Continuing their ideological attack on government spending, the GOP-controlled United State House over the last week has now decided to target dedicated transit funding. Streetsblog Capitol Hill has had up-to-date coverage of the events over the last week or so, as the house has blazed through the legislative process. Larry Ehl report that congress has now cleared 9 out of the 10 procedural hurdles it needed to pass a transportation authorization bill.

In response to the radical policy change proposed by the house, a broad spectrum of group have come together in opposition and area transit agencies are getting into it as well. Please add your voice by taking action through the APTA.

Below the jump is a joint press release from Metro, Sound Transit, Community Transit, Pierce Transit and Kitsap Transit:

Puget Sound transit leaders: Federal transportation bill would devastate region’s transit services

U.S. House bill proposes end to dedicated funding, putting millions of transit dollars at risk

A federal transportation bill ending long-standing dedicated funding for the nation’s transit agencies would deliver yet another financial blow to transit service throughout the region, according to Puget Sound transit leaders. If the bill is approved by Congress, it will strip all guaranteed transit funding from the Federal Highway Trust Fund for the first time in three decades, adding more volatility and uncertainty to an already financially stretched transit industry.

Leaders of King County Metro Transit, Sound Transit, Community Transit, Pierce Transit, and Kitsap Transit today outlined the implications of losing funding that has long been dedicated to transit, but could shift to a smaller one-time “alternative transportation account” set to expire in 2016.  The move would also leave transit systems scrambling to compete with other programs for the smaller pot of money.

If approved by Congress, the measure will further shrink transit budgets and eliminate one of the few remaining predictable funding sources for preventative maintenance and capital investments to support economic recovery and access to jobs.  In 2011, the region’s transit agencies received about $324 million in federal grant revenues for transit.

Already, nearly 80 percent of public transit systems across the nation are scaling back service and raising fares due to budget challenges, according to a recent American Public Transportation Association (APTA) study.  The pending congressional action would make the agencies’ financial situation much worse.

Here is what the local transit agencies are facing if the bill is approved:

King County Metro Transit

“This House bill is alarming, because it puts at risk a critical source of predictable revenue that transit agencies have counted on year after year,” King County Metro General Manager Kevin Desmond said.  “For Metro alone, as much as $70 million in annual revenues would be at risk, worsening our financial hole at a time when demand for transit service is rising.”

Metro estimates the revenue at risk could pose a huge setback for sustaining bus service levels.  Metro has been able to preserve its system with congestion-reduction funding approved last summer, pending a longer-term funding solution.  In addition to losing money to keep buses moving as ridership increases, the loss could dramatically erode Metro’s ability to do everything from preserving service to buying new buses given the year-to-year financial uncertainty.

Sound Transit

Ending guaranteed funding for transit would take the “trust” out of the trust fund and pose grave threats to Sound Transit projects and services.  Coming on top of the recession’s 25-percent blow to Sound Transit 2 funding, this bill could stop or delay voter-approved light rail expansions.  With uncertain funding levels, the Federal Transit Administration would likely have to scale back assumptions and restrict new grant applications.  Undermining transit investments would not only hurt commuters, but the region’s economic recovery.  Every tax dollar invested in public transportation generates an average of $6 in economic returns.  The University Link light rail extension is now creating more than 20,000 direct and indirect jobs, and the Sound Transit 2 projects are positioned to create another 100,000.  For that to happen, we need a strong continuing partnership with the federal government.

“The House bill calls into question some key assumptions built into our capital plan in both the short and long term,” said Sound Transit CEO Joni Earl.  “Our ability to deliver on key projects, whether it’s extensions to the University of Washington, Bellevue and Redmond, Lynnwood, Federal Way, or Tacoma Link, will be in question if our federal partner becomes less reliable.  It is crucial that our congressional delegation work to defeat this bill.”

Community Transit

“Transit service is already hurting due to the economy and this legislation really kicks us to the floor again,” said Community Transit CEO Joyce Eleanor.  “A reduction in federal funding would add to an already grave situation for people who take our buses to work every day and could further stall our economic recovery.”

Community Transit receives about nine percent of its annual operating budget from these federal formula funds.  The agency uses this money to pay for paratransit service, maintenance, and replacement buses.  If it is unsure whether this funding will be available year to year, those budget gaps will be filled from the general fund which – based on current estimates – equates to a service cut of up to nine percent.  That would come on top of the 37 percent in service cuts Community Transit has already made over the last three years due to low revenues.

Pierce Transit

This struggling economic recession has caused Pierce Transit to eliminate service by an excruciating 43 percent over three years. The House Transportation budget puts at risk $7.6 million dollars from its budget which impacts its ability to put service on the street.  This loss will equate to another crippling 28 percent in service elimination, resulting in a combined 71 percent in service reductions.  Jobs, access to critical medical appointments and even students getting to school will be further impacted in the community.

Pierce Transit’s CEO, Lynne Griffith states, “I think our community has suffered enough through this recession and we do not need yet another road block to recovery.

Kitsap Transit

Kitsap Transit expects as much as $4 million in annual federal transit funding to be at risk with the passage of this bill. It uses these federal dollars to fund capital projects such as bus and support vehicle replacements, park & ride development, and overall facilities improvements. A good vehicle replacement program requires the ability to plan for at least a seven to fifteen year window of time. Without this dedicated appropriation of funds, Kitsap Transit cannot confidently plan the short or long-range capital improvements necessary to operate our transit system efficiently. This potential loss of federal funding for capital projects will be piled on top of the 23 percent service reductions Kitsap Transit has made since the economic downturn due to local funding losses.

Kitsap Transit’s Board Chair, Charlotte Garrido, opposes the bill.  “A transit system simply can’t be left to guess if there will be federal funds to support the basic infrastructure of the services it provides to the public,” she said.  “We must have dedicated, reliable capital funding, or we cannot plan for the future.”

Puget Sound’s transit leaders say there will be a lot at stake for their agencies in the coming days and weeks. The bill, approved by the House Ways and Means Committee, now goes to the full House for action.

For more information about the U.S. House bill and industry reaction:

37 Replies to “Puget Sound Transit Agencies Explain Impacts of Transportation Package”

  1. We shouldn’t have to beg the federal government to get our tax money back for local projects!

  2. The House of Representatives should be re-functionalized as [ad-hom].

    Republicans seem hellbent there to destroy anything worth preserving and not establish anything worth creating.

    It will only get worse with any change of government in Washington DC.

    Take the cuts from the military-industrial complex and not from quality of life and hope measures.

  3. We are all going to feel the pain of decades of overspending… decades…

    But with one party anti-entitlement reform and the other party anti-taxes this is gonna be a disaster zone.

    Not happy with this news and you guys know I’m a moderate Republican.

  4. A point I’ve tried to make around here for years is that Seattle and the Puget Sound do not operate in a vacuum. We are not that unique a region to demand extra special treatment from the Feds compared to the rest of the country. Now that FTA funding appears to be in grave jeopardy, we should ask ourselves if the path we’re on is still the right one? As funds dwindle the competition gets fierce.
    A little history might help. In 1996 MT,CT and PT received a total 6 mil in Fed $$ of a 351 mil Ops budget, and 43 mil of 81 mil total for Capital – for a total of 49 mil of 433 mil total Ops/Cap for the three agencies, or about 11%. For that transit provided 111 mil unlinked trips and 4 mil service hours.
    Enter Sound Transit (ST).
    Now 15 years later, the population has grown from 2.6 to 3.3 mil, or 20%, service hours of all modes for all four agencies grew 39%, and unlinked trips (boardings) grew 30% to 161 mil/yr.
    In 2010 the Feds provided 256 mil total for all four agencies, of a combined budget of 1,720 mil, or about 30% of the total spent. The rest comes from fares, misc, local and state taxes.
    Transit spending for operations has grown from 351 mil to 1,078 mil, or over 300% in 15 years. If we inflate the $351 spent in 1996 by the CPI-U we get to $488 mil. Up that by 39% for more hours delivered gets us to $678. The un-accounted for $400 mil/yr has to be mostly higher costs per hour to provide the service, excluding inflation (eg; Metro avg cost per rider rose from $2.97 to $4.38. CT from $5.18 to $8.85. ST was $7.29. Those are huge increases in costs not attributable solely to inflation or higher fuel costs. We need to understand why costs have soared. Losing all Federal funding for operations is only a $49 mil hit – that’s a lot, but not a game stopper.
    Capital spending has grown from 81 mil for three agencies to 642 mil/yr. Of that the federal share increased over four fold to $183 mil/yr. That’s the BIG hit if lost and the expensive projects will suffer most of all.
    Massive capital spending should have a payback in both ridership and lower operating costs, right? I don’t see either those happening after 15 years. Why not?
    If Federal funding really does dry up for some time, what’s plan B? Hope Plan A does a ‘do-over’.

    1. $256 / $1,720 = 15%, not 30%. Sorry. (Source for all of the above is the National Transit Database – online)

  5. @ Adam: Is this your quote or from PT’s CEO? (” This loss will equate to another crippling 28 percent in service elimination, resulting in a combined 71 percent in service reductions.”)
    PT’s 2010 Operating Budget shows revenue of $118 mil. 2012 is $131 mil. How does the loss of $7 mil in Fed $$, or 5% of the total operating budget parlay itself into a 28% additional cut in service?
    Is this FUD? or just a typo.

  6. MIke, your argument would be easier to either argue against or agree with if you’d edit that dump-truck load of statistics into something readable, and also discuss some context and comparisons.

    Supposing, for instance, that a company decided to repair and upgrade a necessary piece of machinery that had been neglected for decades. Wouldn’t that justify a sudden very large increase in spending?

    When discussing public transportation, it’s also necessary to compare the costs of accomplishing this with private automobiles as opposed to buses and trains. We really owe suburban America to the Federal defense program that created the interstate highway system- whose original intent had nothing to do with connecting Bellevue with Seattle.

    Now that this system is falling apart from old age and in need of rebuilding, it’s only prudent to see whether the national defense function of the system couldn’t be more economically served by sending LINK across I-90, and reserving other segments for trucks, tanks, and cannons? In Dwight Eisenhower’s time, heavy-duty transit was a given.

    You also need to calculate the cost of fuel and personal time lost in jammed traffic, and the cost of building enough additional highway capacity to let everybody drive at design speed- something that no amount of road-building has yet been able to do.

    All this fuel to move nobody anywhere has some other costs. Decades of foreign wars that have gotten this country nothing but hurt, badly and permanently. Domestic- anybody want to eat shrimp from the Gulf anymore? And a pipeline break in the wrong place could seriously raise the price of a glass of drinking water. Any bets on how much the last glass of clean water will go for?

    For the transit I use, Metro, ST, Pierce, Community, and Olympia’s Intercity, balance sheet shows me that a couple of decades worth of investment now give me buses and trains I can reliably and enjoyably use for work. Meaning no second car, and a long life for one I like.

    Show me how I could get same value cheaper, and I’ll think about it.

    Mark Dublin

    1. I don’t disagree with you Mark, but the article is on the prospect of losing federal funding for transit, which I have little if any control over (way over my pay grade). I’m not sure how to contrast transit from 1996 to the present day without giving the numbers, and how federal funding has changed over that time. My point is not that federal transit dollars are unwise, but given their loss, what’s the outcome for transit, until things change again.
      We can all demonize the car, but that’s how most trips are made, and there not going away anytime soon.
      I still have not heard a good reason why transit costs are escalating far faster than inflation or service increases would dictate, nor why transit feels obliged to convert $3.00 bus rides into $10 train trips. Maybe when times are good society can afford those indulgences, but when times get tough, it’s time to look inward to see if the assumptions made 15 years ago are still valid.

      1. I don’t have the numbers, but I’d be willing to bet one year after I-5 opened through downtown Seattle the “cost” of each car trip on it was much higher versus now. Whether you’re building roads or rails, transportation investments are not short term prospects, and to judge them before they constitute a viable network is premature. Stop demonizing the first light rail line less than 3 years after it opened. Put on your 30 year hat.

      2. why transit costs are escalating far faster than inflation or service increases

        Because labor costs (particularly health care) are rising faster than inflation.

        why transit feels obliged to convert $3.00 bus rides into $10 train trips

        Because those aren’t the operating costs. Bus trips are more expensive than that and train trips are cheaper, while being much higher quality for the actual users it’s meant to serve.

        It’s not an “indulgence” to serve the neediest, who don’t own cars, or to give those who can own a car a quality alternative.

      3. To be precise, the reason that transit costs have increased faster than inflation is that human-operated transit, like health care and education, has not seen nearly the productivity gains that we’ve seen in other fields.

        Thanks to new technology, a worker can produce 100 widgets today in the time it would take her to produce a single widget 100 years ago. But a teacher spends just as much time educating her students, and a doctor spends just as much time treating his patients. Still, even though those workers’ productivity has not increased, their wages have to, because companies will have to pay more to attract workers to those jobs (as opposed to the higher-paying widget-manufacturing jobs).

        Again, it’s not just transit. Any job that takes about the same amount of time to perform now as it did in 1950 has the same problem. That’s why college (and education in general) costs so much, and why health care costs have been spiraling out of control. I’m sure you’d agree that health care and education are not “indulgences”, and it’s just as ridiculous to say that transit is optional just because its operating costs represent a relatively higher portion of GDP.

        By the way, the reason to convert bus trips to train trips is precisely because the latter are more productive! The same number of drivers can transport a much larger number of passengers. This is why I’m such a big advocate of driverless transit in all forms — it’s the only surefire way to guarantee frequency without suffering from the productivity stagnation problem I described above.

      4. “human-operated transit, like health care and education, has not seen nearly the productivity gains that we’ve seen in other fields”

        It sounds like a false comparison. Yes, certain fields like electronics are getting exponentially more productive and gadgets keep getting cheaper. And a teacher who could effectively teach in half the time would have happier students and more free time. But would that double his salary? Only in the sense that he could teach two classes a day. It wouldn’t make any single student willing to pay twice the tuition for him, although he may be able to command a 10% or 20% premium.

        The other issue is you’re leaving out several factors. Healthcare and education aren’t like TVs that you buy off the shelf and can choose from hundreds of stores selling identical things at easily-ascertainable prices. There are only a few universities, so student slots are scarce, and students come bringing with them financial aid and loans. The universities have lots of demand for raising tuition: the factulty and staff who benefit, and the UW in particular has an edifice complex and can’t build enough buildings to satisfy itself. In healthcare, there are a limited number of hospitals, the insurance companies, hospitals and doctors all want to skim an ever-increasing sum off the top, and patients have no idea what a procedure should cost or will cost, and no ability to shop around. These are all factors in why healthcare and education costs are rising faster than inflation.

      5. But would that double his salary? Only in the sense that he could teach two classes a day.

        Yes and no.

        Two hundred years ago, a classically-trained pianist could earn a certain amount of money by performing for a certain amount of time.

        Today, that same classically-trained pianist can spend the same amount of time recording an album, which she can then sell to thousands or millions of people. Yes, there are weird political and financial issues, but the basic idea is that a relatively small amount of work (producing an album) can result in a nearly limitless amount of sales.

        Therefore, for giving concerts to be worth her time, she will demand a much higher wage, to compensate for the opportunity cost of not producing another album.

        The net effect is that, as production technology gets better and albums get distributed to wider groups of people more easily, we would expect the cost of live music to increase substantially relative to the cost of recorded music. (Likewise for theater and other recordable performances.) And in fact, that’s what’s happened.

        The issues you raise about healthcare and education are very legitimate. But for concerts, none of them apply. Live music is everywhere. The market is much more flexible and competitive — everyone knows what music they like. And still, we see the disparity between live and recorded costs.

        With transit, it’s exactly the same. Manufacturing has gotten more efficient; so have engines; but driving hasn’t (aside from driverless vehicles). Thus, manufacturing represents a lower percentage of transit costs than it did a century ago, and driver salaries represent a higher portion.

        Anyway, I think we’re on the same side of this one. My point is that the rising costs of transit has nothing to do with “government inefficiency”, and everything to do with the fact that it takes just as much human effort to drive a bus today as it did a hundred years ago. Automation is the only way out of that trap, and for scenarios where automation isn’t feasible or desirable, we as a society have to accept that the cost will continue to rise faster than inflation forever.

      6. it takes just as much human effort to drive a bus today as it did a hundred years ago.

        Interesting theory but driving the bus is only part of the labor involved in operating a bus system. Maintenance is a much smaller factor today than for buses 100 years ago. Dispatch is more efficient with radios, computers and GPS. Speeds are significantly faster and capacity much greater so per passenger mile even the labor of driving the bus is improved. Health care costs have skyrocketed for two reasons. First the level of service is phenomenally better. Second, our legal system is out of control.

      7. Bernie,

        Your facts are mostly correct, but they support my claim. :)

        Compared to a hundred years ago, far less human effort is involved in building, maintaining, and dispatching buses. However, just as much effort is involved in actually driving them. That’s why driver salaries, rather than maintenance or dispatcher salaries, are the driving factor in how much service you can provide.

        Also, average urban bus speeds are hardly faster than they were 100 years ago, and capacity is almost certainly lower than the streetcar networks those buses replaced. And capacity doesn’t matter if you measure level of service in frequency — no matter how big the vehicles are, you’ve got to have someone arriving at the bus stop every 15 minutes.

        The reason I bring up health care is that, like transit, a 15-minute appointment with a doctor takes just as long today as it took a hundred years ago. Yes, the level of service is phenomenally better, but that’s clearly not the deciding factor — look how much an iPhone costs compared to a supercomputer in the 60s. And, in fact, consider pharmaceuticals, which can provide quality of care that was unheard of a century ago. Prices of generics have actually been increasing significantly slower than inflation, while the cost to actually see a doctor has been skyrocketing.

        My point is, the reason that transit is expensive has nothing to do with the quality of service, or government corruption, or legal costs, or unions, or anything like that. It has everything to do with the fact that transit vehicle operators has not seen nearly the productivity gains that other sections of the economy have. So either we increase productivity (by reducing the amount of human effort needed to provide the desired level of service), or we accept that costs will continue to rise.

      8. The cost of the driver’s sallary is only about a quarter of the cost per platform hour and sallaries have pretty much kept pace with inflation so that can’t be what’s driving the cost higher. Benefit costs have certainly risen faster than inflation but the real reason Metro’s costs have gone through the roof is dilution of service by adding so many inefficient routes. 20/40/40 means 20% of the money goes to routes that match the status quo and 80% goes to adding service to areas that don’t have sufficent density for transit even if we had Google smart buses.

      1. Nom, this is not helpful. The topic is what happens if federal funding dries up. Some thoughtful dialog about that is not treasonous. We’ll be forced to look at spending limited capital $$ on making buses more frequent, faster and reliable.
        Federal Way is a great example where funding is already in the toilet and heading further south. Getting Link to FWTC would convert an existing bus trip to Seattle to a more expensive rail trip that takes twice as long. The alternative might be to start planning for a fallback plan B, that directed some of the planning money into making the Michigan St. HOV-E3 busway bypass shovel ready. For 3/4 mi of elevated and 3/4 mile of surface, you get exclusive guideway for pennies compared to 1/2 Bil for rail. That eliminates most of the slowdowns from Michigan to Spokane St and the dreaded weave. (H/T eddiew)
        You could make similar cases for north of Northgate.

  7. The federal government should have 2 functions: Defense, and infrastructure. Transit and transportation are the lubrication that allow our economic machine to function. This is essentially self-mutilation by the government.

  8. Another argument that doesn’t work on me is the one that because the economy is in trouble, we just have to accept a substandard life for everybody except rich people and monster corporations for the rest of our lives- more or less what The Seattle Times means by “reset.”

    Every one of my own assumptions from 1997 have proven out perfectly, from the collapse of an economy that made its people trade skilled industrial work for credit cards to the ruin of this region’s quality of life by development patterns that mandate jammed traffic.

    So I doubt I’m wrong in some other assumptions: that the construction and operation of a good regional transit system is exactly the kind of skilled and beneficial work we need to revive our economy.

    That the forces that have benefited from the general misfortune will risk the destruction of our whole society before they part with a dime of their last three decades’ gains.

    And that my own efforts can help beat these people, on transit and everything else that matters. Considering the last four years of attempting to appease them, what’s to lose?

    Also, comparing costs again: $10.00 of any transit vehicle on reserved right of way is worth $3.00 of any other one in regular traffic.

    But one measure we could take without Federal dollars, and regardless of possible progress with rail: two-way bus lanes on I-5 between Northgate and Convention Place, and on I-90 between South Bellevue P&R and International District Station.

    Another assumption more than fifteen years old.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Should have said “adds more value to the system”, regarding difference between rail and bus costs. Transit starts depreciating whenever it’s standing still, at least when it’s not loading passengers or undergoing maintenance.

      Mark Dublin

  9. Last gasp of the economic royalists. We’re probably going to see some whipsawing of funding for everything useful before the royalists are turfed out of power for good (well, for the next century). I have no doubt we will eventually manage to turf them out.

  10. So what can we do if decreasing funding is inevitable? The agencies will have to cut routes, and Seattle’s transit will become more like Bellingham’s or Oklahoma’s or North Carolina’s (daytime only, infrequent, to only some neighborhoods). I was shocked that Raleigh and Charlotte didn’t have a bus route to the airport; I thought every city did. The only answer I can think of is the “low-cost solutions” like improving sidewalks and bicycle lanes. But those who work ten miles away or at isolated locations will have to get a car or quit their job.

    1. I’d support bicycle infrastructure only when bicycles and their users are licensed, and pay a dedicated use tax, like cars and motorcycles do. Absent that, I oppose any and all accommodations for bicyclists.

      1. People like Seattle Citizen need to CONSTANTLY be reminded of this: most bicycle riders are also drivers. Most of my weeks consist of a mixture of driving, bus riding, and bicycling for my commute and errands. I pay a the taxes for my vehicle (including car insurance, which for all intents and purposes is a tax, at least the liability part), for the gas I use, parking, registration, emissions, etc. I’m also a property owner, so I pay property tax which supports local roads. So give me some damn bike lanes and I’ll subsidize your vehicle lanes.

      2. A bicycle causes less than 1% of the road wear a car does. If cars didn’t exist, streets would be 75% narrower and could be made with lighter-weight materials (or thinner asphalt). It would be fair to tax bicyclists at this level, but absent this calculation you’d be taxing bicycles at far higher than their impact. Bicycles also benefit society by not polluting, keeping citizens healthier, not requiring a military presence in the Middle East. Even if everybody had motorized bicycles with tent covers (I mean little hill-climbing motors, not motorcycles or scooters), the cost to maintain infrastructure for them would be a tiny fraction of what we’re paying for car roads.

  11. Anything that might make it harder to continue building the white elephant of the future — the light rail boondoggle — is fine by me.

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