Today is the second to last meeting for the Regional Transit Task Force. I haven’t really done this live blogging thing before to we’ll see how this goes.

8:45 – I’m out. The meeting is slowly wrapping up.

8:36 – Rob likes the report. There is lots of specificity about definitions of specific performance measures. Josh Cavanaugh and Jim Stanton agree. People leaving slowly. Meeting is running over time now. The results of this meeting won’t really be known until the discussion at the next meeting.

8:35 – Onto the draft now. Looks like another meeting is necessary.

8:27 – David Freiboth says what is the ask and when to make an effective ask. How much work goes into the ask and what makes an effective ask. If the state wants to move fast this will give Metro the ability know what the ask will be.

8:25 Both Rob and Josh are bring up the point, what if the state is the one pushing a re-organization of transportation funding next year. What happens then. What does Metro try to do then.

8:16 Fred Butler is saying that he thinks that Metro needs to really create a good detailed and sustainable long term funding plan. If Metro does that it will distinguish it’s self from other agencies. Jim Stanton says that he thinks this should really be put in the context of all transit agencies, not just Metro.

8:09 Lots of jokes about drinks. Cool-Aid, Tea, Mikes hard Lemonade. Long story.

8:03 David Freiborth says that he is hearing people running for cover, and not committing to new funding. Grant says that he thinks you can only go to people once you have already implemented changes and made cuts. Only after that point can you ask.

More after the jump.

8:00 Flow how to change Metro’s plans. RTTF gives recommendation, then the Executive writes it into the plan, then the regional transit commission reviews it and updated the comprehensive plan, that plan is then sent to the council.

7:55 – Tom Rasmussen says at what point do we say enough cuts are enough. When do we can no longer take cuts and we need short term funding. Grant says that he thinks one year is the time period Metro has to wait. He would rather go to the state when a strong case the first time, not go right away before a strong case has been made. Take a year to build a strong coalition and next year go to the state unified and organized. I have to say I think he has a good point.

7:46 – Back! The moderator is trying to summarize what he has been seeing. Long term, sustainable funding sources also important and that could take several years. Some members of the group want to pursue more funding after Metro has started to implement some of the RTTF recommendations. Other people think that the work already done by Metro and the work done by the RTTF is sufficient to allow Metro to go to the state with the promise that those changes will still be made.

7:30 – To me it is looks like everyone agrees that Metro needs more money and really needs a sustainable long term funding structure. Where there is disagreement is about how to ensure that Metro will make changes. Disagreement about short term changes. Short break.

7:29 – Estela Ortega says that there needs to be unity not only between the RTTF members but also between riders.

7:22 Kate Joncas says that she isn’t okay with cutting service. She world with people don’t have a car and transit is essentially for them to get to work and out of poverty. Without transit these people can’t live. What kind of transit service does a job site have is usually the second question she gets asked.

7:14 – Time line for implementation of the RTTF plan. Regional Transit Committee needs to review the plan, and the only way for that to happen is Metro needs to update the comprehensive plan.

7:10 – Tom Rasmussen agrees with Eastside member that Metro needs to show that they are moving forward on the RTTF plan. What is the sufficient level of evidence for this?  There is only so much Metro can do before the state legislative session starts.Progress has to be made quickly on a local level so that Metro can go to the state this year.

7:06  – Carl Jackson says that Metro has to move forward on all fronts. “Riders should not be considered collateral damage… don’t go to the state like GM with your hat in your hand and a three piece suit on.”

7:00 – Grant doesn’t agree with Kevin. He says the RTTF recommendations won’t be implemented yet so he thinks it is too early to leapfrog the recommendations and go right to the state. Kevin rebuttal is he is simply saying that the public and legislators have to recognize that Metro has already done a lot.

6:58 – Kevin Desmond says that Metro has already done a lot of things to cut cost, increase fares, implement efficiencies, and use the audits to stave off cuts. Remember while many agencies nation wide have had significant cuts in service Metro mostly has been able to avoid that. Metro needs to maybe do a better job of communicating that.

6:53 – Josh Kavanagh (UW) says that there is a difference between asking for money and asking for the authority to go to the voters. He also says that he think letting riders “feel the pain” before going to the state for more money is dangerous. From his experience with the UPass he feels that doing that can fundamentally harm the system.

6:55 – Carla Saulter  (bus chick) says that Metro’s problem is partly cost problems, but mostly related to the recession and lack of sustainable funding sources.

6:50 – What does the RTTF think is the best way to go about getting new funding, or should Metro no ask at all?

6:45 – David Feriboth says that legislators from outside of King county have disdain because of the disagreement and lack of consensus. If the RTTF can come to consensus about how to move forward that will go a long ways to improving perception of Metro.

6:40 – Rob Johnson counters Eastside RTTF members that if Metro has to first make all cuts before getting more money that means riders will be left at the curb.

6:32 – Suzette Cooke (Mayor of Kent) says that she thinks that VLF is dead on arrival. “People are very sensitive to a 20 dollar fee because of how it has historically be used”. Grant Degginger (Council member of Bellevue) says that he doesn’t see that state giving Metro more money before it demonstrates that Metro can cut costs. Metro has show it can do this before he sees the state giving Metro more money.

6:24 – Q: What is the most likely funding strategy the state would be receptive to? A: Ask for moderate, short term, stop-gap funding provision (vehicle license fee “VLF” most likely) with a sunset clause and then stay at the table for a more long term solution that is structurally more robust. “… VLF in their TBD…” I’m a bit lost I have to admit. Can’t write in listen at the same time. No limit on growth of fees, but limit on growth of taxes.

6:21 – Q: How do you make state legislators more receptive of Metro asking for more money? A: Legislators have told Metro that they need to get their house in order before state legislator are willing to go to the mat for transit. The RTTF will help with this.

6:20 – Metro will purse additional cost efficiencies regardless of new revenue because their simply isn’t enough money to fill the funding hole, especially in the long term.

6:18 – State senate pushing back against giving transit agencies more money because they want transit agencies to come to the table hungry. 2011 or later is when the state will start to deal with this issue.

6:13 – Funding solutions. Short term $20 dollar license fee with sunset provision. Long term, MVET, roadway pricing with partial transit revenue stream, additional sales tax, property tax, etc. Property tax would be hard because growth of property tax is already hitting state growth limits. All Puget Sound transit agencies are at, or close to using up all sales tax authority (1%).

6:07 – Now looking at 2011 legislative picture. Everything is up in the air, but layers of cuts on the state level. Not too much federal money coming in anymore, SAFETY-LU re-authorization in limbo.

6:05 – Very roughly every ten cents increase in diesel cost is ~1 million in operating costs.

5:55 – Cuts will be ~120K in 2012, ~200K in 2013, ~120K in 2014, ~100K in 2015. For perspective, 600K hours is all Sunday service. Service reductions could be larger, especially in later years if is sales tax growth is less than assumptions.

5:57 – By 2015 $70 million would be needed annually to retain 2011 service levels.

5:50 – The reductions of service are coming from base funding. Although this segment is getting smaller other sources grow between the 2009 to 2011 fiscal years. After that point the other non-base funding are roughly stable, while base funding continues to fall.

5:37 – Meeting starting, introductions all around. Lots of long titles. First focusing on the financial forecast, and then they will talk about the draft recommendations.

32 Replies to “RTTF Live Blogging”

      1. Well Washington seems to go through boom and bust cycles with the same effect on tax revenues. Are they not predicting a future cycle with “excess” revenue in the next 5-10 years?

  1. Since the first reports of substantial revenue shortages over two years ago, (http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/localnews/2008140719_metrobus27m.html), Metro has gone through an extensive audit, with cost saving recommendations, and now a Task Force wrapping up their own version of ‘what to do’. Next will come some months for the council to grapple with this, and all the while, Metro is hemorrhaging cash with no easy solutions in sight.
    At some point doctors quit trying to stop the bleeding, and start amputating limbs.
    Sorry to be so graphic, but I don’t see the ship changing course much since this whole thing began.
    In the past, when times were good, raising taxes was the solution. Not so easy these days!
    Any sense of urgency around the table?

  2. What is the reference to the UPass and letting rider’s feel the pain? Feel free to answer this later, (if you know) when the meeting is over.

  3. It will be intresting to watch next session for sure. My opinion is that it’s going to take more than band aids to perminatly fix the problems facing transit (and really state funding). After watching last session, and knowing the realitys of the area, I think that this session may reintroduce some old ideas, with some new twists. I can see a scenario where transit funding gets some fix’s, however the purse strings are no longer held by the indivual agency, but by an umbrella group such as the PSRC. Such a group would probally do high level planning, funding, and take on some projects of region wide signifcanse such as ORCA. I can also see the legislature giving them some mandates of forcing ultra-streamlining of transit services in the region (such as consolidating services over shared corridors such as I-5) and really making the network into a unifed structure while of course saving money through consolidations in the process. I can also see the issue of private transit providers use of public facilites cropping up again, and even the issue of charing fee’s to park at some of the most heavily used stations and PnR lots. Will any of this happen? I dont know, i dont have any insight just my opinion. But i do think you will see the state taking more of a hand in “controlling” Transit in the region if they have to bail the agencies out and using an umbrella agency is one way of doing just that.

    1. Z: I agree with your band-aid comment. If Metro has made ‘significant improvements’, as Mr. Desmond claims, then it should be showing up in some key indicators. Since 2008, how much has the Metro budget been reduced to cope with a 25% decrease in revenue? (excluding depleted capital funds)
      How many service hours have been cut, how many miles were driven, and how many riders is Metro serving.
      All this should get to the meat of making efficiency gains, and are the key indicators identified by the task force for measurement against peer systems.
      Reporting this kind of information on a quarterly basis, would go a long way towards making their case in Olympia, and with King Co. voters. To ST’s credit, they [ST]have been doing this for some time now.
      Otherwise, it’s just more hot air in the room, with anecdotal stories to bolster the claim.

  4. Eliminating paper transfers … eliminating the Ride Free Area … expedited stop consolidation without swearing fielty to the long-winded neighborhood process (which never seems to be on the side of bus speed, anyway) … OT by the week, not the day … truncation of routes that serve or can serve Sounder, Link, or RapidRide stations, before cutting routes in their entirety …

    Metro doesn’t have to enact all cuts before going to the lege, but some of this fruit is still hanging too low for the lege to take Metro seriously.

  5. “5:55 – Cuts will be ~120K in 2012, ~200K in 2013, ~120K in 2014, ~100K in 2015. For perspective, 600K hours is all Sunday service. Service reductions could be larger, especially in later years if is sales tax growth is less than assumptions.”

    For those who say $460,000 a year saved by having one-car trains when possible is symbolic savings, I would point out the above figures. Yeah, its ST, but on the macro scale, the transit agencies are all one big happy family.

    Metro and ST do have an additional revenue source they are not tapping: parking fees in their own lots and garages. Raise these fees to something closer to the market price. Free is too low, when it makes it cheaper to drive to a park & ride than to catch a bus there. (Oddly, the local dailies seem to be portraying Mayor McGinn as socialistic … for advocating market-based parking fares. Go figure.)

    1. I dont think you should be charging a market rate, however i think that you should be charging enough to cover your cost of operation for some of these larger facilitys, which helps the bottom line in the end.

      1. I think it depends on how you define market rate. Metro and to a certain extend ST have a demand that far exceeds supply at a few of their lots. These lots should charge a “market rate” that attempts to ensure that there will always be a few open slots at peak for those that are willing to pay. I’m convinced that this will shift demand to underutilized lots to a much greater extent than driving instead of using transit. The reason for that is many eastsiders opt for transit in the first place is because the cost of parking in Seattle is prohibitive and a major hassle. It may even increase transit use as I’d conjecture there is some portion of the eastside “market” which would use the most convenient P&R option if they were assured they could actually get a spot without having to leave extra early; “time is money”.

    2. In Chicago, the “venerable” Mayor Daley has chosen to not run for a 7th term. Now there are many reasons that could be attributed to that decision but here’s one likely scenario: He would have been slaughtered in the polls over his selling off the parking rights to a private company for many decades. The citizens of Chicago are almost universally furious over this. We feel the streets under us have been stolen from us. They are now metered 7 days a week, the rates have more than doubled and will continue to aggressively rise. Neighborhood street parking has turned into a Russian roulette with the city over posting of no parking signs for “street cleaning” which results in massive revenue for the city from fines for cars not moved on “cleaning” day. The multiple billion dollar windfall that this “deal” garnered is already mostly spent and the city’s budget will undergo massive cuts in the future.

      Regardless of the merits or realities of “market rates” for such things, it has created a fierce political backlash that has essentially taken out one of the most entrenched and powerful political machines in the country.

      There is a lesson for Mayor McGinn and the City of Seattle. Don’t go to war on the car. Let the inevitable rise of oil prices take their toll on car ownership. People will choose other means of travel without the feeling of being under siege by the city on having to pay to park on your own streets on every corner, on every day of the week or in some case all hours of the day. I think modest increases in parking rates and a in city vehicle registration are doable but don’t be too aggressive about it because gleefully “taxing” the car will result in people making economic choices to live elsewhere and taking their jobs and economic activity with them.

      1. The other article about Portland’s downtown parking garage had an interesting comment: cheap downtown parking, to the extent that it must exist, should be focused on 2- or 3-hour shoppers rather than all-day commuters.

    3. Brent,

      For those who say $460,000 a year saved by having one-car trains when possible is symbolic savings, I would point out the above figures.

      Adam is referring to service hours, not dollars. For dollar figures, multiply by roughly $125, meaning that $460K is roughly 1% of Metro’s budget shortfall.

    4. “Free is too low, when it makes it cheaper to drive to a park & ride than to catch a bus there.”

      The whole purpose of park & rides is they’re where you can’t catch a bus to them because there are no buses in your neighborhood, or the buses run hourly with limited hours. Talking about raising the rates to make the P&Rs non-full misses the point. Are you trying to make it so only the rich can ride the bus? Or are you saying that bus ridership should not increase above the P&R’s current capacity?

      1. A P&R does no good to someone wanting to use it if it’s full. Given that lots like S. Bellevue are consistently at more than 100% capacity it’s obvious there is some segment of the market that would use it if there were open spaces. There are only a few ways to create more spaces at these over subscriped lots. 1) Buy more land and pave it over as a surface lot… not really something that gives you the warm and fuzzy about transit. Also likely not an option or at least extremely expensive 2) Spend huge amounts of money (that could have gone to operations) and build a multistory parking garage. 3) Charge a rate that assures there are always a few spaces left open. As I’ve said before I don’t thing this is pruning transit riders. There are many lots only slightly farther out that have excess capacity. What we’re selling is time. Right now it’s first come first serve. So, someone starting a 7am has zero cost driving the extra distance from Eastgate to S. Bellevue. In fact they have an incentive to do so because the cost of driving an extra mile or two “buys” them 5-10 minutes in their commute. I think total P&R usage would increase and vehicle miles traveled would decrease if we started to charge at the over full lots.

      2. How do you know that P&Rs are full because far eastern (Issaquah) commuters are driving to western P&Rs early in the morning, rather than because the western areas have higher populations or smaller P&Rs? I do know that ppl drive from P&R to P&R looking for a space, which means they would have taken the closest one but they’re all full.

      3. There is no sense in bypassing Eastgate P&R for S. Bellevue P&R, because the latter is actually out of the way. Likewise, if one could park at Issaquah Highlands or Issaquah TC, that makes sense compared to going farther down the freeway only to find that the P&R is full.

        Going toward downtown later in the day, it may make sense to travel down I-90 further. Folks leaving downtown are frreing up spaces in the P&Rs, and the combined service in Mercer Island can lead to more options.

      4. How do you know that P&Rs are full because far eastern (Issaquah) commuters are driving to western P&Rs early in the morning

        Metro does surveys based on licence plate number matching to DOL registrations. I don’t know where to find that info on line but Councilmemeber Chelminiak had the breakdown at a Council Study Session this past year.

  6. GOVERNANCE OF TRANSIT:
    Again, Z brings out some interesting thoughts on the subject, so let me throw this idea out from a transit riders perspective.
    Should ST and Metro be reporting ‘consolidated operating results’, to measure overall effectiveness of transit improvements?
    As rail and express bus service tends to displace existing Metro bus service, it becomes clear that Metro is left with a higher ratio of lower productivity services. ST is in effect a ‘front operation’, having few services they directly provide. A cynic could claim this is to provide political cover for the existing agencies that actually run the service.
    From the riders perspective, it’s all just TRANSIT, regardless of the paint job on the vehicles and what kind of wheels they have.
    Is transit in general getting more efficient and more robust, providing more trips per $$/route mile/etc, or have we just been reshuffling the chairs on the deck?

    1. One of the big problems is the fact you have diffrent agencys paying for their own routes. No agency wants to pay for a route and have another “operate” it, even if its the paying agency’s equipment and staff. Federal way is a very good example of this. No one denys the need for Federal Way-Seattle Service, and it would be difficult to add it to the existing Tacoma-Seattle service without major service ehancements (and even than you’d still need a seperate peak service). For Example, you have 4 routes to Downtown Seattle (177, 179, 577, 578). You also have the 196 from South Federal Way, directly to Downtown. In addition you have the 197 to the University Disctrict, and a complementing route the 586 from Tacoma.

      If you could get past the route/operator/fare thing on these services you could combine the the 177/577 into a peak only route, replace the rest of the off peak service with enhanced service on the 578. It would than not be difficult to consolidate the 179 and 196 into a Twin lakes-S. Fed Way-Seattle direct express. Again same goes for the 197 and 586. You add a stop at FWTC for the 586, and supplement the service with hours that were previously spent on the 197. Especally during the summer and breaks you could actually save quite a bit of money with this. The only drawback is you’d loose service to Twin lakes P&R on this route. However, you could add a loop through the old Federal Way P&R as well to gain access to that parking capasity if needed. In the end, who operates the bus dosent matter. You could sign up metro buses for the 577 and really i dont think anyone would care much, same goes for some of the 586 buses. Even if you dident eliminate any hours from a scheme like this, it would still look beneficial in the public’s eye because you did get rid of a “route” and thats my opinon that’s what needs to happen to improve public and political perception of the systems.

      1. I could have clarified i guess, but a good example of this would be a joint route or route(s) such as the olympia express that share common route numbers, but have diffrent operators. Of course this leads into some other issue’s such as fares and the like but overall i think it improves the public’s perceptions of the service if you dont have “competing” services like whats i described above.

      2. Again, all good suggestions for the “Joint Planners” to digest. I’m sure a lot of cross-talk occurs between MT and ST on big picture stuff, and ultimately, it’s MT or PT that actually run the service, but we’re still faced with the dilemma of the public perception of transit investment against the internal direction of individual agencies, and more importantly the riders perspective of service provided.
        The Task Force is looking purely at MT operations, while the public and our state legislators are faced with looking at the TOTAL picture of transit investment against all the other needs of the state.
        That’s why I think it’s extremely important to focus on transit usage and spending on the grand scale.
        Transit is heavily subsidized by everyone, yet used by a small minority. Convincing the majority that higher taxes is in their best interest is the big hill to climb, which was easier to accomplish when times were good. With record levels of homes in foreclosure or behind in their payments since the great depression, that’s a tough sell today.
        Martins recent piece on mode share is a good place to start.

  7. I think it is important for Mr. Desmond to be able to enunciate some of the efficiencies Metro has enacted. But from a fundraiser perspective (and that is what Metro is doing when it goes hat in hand to the lege), what Metro needs most is a prospectus: a plan for how it would like to spend the extra revenue if it can get it.

    Just restoring current service and undoing efficiencies won’t cut it. The new service needs to be sellable as a new way of doing business.

    Plus, from a political perspective, the funding sources Metro seeks need to be sources that other powerful interest groups aren’t coveting.

    Even then, there is still no substitute for grassroots lobbying. Legislators count constituent calls, and usually tend to respond.

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