Photo by KDavidClark

The Regional Transit Task Force’s final recommendations have been released. The report is chock full of interesting graphs about Metro’s performance.

Recommendation 1: Metro should create and adopt a new set of performance measures by service type, and report at least annually on the agency’s performance on these measures. The performance measures should incorporate reporting on the key system design factors, and should include comparisons with Metro’s peer transit agencies.

Recommendation 2: King County and Metro management must control all of the agency’s operating expenses to provide a cost structure that is sustainable over time. Cost-control strategies should include continued implementation of the 2009 performance audit findings, exploration of alternative service delivery models [read: contracting service out], and potential reduction of overhead and internal service charges.

Recommendation 3: The policy guidance for making service reduction and service growth decisions should be based on the following priorities:
1) Emphasize productivity due to its linkage to economic development, land use, financial sustainability, and environmental sustainability
2) Ensure social equity
3) Provide geographic value throughout the county.

Recommendation 4: Create clear and transparent guidelines to be used for making service allocation decisions, based upon the recommended policy direction.

More after the jump.

Recommendation 5: Use the following principles to provide direction for the development of service guidelines. [see below]

Recommendation 6: King County, Metro, and a broad coalition of community and business interests should pursue state legislation to create additional revenue sources that would provide a long-term, more sustainable base of revenue support for transit services. To build support for that work, it is essential that King County adopt and implement the task force recommendations, including use of the service guidelines and performance measures, and continue eff orts to reduce Metro’s operating costs.

Recommendation 7: Metro staff should use the task force recommendations and discussions as the framework for revising Metro’s current mission statement, and creating a vision statement (as one does not now exist). Both draft statements should be included in the draft Comprehensive and Strategic Plans scheduled to be submitted to the County Council in February 2011.

Recommendation 3 is the one that essentially replaces 20/40/40 (and 62/21/17 for cuts) with something less rigidly balanced. The service reduction methodology that Metro used in the exercise, sure to be refined if the recommendations are adopted, is summarized as

  • The first step was to screen for productivity, eliminating the least productive routes.
  • The second step was to assess network considerations after the first step. Routes (and service hours) were added back based on consideration of social equity, system connectivity, and addressing gaps in geographic coverage.
  • Since the second step added back service hours, the third step was to identify opportunities for efficiencies in the system (for example, shortening a route if the beginning or end of the service had low ridership, or using local service to connect riders to ST Express bus service).

A more transparent process should make it easier to refute squeaky-wheel public comments that preserve unproductive service better allocated elsewhere. There was a similar exercise for service additions, one that would encourage cities to make good land-use decisions, and again sure to be refined later:

  • Response to Ridership Demand. The sample guidelines for responding to high ridership established thresholds for passenger loads for each type of service. For example, for commuter or hourly service, if the number of seats fi lled and the number of standees exceeded the threshold, then action would be taken. Actions could include adding trips to the schedule, working with jurisdictions to improve transit speed and reliability, or reallocating service from less productive routes.
  • Support for Regional Growth. For service that supports regional growth, Metro presented conceptual guidelines that would create a point system to determine minimum levels of service for corridors and communities. Metro would set the minimum frequency of service for a route based on the number of points scored. (See Appendix 8 for the illustrative guidelines presented to the task force.)

Remarkably, a diverse group of participants achieved consensus on these recommendations. It’s now up to the King County Council and Executive to approve and implement them.

14 Replies to “RTTF Final Recommendations”

  1. Ahhhh… This seems to address my concerns raised in Publicola’s coverage. Thanks for being a little more detailed, Martin!

  2. “Recommendation 2: King County and Metro management must control all of the agency’s operating expenses to provide a cost structure that is sustainable over time. Cost-control strategies should include continued implementation of the 2009 performance audit findings, exploration of alternative service delivery models [read: contracting service out], and potential reduction of overhead and internal service charges.”

    Very timely to make productivity and cost control recommendations in light of the current economic situation. It would have been totally irresponsible to encourage same during prior years, such as private sector is required to do every day of the week (whether it is raining outside or not). However, I do applaud RTTFs encouragement of the agencies to act in a responsible business manner no matter how late in the economic cycle it occurs.

  3. I hope what follows these recommendations isn’t just adding service or reducing service on existing routes.

    The routes have a lot of room for improvement.

    Find ways to make neighborhood routes end at major destinations at both ends, if possible, so that the route isn’t simply half-full at one end and empty at the other.

    Make use of Link and Sounder, and have routes that get people to Sounder stations rather than go one way away from them. With all the hue and cry about “forced transfers”, consider the routes that could get riders to Link and Sounder, but don’t — the “forced non-transfers”.

    When it comes to geography, reward the neighborhoods that have embraced high-capacity trunk lines by providing neighborhood connections to those trunk lines.

    Focus on neighborhood service, not redundant freeway runs.

  4. Good riddance to 40/40/20. The Taxpayer side of me still thinks its too bad that Metro and others cannot find better ways to jointly serve “shared” areas along the borders and various corridors eliminating duplicative routes, and consoldating as much as possible while still keeping a relativly high level of service. I dont think John Q. Rider cares much if a Metro or ST bus shows up on their route. Although i dont agree with consolidating the agencys, i think that would probally spread a high cost per hour out regionwide and be a total disaster when it comes time to intergrate things. Plus, i dont think the Pol’s would like it much as they would loose a fair amount of control over their system.

  5. Metro’s accounting system and reporting is so complicated and tangled up with other King County departments, it’s futile for the average citizen to figure out how much they take in and how much they spend. To further the ‘fog’ created by this, is the lag time between actual performance and reporting the results. The last Annual Management Report was for 2008 (Metro website:reports), and it’s now nearly 2011 Three years gone by, and the public doesn’t have a clue what’s going on. Business can’t operate that way, and neither should government.
    While mining the data from the reports available, and FTA Transit Database info, Metro’s service area population has only risen from 1.7 to 1.9 million people (10%) in the last 10 years.
    Total revenue for operations has risen from $360 mil to 509 mil(41%) and total revenue (ops + capital) from 495 to 725(46%).
    I hesitate to say what the operation cost were because of all the slicing and dicing of the numbers, but cost per bus hour rose from $84.31 to $123.45 (46%).
    Inflation for the last 10 years was 29%in the Seattle Metro area.
    I applaud the Task Force for trying to make sense out of all this, but have to say, given the above results for the last 10 years, a huge influx of cash to solve Metro’s ‘problem’ (short 1.1 bil for operations thru 2015)isn’t very likely. Neither Olympia or the voters are in much of a new taxing mood these days.
    The alternative is to slash service by up to 600,000 hours. That’s the whole east side, or all the weekend service if you prefer.
    I’m not smart enough to figure most of this out, but trimming some unproductive routes and rearranging the chairs on the deck (formulas) doesn’t even begin to solve the problem.
    Metro’s been bleeding cash by the bucket full since 2008. Further delays only make the problem worse, and the solution even more painful.

    1. I would love to hear why Metro’s cost has apparently soared so much higher than inflation and rider increase.

      I wonder how much effect the price of gas has an effect. I read somewhere that for every penny increase in the price of diesel, Denver’s bus service lost $100,000. And diesel is a lot more expensive than it used to be.

      1. Good question Doug.
        Platform hours in 2000 was 3.2 mil.hrs and total fuel and trolley power costs were $10 mil.
        In 2008 hours were up to 3.5 mil.hrs (9%), while fuel/elect was $38 mil.
        Yes, fuel/elect was up by $28 mil, and service up 9%, but that only a small fraction of total operating costs.

      2. Keep in mind too that in 2008 there was a spike in fuel prices. Gas topped $5/gal at the pump back then and it’s less than $3 now. Also, because of the spike in gas prices Metro saw a jump in ridership and increased farebox recovery more than offset their increased fuel costs.

        I’ve wondered about the last Metro operations report being 2008. The numbers are in the King County Budget if you want to mine through that but boy, you’re right about it being something that almost requires a professional auditor to untangle. There is a 2009 Year End Presentation to Regional Transit Committee but Power Point slides don’t really give the level of detail there was in the reports from prior years and put a pretty face on some ugly numbers. For example, Mike’s numbers show a operating cost increased 58% higher than inflation. The graph on page portrays this as an inflation adjusted rise in operating cost of only 12% ($110 to $124).

      3. @ Bernie: Yeah, I looked at the power point and decided it mostly ignored the severity of the problem. I hate to sound overly critical of Metro, as I used to work there, and still have lots of friends (I hope), but the budget problem was first reported in 2008, and here we are starting 2011 with just a report, and not much detail about how to fix things.
        Transit riders should be really pissed, as they are the ones who will suffer when the good tax ferry doesn’t show up to sprinkle get well dust over the region.
        If the latest report is from 2008, then how the hell can you fix a problem when you don’t even know one exists? That’s not the way to build trust with the region.

      4. Transit riders should be really pissed, as they are the ones who will suffer when the good tax ferry doesn’t show up to sprinkle get well dust

        Except the “good” ferry tax has already been dusted off to use for buses ;-)

        There certainly are things that Metro can do and the budget crunch has forced some of those. But while it’s easy to blame Metro it’s important to remember that the agency serves at the pleasure of the County Council and Admiral… er I mean Executive := Up until 2008 the Metro reports were among the best of any transit agency in the country. The 2009 color glossy photos with circles and arrows on the back of each one are more inline with the average. It could well be that Metro was directed to stop giving the public details that would highlight some of the problems. You’re right though, it doesn’t build trust and the election should serve as a wake up call that if there is distrust amongst the voters then the purse strings will remain tied in a Gordian Knot until that trust is reestablished. Maybe what we need is a seeing eye dog :^)

    2. We’ve certainly gone way up in commuter runs (partially as a result of subarea-pseudo-equity, and partially as a result of who sits on the ST Board). I don’t mind that, but the expensive specialty services need to charge more, especially when they are duplicating service.

      Charge based on the route, not on a fuzzy zone line or fuzzy time break that costs ORCA personnel lots of time to make fare corrections.

      While we’re at it, can anyone explain why we still have paper transfers?

      And if the only form of offboard fare payment on RapidRide is ORCA card readers, scratch the fare enforcement officers and go back to pay-as-you-board.

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