. “Can transit advocates point to a gasoline-fueled society as unsustainable but then rely on gas taxes for ’stable’ funding sources for transit?”

      Yes, if it’s used as a temporary stepping stone to a better transit infrastructure, and not seen as a panacea for operation revenue.

  4. Is it a simple vote by the legislature to end the sales tax exemption for gasoline? Or is a constitutional question?

    1. Its a simple vote which would lead to a new initiative by Tim Enyman which would result in it being repealed

      1. Not necessarily, not every ballot measure Eyman gets on the ballot passess. In fact the initiative to repeal the nickle tax failed.

      2. Eyman right now is the Uwe Boll of initiative peddlers – his initiatives do more for his backers than they do very well at the ballot box. Although this year’s initiative might actually have a prayer…

      3. Eyman can have his initiative thrown out and still have the effects legislated ( i.e. 695 ).

  5. I’d like to see all of the money from a sales tax on gas go to various transportation and evironmental purposes not just whatever the transit taxes in a particular jurisdiction is.

    Some thoughts:
    * Ferry system capital budget
    * Passenger rail
    * Bike infrastructure
    * Pedestrian infrastructure
    * additional transit funding
    * Puget Sound cleanup (auto fluids in stormwater runoff is a major source of pollution)
    * Stream & wetland restoration
    * Stormwater treatment

    Basically anything the gas tax can’t currently be spent on that either has to do with transportation or with environmental impacts due to cars.

  6. Should transit fares be taxed?

    That may sound like a weird question, but Minnesota had a 10% tax on streetcar fares about 100 years ago. It only applied to fares over 30 cents: basically city riders weren’t taxed but those going to Lake Minnetonka or the Excelsior or Wildwood amusement parks were….

    For the record, I’m *not* for taxing transit fares. Just bringing up the idea.

      1. Is that a rhetorical question?

        Most streetcar companies at the time were run by the electric companies.

      2. I’m just saying, what’s the point of taxing a government fee? There are plenty of other ways to achieve exactly the same thing.

      3. For the record Will I wasn’t trying to be a smartass when I wrote that but realized it read bad afterwards. I apologize.

      4. Hmm, I never thought you were trying to be a smartass; I just didn’t understand why you brought it up. In your example the situation was different, because the tax was on a service operated by a for-profit entity. Plus, it seems like a terrible idea from the perspective of most people who’d post on a transit blog, and hence unlikely to spur much interesting discussion. :-)

        Government entities do pay taxes all the time, of course, but I wouldn’t think it’s common for one to levy taxes directly on the fees collected by another. What do I know, though, maybe it is.

      5. This concept is used with utility taxes. For example when you pay the Seattle Public Utilities water bill, a utility tax is included. This money goes into the general fund. It is a popular way for cash-strapped municipalities to increase revenue with little public notice.

  7. There might be a public backlash to raising taxes so before raising taxes someone might suggest that Seattle take a look at what Denver has done. Here’s an excerpt from Mass Transit magazine.

    “Colorado instituted a mandate, which required RTD to contract out 20 percent of its fleet in 1992. With a good experience with this privatization of its fleet and an overall reduction in costs, RTD soon increased the amount of its contracted fleet to 30 percent and then to 35 percent with a subsequent state requirement. Now that requirement is 50 percent and RTD CEO Cal Marsella wouldn’t have it any other way.
    “I’ve always advocated for a diversified delivery system and we do it now to the tune of 50 percent,” says Marsella.

    According to numbers attained from RTD, the costs for the privatized portion of its fleet are $63.55 an hour while the unionized fleet costs are $85 an hour. And Marsella states that this $22 an hour savings is also without fuel tax, property tax, sales tax and vehicle registration fees, all of which the private companies pay for.”

    1. There certainly would be a public backlash to contracting out operation of some of the bus routes. You might find the KC Labor Council opposing any future transit tax increases.

    2. You get what you pay for. You really want to ride a bus driven by a low paid non-union driver. These tour buses full of tourists that keep crashing are driven by such drivers.

      1. Our local government budgets are crashing due to unfunded pension liabilities because of generous labor contracts.

        Can you cite any studies/statistics proving your point?

  8. eliminating the sales tax exemption on gasoline should be done at the wholesale level; so that its not added onto the price of purchase (which would make many taxpayers upset). If you were going to do it, i’d say that the state/local share of funds generated have to go towards transportation. Of the state’s share of the sales tax, you could have a penny or two going towards statewide Amtrak/Amtrak Cascades service, a penny or two going towards local road improvements; and the remainder for state highway improvements, directed towards HOV facilitys (Lanes, Ramps, Stations), and ITS improvements and bottleneck removal getting the priority over the funding. The local transit agencys would get that much more sales tax.

    1. “eliminating the sales tax exemption on gasoline should be done at the wholesale level; so that its not added onto the price of purchase”

      What planet do you live on?
      That tax would pass directly thru to the pump price.

      1. The way to “sneak” in the sales tax is to make it revenue neutral. You eliminate the State per gallon tax and charge sales tax instead. At $3 a gallon it’s a wash (you make the local County and City governments expend their political capital passing the local sales tax). Then you’re locked into the cost of inflation. State collected tax would I believe still be constitutionally mandated to be set aside for roads. No big deal, that’s just an accounting trick anyway; especially since the tax doesn’t have any surplus over what it costs to build and maintain our roads. Locally there might be a case to use the money for transit. Certainly it can be used for ferries and for P&R lots. That’s already been settled by the courts. So, once again it’s just an accounting exercise.

      2. Nice idea! And actually, I don’t think the state-collected part is required to be used for roads, although IANAL so who knows. Let’s see if I know how to use blockquote:

        SECTION 40 HIGHWAY FUNDS. All fees collected by the State of Washington as license fees for motor vehicles and all excise taxes collected by the State of Washington on the sale, distribution or use of motor vehicle fuel and all other state revenue intended to be used for highway purposes, shall be paid into the state treasury and placed in a special fund to be used exclusively for highway purposes. Such highway purposes shall be construed to include the following:
        (a) The necessary operating, engineering and legal expenses connected with the administration of public highways, county roads and city streets;
        (b) The construction, reconstruction, maintenance, repair, and betterment of public highways, county roads, bridges and city streets; including the cost and expense of (1) acquisition of rights-of-way, (2) installing, maintaining and operating traffic signs and signal lights, (3) policing by the state of public highways, (4) operation of movable span bridges, (5) operation of ferries which are a part of any public highway, county road, or city street;
        (c) The payment or refunding of any obligation of the State of Washington, or any political subdivision thereof, for which any of the revenues described in section 1 may have been legally pledged prior to the effective date of this act;
        (d) Refunds authorized by law for taxes paid on motor vehicle fuels;
        (e) The cost of collection of any revenues described in this section:
        Provided, That this section shall not be construed to include revenue from general or special taxes or excises not levied primarily for highway purposes, or apply to vehicle operator’s license fees or any excise tax imposed on motor vehicles or the use thereof in lieu of a property tax thereon, or fees for certificates of ownership of motor vehicles. [AMENDMENT 18, 1943 House Joint Resolution No. 4, p 938. Approved November, 1944.]

        It seems to me that the sales tax is a “general tax…not levied primarily for highway purposes”, if it’s the same tax and rate applied to most everything else and not a special “sales tax on gasoline”. And even if we were talking about a sales tax on gasoline, that might not count as an excise tax (because it’s calculated by value and not quantity), in which case it also wouldn’t be subject to the rule above.

        Do you have any info handy about relevant rulings?

      3. Its likely to be an easier pill to swallow if its invisible (more or less, its not a seperate line item on your sales slip like it is for other purchases) to the consumer. As for helping with road as well as transit projects, again its likely to make it more paletable especally for those in outlying areas (who admittanly wont see much benefit anyway -but they dont count for most of the volume so…)

      4. I believe Z is referring to the difference between European-style VAT (which is included in the stated purchase price) and a traditional American retail sales tax (which is generally excluded from the stated purchase price and added on at the end).

      5. Yeah, when I moved back here after 10 years living in a country that used VAT I had some receipt shock that taxes were not included in the price. Sometimes I wish we had a VAT cause I hate having to figure out my final bill. Some tourist locations here just list the price with tax included because many foreigners are not familiar with the concept. Like I sell them a $5 sandwich and then they complain why I charged them $5.50. I had to remind them it’s the tax.

      6. Well, not exactly true.

        If gasoline is absolutely price inelastic then you’re right, add a tax and it shows up in the purchase price as a pure add. But, if gas is price sensitive (which is what everyone seems to be arguing that it is), then increasing the price will drive consumption downward.

        The question is how much can you raise the taxes on gas before the market has had enough?

      7. Still a good idea. In Europe, sales taxes are “part of” the price of an item rather than “added to” the price. My guess as to why America doesn’t do likewise is the mentality that people should see “up front” how much the government is taking in taxes. On a practical level, though, I suspect most shoppers care more about the total price than how much goes to the store vs. the government…. When I lived in Portland for a while, I loved the fact that 99 cents meant 99 cents, not $1.07. It was the convenience and simplicity that impressed me, not the fact that Oregon wasn’t getting a cut….

  9. i forgot to mention that i think charging a modest fee for use at the higher demand P&R lots to offset M&O costs is a great idea. I used a facility in vancouver, bc that charged $2 for 24 hours in a garage with some security. Having a modest $2-3 fee to help with M&O costs (and mabye some capital) i think is reasonable, and with ORCA can easily be added as another “product” onto the card, or via e-purse, or even cash or CC if you so desire. The system in use at Vancouver BC had numbered stalls, and on the bridge to the train there were pay stations where you entered your stall number and paid your fee. The TVMs used by ST could probally be programmed to have that funtionality inaddition to paying for a fare. Although You’d have to have 4 or 6 machines solely dedicated for this purpose which would drive the initial cost up.

  10. I’m serious about having Metro look at how much it can get from surplusing South Renton Park&Ride, and how many service hours can be saved by consolidating all the Renton transfers into the transfer center.

    1. Its a regonal problem should have been looked into years ago

      in Federal way:
      Federal Way Transit Center (ST)
      Old FWTC Now Federal Way P&R
      South Federal Way P&R
      Twin Lakes P&R

      In Puyallup:
      Puyallup Station
      Red Lot P&R (new 11 months out of the year ST facility)
      South Hill P&R (ST which no longer has any ST routes)
      South Hill Transit Center

      In Lakewood:
      Lakewood Transit Center (No P&R)
      SR512 P&R
      Lakewood Station

      A lot of capitol and land tied up in facilities that with consolidation/expansion of key facilitys could make the system overall more easy, and plesant to use.

      1. That would also eliminate the express stops that serve some of those P&Rs, which would reduce their travel time to transit centers.

      2. THe Key is choosing facilitys that are viable for multiple uses; both in major destinations (or areas that will become same), have room to expand, and that can be economcally expanded (isntead of creating new facilties).

    2. That lot is at 97-100% utilization and has almost 400 spaces. The TC is at 87% and only has 150 parking spaces. It would be really expensive to expand and you really don’t want those 400 cars driving into DT Renton. There’s really nothing that can absorb that demand. Maybe some of the buses originating farther south could serve the lot and replace some of the service that now goes to the transfer center? That might give some of the S. Renton P&R folks better access to DT Seattle, Sounder and Link. I’m guessing the vast majority of the ridership from S. Renton is commuters followed by sports fans and other folks going to events DT Seattle?

  11. Sound Transit, which has revenue problems of its own,

    I’ll have to try this at my next performance review. “Yah know that new car I bought? Well, it’s created a revenue problem. Give me a raise.” What about extending the sales tax to bottled water? I’d argue that’s more of a luxury item than gasoline. Those plastic bottles are a health hazard and bad for the environment. Come to think of it, they’re petroleum based! Or milk, it’s great for young cows but other than tasting good of dubious value to humans. Or, we could just put a 37 cent per gallon tax on bottled water and milk and apply it to transit. Seems more equitable since someone that is able to rely on public transit doesn’t buy gas but they might buy water and milk.

    1. Bernie, that analogy works if you’re being paid on commission. ST has a program of more or less fixed cost but revenues are well below expectations. If you had bought that car and then had your paycheck slashed you’re damn right it would be a revenue problem.

      1. Fixed cost? I disagree. They are implementing Rapid Ride solely because it would be a bad public relations move not to provide a high visibility service that was dangled like a carrot. The King County Council can do pretty much whatever they please. They choose to do what gets them reelected… spend money they don’t have and call it a revenue problem. I’d be all for tying council members salary to commission (you get only a percentage of profit on County operated services… hmmm, what would happen to rural bus service?). ST has slightly more independence than Metro but both are at the command of elected officials. I’d add that WSDOT is no different. In the end it all comes down to the Bozos we elect.

      2. I thought we were talking about ST in this tangent?

        I agree that to some extent a stop in Metro’s growth is being sold as cuts. But the pie chart from a few posts back shows that service is being cut, not just shifted around.

      3. I’m guilty of combining ST and Metro; but the overriding issue is spending vs income. Always portrait in the transit oriented media as being a “revenue” problem rather than “spending more that you have” which is how everyone else has to live. If you’re a salesman and your car payments exceed the benefit of driving that luxury mobile around it’s not a “revenue” solution you have to fall back on; it’s cut your now ineffective cost of sales. If you’ve entered into a fix cost deal and it’s not paying off then you go broke. Deal over!

      4. Except here the salesman is also the car dealer. The constituents pay the taxes and the constituents get the train service.

  12. How about congestion pricing on the buses themselves or light rail for that matter? One ticket price during slow times and a higher price during rush hour. Especially a higher price for athletic events.

    1. Makes sense except that you’re neglecting the reason for providing less than cost transportation in the first place is to take pressure off of a highway system that can’t meet peak capacity. Odd as it seems, there needs to be incentives to use transit exactly when demand is the highest. The reason is that it’s a direct disincentive to further clog the roads that can’t supply that peak demand. It makes no sense to build roads that handle peak demands when those peaks are only a 1/4 of the hours in the day max.

    2. Er…Metro already has higher pricing during peak hours (in the peak direction). Instead of $2.00 one- and two-zone, it’s $2.25 one-zone and $2.75 two-zone. ST’s fares are all purely distance-based though.

      For athletic events, the normal service has its regular fares, but any special bus service is MUCH more expensive because it’s not (directly) taxpayer-subsidized.

      1. Will that is more of a nudge than anything else. Obviously from what I see much more could realistically be charged.

      2. Will:

        Metro has peak pricing in every direction! That includes all the directions where service is three times slower and slightly less frequent during rush hour than any other time of day. Which is kind of totally bullshit!

    3. The reason Metro has peak prices is to pay for all those extra buses during peak hours. It could reduce peak service to midday levels and eliminate the peak surcharge. But peak hours are precisely the times that most people need transit, and when the freeways and arterials are most congested (slowing all buses down). [Ignoring the ballgame congestions.]

      1. Mike,

        Plenty of transit systems charge premium fares for the actual uni-directional express buses that are actually more expensive to operate and actually provide a premium experience for their riders, while leaving fares alone on regular routes that are more likely to pay for themselves during the peak-demand hours even at higher frequencies.

        Meanwhile — as I’ve pointed out many, many times — Metro reduces counter-commute frequencies on many routes during rush hour, leading to insane overcrowding and schedule-lag, yet still charges extra for the privilege of using their pathetic service!

      2. We do exactly that here in Clark County and most of them are full.

        But don’t kid yourself that ANY public transit bus route will “pay for itself” any time. They simply don’t. I’m sure the electrics in Seattle come pretty close, but even they don’t make it.

      3. Most systems have at least a route or two that are busy enough to pay for themselves or come close (through all operating hours).

        It would stand to reason that the most productive hours of those routes’ week — the 5 morning and 5 evening rushes, representing a disproportionate amount of weekly ridership — are indeed turning a profit.

      4. I don’t know about “most systems” but KC Metro is straight forward about publishing the fare recovery. The best is 71% for one route in the West. In the East there are routes down at 2% which is about one or two fares per platform hour. “Reason” doesn’t work when looking at transit funding. Maybe you think they have to live by the same rules as Greyhound or an airline? If you were seriously deluded as to think any routes turn a profit then it’s time to totally rethink everything.

      5. Bernie. I’m guessing that 71% route is the #7. Or maybe the relatively short #10 or something.

        That 71% is an average recovery rate for all of that route’s service hours, 20 hours per day, 7 days per week.

        I don’t think a 71% average would be achievable without 7:00-9:00 AM and 4:30-6:30 PM Monday-Friday being way over 100%.

      6. And most systems do have at handful of >100% recovery routes… any system that isn’t as fragmented and one-seat-obsessed as Metro is likely to.

      7. Actually it’s the #1 and that’s only for Peak. The reports break it down by Peak, Off Peak and Night. You really should read the reports Metro provides. I don’t know about “most systems” and I’m not really interested in digging through reports of agencies that are outside our region or don’t otherwise match as a peer (i.e. I’m not really concerned about the economics of the NY subway since Seattle never will compare to NY, Paris, London, etc.).

      8. Well, I haven’t the foggiest idea why they’re logging 8 hours per day as “peak” (page 10 of the 2008 route performance report).

        It’s a fair bet that anything over 60% in those 8 hours is pulling over 100% for 4 of those.

        Much more illustrative than the 71%-over-8-hours #1 — which never in that time runs more than 3 or 3.5 buses per hour — is an actual high-volume route like the #2, which runs as many as 6 buses per hour and still pulls 67% over those 8 hours (likely much more at “true” rush), then continues to pull 67% off-peak (including weekends)

        “I’m not really interested in digging through reports…”

        …of agencies that do things in a different and more efficient way than us. And from which you actually might learn something. Yes, Bernie, you truly are Seattle.

      9. Well, I haven’t the foggiest idea why they’re logging 8 hours per day as “peak” (page 10 of the 2008 route performance report).

        Because that’s when all the peak-only routes begin and end most of their trips. Example: first AM Route 311 bus departs Duvall 4:51 and last AM arrival downtown at 8:31. First PM departure downtown 3:15 pm and last PM arrival Duvall 7:33 pm.

      10. of agencies that do things in a different and more efficient way than us. And from which you actually might learn something. Yes, Bernie, you truly are Seattle.

        I specifically stated NY, Paris and London because we have nothing to learn from examples in cities of that size. I’m all for looking at comparable cities and other agencies in our region. “Truly Seattle” is the idea that NY has a subway that runs 24 hours a day so we should too.

      11. It’s a fair bet that anything over 60% in those 8 hours is pulling over 100% for 4 of those.

        Even if it did, and I highly doubt it, the reported fare recovery only looks at revenue hours. The true cost is platform hours and the shorter the period the bus is in revenue service the greater the percentage cost of non-revenue platform hours. Of course if they reported this the boonie buses would look even worse than they already do. The inner city buses do well. No argument there. Anything above 50% fare recovery is laudable. But I really doubt any are actually covering costs. One thing that works against them is how long they spend loading and unloading plus the true cost of stop and go driving is much higher (consumes more energy and shortens maintenance intervals). Plus I’d bet that much of the fare revenue is split by transfers.

      12. DP– Yes, I’m familiar with LA which charges a surcharge for express buses. But unidirectional peak routes aren’t the only thing Metro does during peak hours. It also doubles service on some regular routes like the 14. I don’t know about any routes that decrease service during peak times, although there may be.

      13. Oran,

        When viewed bi-directionally, that’s simply not true.

        The example with which I have most experience is the 15/18. Sure, the 15x/18x provide a great deal of extra peak-direction capacity, but since there are no added buses on the 15/18 local, counter-commute capacity is unchanged. Then the inbound frequency drops from 20 minutes each to 30 minutes each, starting at 5:34 PM, which is right in middle of peak need. The next bus is, naturally, an overcrowded, stops-every-block disaster that gets downtown 15-20 minutes late every single day.

        I’m pretty sure these are not the only routes that mysteriously see their inbound frequency cut long before their PM rush hour demand dissipates. A casualty of through-routing, probably, but hardly deserving of higher fares!!

        Despite Bernie’s quibbling, there’s no question that revenue-recovery is much better rush hour, despite running more buses (again, sometimes only in one direction). But the trip speed and quality on non-express routes (even in the frequency-padded peak direction) is often so much worse at rush hour that it’s hard to argue it as a premium service.

      14. P.S. Please recall that RapidRide’s biggest lie is that Ballard frequency won’t change at all (except for a decrease from current frequency after 10:00 PM). My guess is the screw-the-inbound-passengers-after-5:30 thing will continue too.

      15. I don’t know where or when the peak demand on that route is but Metro defines peak as approximately 3 pm to 6 pm. So by their definition it is true. That’s why I missed it.

        As for RapidRide, I guess most of the improvements will go to speed and reliability instead of frequency. Ballard already gets 10 min service during the day, which is as good as Link. Though I think they should just match Link’s service levels, more frequent peak service and more frequent evening service.

      16. Current evening combined 15/18 frequencies are 15 minutes after 7:00 outbound / 5:45 inbound, and don’t drop below 15 until midnight.

        …says “15 minutes till 10pm, less afterwards.”

        There’d be no reason whatsoever for your Metro link to distinguish between before and after 10:00 unless service were actually changing! So I’m going with “Metro’s lying.”

        “10 minutes or better” is almost certainly a lie as well. That probably translates to “sometimes our failure to implement BRT as promised will lead to such bunching that buses will be only a couple minutes apart!” Metro isn’t the kind of agency to go dropping planned headways below 10 in order to ensure “10 or better” without patting themselves on the back in specific terms.

        Maybe “or better” implies slight rush-hour increase. But I feel that even that interpretation may give Metro too much benefit of the doubt.

      17. Oran, 5:00 to 6:00 is the true PM rush. If your service drops out significantly right in the middle of that, in any direction in which people use it, that’s pretty regrettable.

        Trust me that the 6:06 bus (the first #18 after a 32-minute lapse) is invariably packed to the gills.

      18. The document that I gave the link to is the source material for the Seattle Transit Blog post that you reference! You just can’t ever admit when your wrong, can you? Must be an East Coast thing.

      19. From your Metro document:

        “In the evening after 7 p.m., buses will come every 15 minutes, and after 10 p.m. buses will come as often as they do today.”

        But combined 15/18 buses come every 15 minutes until midnight now.

        Why make that 10 p.m. distinction at all, unless you’re up to something?

        Also worth noting is that Metro did indeed lie to this very neighborhood recently.

        In the last round of service cuts, they announced that about twelve trips would be cut from #17 Sunday service, but they emphatically stated that Monday-Saturday would be left alone.

        The next schedules appeared and, lo and behold, two evening trips were miraculously missing the other six days. The 17 is now hourly inbound after 7:45 PM.

        Can’t fathom deductive logic or precedent? Must be a West Coast thing.

      20. Yes, I’m sure Metro’s copy writer is involved in a deep-seated conspiracy to rob Ballard of bus service after 10 p.m..

        Combined 15/18 buses come every 15 minutes until midnight now. Rapid Ride D is only replacing the 15/15x.

      21. “The D Line will operate on major arterial streets—Third Avenue in downtown and Belltown; First Avenue N, Queen Anne Avenue N, Mercer Street and W Mercer Place in Uptown; and Elliott Avenue W and 15th Avenue W in Interbay. It will replace Metro routes 15 and 18 on these streets.

        18’s getting truncated, Zed.

      22. Regardless, you’ve still shown nothing to back up your claim that Rapid Ride will result in a reduction of service to Ballard.

      23. The final schedule and complete routing for RapidRide D, including other route adjustments have not yet been released and won’t likely will until a year before it begins service. So nothing is final here.

        “In 2011, 12-18 months before RapidRide service is scheduled to begin on this corridor, Metro will begin a planning and public outreach process to consider possible changes to bus routes serving Crown Hill, Ballard, Interbay, and Uptown.”

        18 may or may not get truncated. It’s up to you, d.p. and other Ballard bus riders to let Metro know in the process what you think.

      24. Zed:

        A) I solidly disproved your assertion that RapidRide is replacing only the 15.

        B) I demonstrated that official RapidRide headways will be identical to current combined 15/18 headways at all times prior to 10:00 PM.

        C) I noted that, rather than making a pronouncement about 15-minute headways between 10:00 PM and midnight (i.e. current service levels), Metro addresses this part of the night with vague weasel words.

        What more do you need?


        Even though the 18 is inches from my apartment, and the 15 is 8 minutes walk away, I want them both to be replaced by RapidRide (on 15th). But RapidRide needs to be good enough in every way to justify the trade-off. If the 18 disappears entirely, RapidRide should be twice as fast and 3 times as frequent. If the 18 is truncated to a transfer point, the transfer had better be painless, and again, RapidRide must be much faster and much more frequent to be an improvement over the present situation.

        The worst thing that could happen would be for the 18 to continue its present route, providing the false choice of a one-seat ride with no improvements versus a walk to RapidRide that (thanks to insufficient frequency) may or may not yield any time savings. This false choice would exist in the outbound direction too — with one running on 1st and the other on 3rd, you would be forced to bet your travel time on one or the other.

        Regardless, the press release doesn’t imply to me that Metro is even offering to keep the 18 unchanged, just to invite public input on what form the changes take. It would nevertheless be worthwhile to show up to make sure that any truncation is well-routed and well-implemented.

      25. “B) I demonstrated that official RapidRide headways will be identical to current combined 15/18 headways at all times prior to 10:00 PM.”

        You did no such thing.

      26. Current combined 15/18 frequencies:
        10 minutes until 7:00 outbound / 5:45 inbound
        15 minutes until midnight

        RapidRide frequency:
        10 minutes until 7:00 outbound / earlier inbound
        15 minutes until 10:00 PM

        It’s not all that complicated, Zed.

  13. Has metro looked in to removing the lower speed limits it gives it’s buses? That would save money, not to mention make streets safer by not making so many cars change lanes to pass the buses.

    Another way metro could deal with temporary budget shortfalls is to temporarily terminate all the buses that take the SODO busway north and terminate then at the Link SODO station.

    1. I didn’t realize Metro mandated lower speed limits on buses. Is that a federal requirement? Just curious

  14. My $0.02:

    1. As long as the political culture in Olympia continues to permit the 70s-throwback rhetorical flogging of the Seattle Metropolitan Area for electoral gain, including by Democrats like Gregoire — and Metro Seattle never shows any backbone in reminding the rest of the state that we are both its economic driver and its net tax donor — we will have revenue problems for urban necessities like transit. There is no reason why the Legislature shouldn’t be chipping in amply for transit investments and operations just as they do for the functional needs and priorities of the state’s other regions.

    2. Income tax, income tax, income tax. There will never be enough money for any truly discernible improvement in our daily transit experience as long as we adhere to our fatuous reliance on the sales-tax nickle-and-diming and other small-potatoes fees that left every possible kind of local, regional, and state priority severely underfunded and underwhelming even in flush times.

    1. Income tax will not solve our budget problems. Other states with income taxes are having the same budget problems Washington is facing (see California). When the economy slows down, government revenues will go down as well. If you want government to be immune from this economic cycle, they had better have a very, very large rainy day fund…

      1. In flush times, Washington State still couldn’t invest sufficiently in education. And Seattle still couldn’t build sidewalks.

        Our revenue problems will always reflect our unwillingness to make the oddly “tough” political decision, in a relatively affluent state, to switch from regressive taxes to progressive ones. The slowdown just makes it that much more painful.

      2. In flush times our County Executive decided to form a Ferry District. Now we’re tapping those property taxes, most of which is from property owners that will never ride a County Ferry, to make up for this so called revenue problem. If you can’t spend money wisely you’ll always be having a revenue problem.

      3. Bernie, I really don’t understand your fixation on this semantic issue. There is simply not enough money coming in to meet all of Metro’s promises, promises that were made when no one was planning for this level of collapse. I don’t see why you find it that unbelievable of a chatacterization.

        If you think Metro’s service level should be 10-20% lower than it currently is, please say so instead of recycling platitudes about the need for generic spending cuts.

      4. It’s much more than semantics. It’s the whole philosophy of spending and “entitlement”. We as individual tax payers have to live within our means and make choices. If things are good we may splurge a little (hopefully not at the exclusion of saving more). Our County government has developed the attitude that spending “our” money is a right and if times are hard cutting back isn’t an option. As you said, spending is seen as a fixed cost. Ego, it’s a revenue problem and even though the tax payers supporting that spending are faced with cutting back government simply can’t. No, Metro doesn’t need to cut service 10-20%. That’s another “semantic” ploy that’s commonly used. They have to cut spending. There’s a big difference and it’s not just semantic. To assume service has to be cut assumes there was no waste. We know that’s not true. But the ploy is we’ll cut service so that it appears we need more “revenue” (i.e. tax the public that is feeling the very same “revenue problem”. Of course we the tax payers can just wave a magic wand and produce more money without making any cuts in our budget because… well, maybe you can explain that?

      5. There is indeed waste, fraud, and abuse in any large organization, particularly one subject to political oversight. Unfortunately, it’s not a line item in the budget you can simply cut. Metro has recently been through an audit process that’s identified a ton of savings, savings that in large part they’ve already banked. And they’re STILL facing cuts of about 10% after that and a few revenue increases. So what more should be done? Be specific.

      6. Specifically, Peak routes like 154, 149 and and 119 shouldn’t exist. Not a “cut” because revenues are down; they simple shouldn’t be there in the first place. There’s a slew of routes that are a solid black bar failing to met even one performance metric. Another specific, Access service evenings and weekends to gated estates in Bridle Trails; all of which exceed the maximum distance to Metro service to be even be eligible. Why does it take a budget crunch to even talk about eliminating these?

        The Ferry tax is being collected. It’s small, $2.02 on my 2010 bill but the camel’s nose is under the tent. The County should never have bought a boat and certainly never committed to running the Water Taxi year round without having extended the lease to test winter service. This is a folly foisted on us by Dow Constantine. Until he’s cut I don’t hold up much hope for eliminating waste.

      7. OK, if “elimination of routes I don’t like” is not defined as a”cut”, then sure, although I’m not sure anyone else thinks of it that way.

        On the other hand, those routes are there for a reason, and it’s naive to assume that allowing tax revenue to fall is automatically going to lead to “bad” routes being cut. In fact, Dow is not the boogeyman here, but instead the one trying to overcome parochial subarea thinking through the task force.

      8. As for the foot ferries, I’m not in love with them either but then they’re of little use to me. At any rate it’s a whole different agency (and absolutely tiny) so it’s pretty orthogonal to the issue of the Metro budget.

  15. Can someone please tell me why ST is wasting money on a new Edmonds station? The least they could do is first finish the messy platform at Mukilteo, and let Amtrak stop there in the commute off hours and weekends. Currently one will be out of luck if they arrive on Sunday from the island, but yet down at Edmonds……

    I don’t have much sympathy for an agency with budgetary woes if its priorities are all mixed up. Here we are as taxpayers, expected to dole out cash for a project that isn’t as necc. as other things, not just Mukilteo either btw.

    Last, this mornings dismal inability by ST in not being able to explain to passengers about the continuing train onto Tacoma being OOS, late, something WTH? People were standing there with confused looks on their faces as in “what’s next?” The only way this agency will understand customer cooperation is if we all stand together during the times ST screws up and we don’t pay our fares.

    So ST, you know who I am. If you can’t provide the service, the least you should do is give me a free monthly pass. I’ve never expected this type of thing from the govt., until now. Pony up, or get your act together because ST, you are WASTING our time, on OUR money.

    1. The situation at the two ferry stations is a mess! As I recall the original intention was to create a combined ferry/bus/train transit station at both Edmonds and Mukilteo. Before I-695 passed WSDOT was renovating all the terminals that were old. Clinton was redone and is really nice. Mukilteo was to be next. Plans were drawn up. The problem is they had alot of delays to deal with (property, city plans and money woes). ST eventaully gave up and built 1/2 of a station so that they could at least offer a Sounder station. No one has a clue when the Mukilteo ferry dock will be built and that’s the key to a transit station. I have never heard about Amtrak stopping in Mukilteo. It’s never been in the cards.

      Edmonds was way behind the schedule compared to Mukilteo so they weren’t ready. I assume ST has given up waiting for the ferry system so is forging ahead with a train platform and a CT transit center.

      ST promised Snohomish voters that they would build these train platforms as part of Sound Move.

      1. Shawn, thank you for the clarifications. I assumed Amtrak wasn’t part of the plan, which is understandable during commute runs; but on the weekends and interim times when commutes don’t run, it’s just a waste of money and concrete that we are paying for, and the trains roll right on through. Plus, on Sunday, NO WAY to get out of Mukilteo by transit; is anyone thinking up in these govt. offices or are we just paying their salaries to have them keep coming up with half baked ideas?

        The platform at Mukilteo is nice, but it needs a full covered shelter and not the other platform with an elevator to be built later, that is just a wholesale waste of money. Mukilteo is fine with one platform serving all trains.

      2. Timmy didn’t want all those icky ferry riders to to pollute his Beautiful Downtown Mukilteo. Why, there might be some “other” types!

  16. It is important that we separate the concepts of:

    1) Gasoline Tax as a Penalty, from
    2) Gasoline Tax as a User Fee, from
    3) Gasoline Tax as a Revenue Source for funding transit/necessities.

    Our state will soon end up (or is) dependent on consumption of GAS, LIQUOR and TOBACCO (and plastic water bottles). If we are succesful at convincing our folks to stop driving, drinking and smoking (by penalizing/taxing them) — how will we fund the state, and everything in it? What is the revenue source then? How much will I have to put in the fare box then? What’s the plan?

    “At tonight’s meeting of the Regional Transit Task Force, they’ll be looking at an executive summary of Metro’s various revenue options.”

    Was there any consideration of the affect/effect of those options in the short and long term – or just a need for money, now!

    1. In my opinion, you’re spot on. Either the state needs to come clean and admit it has a vested interest and WANTS people to buy alcohol, cigarettes, and gas in order to continue funding our services; or they can try to fund the system through a more viable, consistent, and healthier option.

      Your last sentence says it best, they just want the money now!

    2. You have a good point. “Sin” taxes shouldn’t be imposed to raise general revenues; they should be used to cover the social costs of the “sin”. An equilibrium would be reached where the “sin” itself neither contributes to nor detracts from society.

      1. While I agree with this in principle, sometimes the social costs of sin are spread quite broadly throughout society. At some point, it almost makes more sense to put them into the general fund to cover all these various costs. Where we get in trouble is when we dedicate these sin taxes to something completely unrelated. A good example is lottery revenues to support schools – what happens when lottery revenues go down because more casinos open (or whatever the reason)? Schools run short.

        I think sin taxes are useful ways to accomplish strategic societal goals. I don’t like plastic bottles showing up in a big pile in the Pacific Ocean, nor do I like them showing up on my section of the sidewalk (3-4 per week). But where should the tax revenue go? Maybe it should be dedicated to a rainy day fund which can only be tapped when the economy is officially in a “recession”.

      2. A tax on a specific good or product should be levied so the total cost of the good (polution, healthcare, recycling, gambling addiction, etc.) is reflected in its price to the public; and the revenue collected should be used to pay for these underfunded costs, only. In the State of Washington, only a very small amount of these taxes goes to offset the identified public costs.

        Here, we attack “sinners” to get a favorable vote. By taxing “immoral” people (smokers and drinkers), not only does the religious right and control freak left support the tax, but the Native American Casino and Smokeshop industry will fund the campaign, since they control the alternate market.

        Tax, then spend. No one follows the money to make sure it is invested correctly for the public good.

  17. Did anyone catch the $20 tab fee imposed by the council when they voted to form ‘an unincorporated King Co transportation benefit district’ earlier this year? All the cities either ignored them or declined to participate, so they went ahead with just outside the city limits, which is really a swiss cheese map from hell.
    I noted with amusement that the First Ave Bridge replacement is among the first projects to be funded. Hey, that’s City of Seattle, yet they don’t belong to the kick-in $20 a car club. SWEET.

    1. What are you talking about? The only action the County has taken is to form the TBD in unincorporated areas, but not levy the tax – at least as far as I’ve seen.

      1. I read the ordinance and fiscal note which says it generates 5.5 mil. per year.
        Maybe I jumped to conclusion that passing the ordinance meant imposing the $20 tax, not just forming a hollow taxing district with no revenue source. Maybe the tax comes later.

  18. 2000, 98M riders, revenue 75M ($.76 per rider), budget 423M

    2008, 127M riders (+30%), revenue 109M ($.85 per rider), budget 730M up +73%

    cost of bus operations (per revenue hr) ($88.38/hr -> $123.45/hr) +40%

    Cost of inflation, $1 in 2000 = $1.24 in 2008.

    Metro collected less per rider when adjusted for inflation in 2008 than they did in 2000. Yet fares have far outstripped inflation ($1.00 -> $1.50 base fare). How does that work? Operating cost is almost double the rate of inflation and the budget has tripled the rate of inflation. Ridership is up 30% but shouldn’t the increased density provide economy of scale? The County hasn’t gotten any bigger in size.

    Yes the inflation adjusted cost of oil was triple in 2008 what it was in 2000 (which coincidentally was also a ten year high). But “peak oil” came and went dropping from $94 to $52 per barrel in 2009. Shouldn’t there be a windfall profit from last year? No, the “oil card” was pure hokum. Metro pulled in more in fares from people trying to beat the pump than they spent on higher fuel prices. If Metro can’t even tell the truth about that why should be have any faith in their new found zeal for cost cutting? Oh wait, they’re still fixated on increased “revenue” which outside the world of government spending means money collected in exchange for providing goods or service. I guess it’s a matter of semantics; tax increase to fund the same old ship doesn’t sound good.

    1. When you add service, you inevitably reduce efficiency because the new service is marginal service. Especially under 40/40/20.

      1. That doesn’t explain why despite fare increases exceeding the cost of inflation we are collecting less per boarding (it would affect the fare recovery ratio but not the inflation adjusted “revenue” per boarding). I can come up with only two answers. One, there are a far greater number of people using passes that pay Metro well below the “general admission” fare rate. The second, is that “ridership” is double counting a large number of people that avail themselves of transfers. This is in line with the idea that new service has been added which primarily serves marginal (or less than marginal) routes. These routes involve a transfer so the ridership increase reflects more like a 15% vs 30% increase in new transit ridership. I have to applaud ST for doing a much better job of stating figures as “boardings” rather than ridership. Although with ST, because of the commuter bias, boardings do likely correspond much closer with new ridership.

    1. Pierce Transit cost per service hour in 2008 was $107.98 vs $123. Parity would have accounted for over $53 million in savings in 2008.

      1. Metro’s operations cost is unusually high compared to peer agencies. And, unfortunately, this cost gets passed on to Sound Transit as well, through Sound Transit’s operations contracts with Metro for Link and ST Express. So not only is it effecting Metro’s ability to provide cost-effective service, but Sound Transit too. This was noted in the report that the Municipal League of King County published back in 2008, but no one seemed to take notice back then.

  19. Repeal of the sales tax exemption of the gas tax for oil companies is long overdue. Highway interests will argue that uses are limited to “highway purposes” because of the 18th amendment to the state constitution. They will bluster on this. But the law appears to be on the side of multiple uses of sales tax revenues in our state, so expect a feeding frenzy on uses.

    Repeal of the 18th amendment also should be considered. Polling has shown that voters would overwhelmingly support repeal. Highway interests threaten big bucks to oppose repeal. (There are bigger bucks from other interests.)

    A carbon tax might also be considered. Seriously. It would drive up fuel prices – making it good public policy to fund transit alternatives.

  20. They need to look at expenses first, like the $52 million in possible cost savings provided by their performance audit. Add to that personnel policies that need to be reasonable and flexible, such as not giving across the board “longevity increases” every 12 months until people reach the top of their grades, which is in addition to COLAs. Only the best-performing workers should be reaching the top of their grades. Then we can start talking about new revenues that have greater transparency as their condition.

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