I sense a good deal of frustration out there with the news of potential cuts to Metro bus routes. We’ve covered the issue pretty extensively here on STB, but sometimes it’s useful to put it all together in FAQ form.

What is this about metro cutting routes next year?
King County Metro is facing a serious budget shortfall in 2014. This means that they’ll need to cut service by 17% to break even. 600,000 service hours will be cut.  65 routes would be deleted, and 86 would be reduced or revised. All in all, 2/3 of Metro routes would be affected.

Wait… didn’t we just do this two years ago?
Yep, but it was temporary. In 2011 King County passed a $20 “congestion reduction charge” on all vehicles registered in the county. This bought us $25 million a year as part of the deal that also ended the Ride Free Area, but it will expire in 2014.

How bad is it?
There’s a $60M gap in 2014, and a combined $1.2B between 2008, when the recession began, and 2015.


Ok, that’s bad. Can’t they just, you know… trim the fat?
Well, they have been.  In 2008 they reduced operating expenses, gutted the capital fund (which pays for important stuff like running new trolleybus wire, etc.), and increased fares. That bought $30M.  It also arguably made the system more efficient. Then in 2011, they passed the CRC and got the unions to take a pay cut, saving tens of millions more.  WSDOT came through with $32M in mitigation money to deal with Viaduct headaches, but it also runs out in 2014… two years before the Viaduct opens. This mitigation money helps add additional trips to crowded West Seattle routes.  Riding in from West Seattle will suck even more when it goes away.  All told, Metro has cut $726M from the budget since 2009. There’s not much more fat. It’s pretty much all bone from here on out. Next step is to stop filling the tires on the buses (I’m kidding!). *


Oh, and “cutting the fat” ain’t so easy if you’ve ever been to a community meeting where cuts were proposed.  People get angry, they call their Councilmembers, and Metro backs off. Everyone seems to think the fat is in some other neighborhood.

(All that aside, Seattle’s a growing city with a healthy economy and a low unemployment rate. Metro should be increasing service, not cutting it, as Metro’s General Manager Kevin Desmond argues here.)

What about raising money from the fare box?
They’ve done it multiple times.  There’s only so much blood you can squeeze from a stone. Back in 2006, when peak fares were just $1.50, Metro predicted fares would rise just 75 cents by 2016.  As it turns out, peak fares are already at $2.50 and will probably rise again soon.

Okay, how about all that money spent on light rail and streetcars?
Those were built by different agencies (Seattle DOT, Sound Transit) with different funding sources. Sound Transit has a diversified funding base, including a Motor Vehicle Excise Tax or MVET (it’s marked “RTA” — look for it when you renew your tabs… or don’t) along with a sales tax. That means Sound Transit can weather the recession a bit better.  Also, Sound Transit spends a lot of its money on capital projects like new light rail lines, which (a) can be spread out over more years if necessary, and (b) tend to get cheaper when there’s a recession and construction firms are hungry for work.

Okay fine, but what about the “Transit Now” tax we passed in 2006?
That was great! It got us RapidRide and a bunch of other stuff. But because it was a sales tax, it shrunk during the recession and ended up raising less than projected.  Since those funds were earmarked for RapidRide as the voters approved them, they can’t be moved into another bucket to save costs.

Wait a minute, this is craziness… Why are Metro’s finances in such bad shape to begin with?
Back in 1999, state voters approved Tim Eyman’s I-695, which would have gutted transit funding across the state by eliminating the state’s ability to charge an MVET.  I-695 was declared unconstitutional, but then-Governor Locke and the legislature were so scared of being run out of Olympia that they killed the MVET themselves the following year.  That blew a $500M hole in the state transportation budget. Here in King County, Metro lost an estimated $125M over the 2003-4 biennium, which we replaced by increasing the sales tax from 0.6% to 0.8% (and eventually to the legal maximum of 0.9% in 2006 with Transit Now). But there are two problems with a sales tax: it’s regressive, and it’s tied to the economy. Once the recession hit in 2008, everyone cut back on spending and sales tax revenues went in the toilet. It’s not just Metro: transit agencies all over the state, including the Washington State Ferries,  haven’t really made up for the money they lost after I-695 passed the MVET went away.

So what can we do about it?
Well, we can bring back MVET funding, at least here in King County. The thing about an MVET is that it’s progressive and predictable (versus a sales tax, which is regressive and volatile), since it’s based on the current value of all the cars in the county.  This would get us back to a healthy mix of tax revenue so that no one source can send the budget into a tailspin. The legislature is in special session right now and one of the items on the agenda would allow King County voters to vote on an MVET that would fund 60% transit and 40% roads. That’s right: the legislature is debating whether or not to give King County permission to tax ourselves, after taking that right away from us 12 years ago. Bruce recently noted that a 1% MVET ($100 on cars worth $10,000) would be sufficient to meet Metro’s needs. It wouldn’t hurt to call your legislator in support of this initiative.

Why should drivers subsidize buses?
Like I said, 40% of the MVET fees would go to roads. But folks like myself who own a car and ride the bus would pay into it and benefit from it as well.  Finally, it turns out that more transit options actually makes driving easier: by taking cars off the road, there’s less traffic for the cars that remain.  A study conducted during Los Angeles’ 2003 transit strike found that traffic during the strike increased by 47 percent on roads where there was a transit alternative.  Transit is a driver’s best friend.

*Update 5:50PM: As my colleague Matt Johnson recently wrote, roughly half the 17% in cuts would come from routes marked as having a “high potential for major reduction.” In the comments below, readers offer plenty of suggestions as to which routes should get the axe.

123 Replies to “Explainer: 2014 Metro Budget Cuts”

  1. So what about labor costs and pension liabilities? Oh wait this is a union shop, no wonder I hear that giant sucking sound…

    1. Then in 2011, they passed the CRC and got the unions to take a pay cut, saving tens of millions more.

      But why let pesky little facts stop you from trolling?

      1. what about their long term pension situation? It is the pension obligations that are hamstringing public agencies…

      2. Those obligations are on the state (via the Department of Retirement Systems), not the county. DRS sets fixed contribution rates for local agencies which are paid as a percentage of salary. Those amounts are contributed to DRS, which then pays out the pensions after retirement. If the plan is underfunded, the state, not the county, is on the hook to make up the difference.

    2. Labor costs are a relatively nominal piece of the pie, and pension costs aren’t a liability but an asset. Pension funds are healthy. The “giant sucking sound” is coming from your own vicinity, the sucking sound created by the differential pressure between your perceptions and reality.

  2. This is a very well written article, Frank Chiachiere, and true to the point.

    So it’s Tim Eyman’s fault. No surprise there. He is about as anti-transit as it gets. What is his problem with transit?

    1. He’s not even principled enough to have bad principles; he’s just in it to make money as an initiative promoter. He’ll promote anything he can get funding for.

      1. Fine, then lets pay the guy to get a pro-transit initiative going. If he’s really following the money, we’ll both prove it to the people of the state, and maybe get something useful done. He’s good at pushing them.

  3. An MVET is fine, however the problem people had it with back when I-695 passed wasn’t so much the tax as the fact that the state’s calculations for what a car was worth was over time much higher than what the actual blue book value of the car was, thus guaranteeing a higher tax for a much longer period of time.

    Basically the state used a straight line deprecation rate when everyone knows the value of a car drops much faster in the years right after it’s bought and than tends to level out.

    1. The state fixed the depreciation formula a few years ago to address that concern.

      1. Would someone please point me to where it is written that the state has fixed the skewed depreciation rate? Until I am sure that the state is using a more reasonable method like Kelly Blue Book, I will vote against my own best interests and vote NO for additional funding for transit.

      2. Opposing an MVET because the depreciation formula is wrong is completely fucking ridiculous because even with a broken depreciation formula the MVET is more fair than most Washington taxation.

  4. “Wait a minute, this is craziness… Why are Metro’s finances in such bad shape to begin with?: Back in 1999, state voters approved Tim Eyman’s I-695, which would have gutted transit funding across the state by eliminating the state’s ability to charge an MVET. I-695 was declared unconstitutional, but then-Governor Locke and the legislature were so scared of being run out of Olympia that they killed the MVET themselves the following year. That blew a $500M hole in the state transportation budget. ”

    I don’t follow this. How did killing a bill that “would have gutted transit funding across the state” blow a “$500M hole in the state transportation budget”?

    1. I-695 would have gutted transit funding across the state. It was declared unconstitutional (this was a good thing). Then the Governor and Legislature decided to get rid of the MVET anyway (this was a bad thing).

      So in essence, Eyman got what he wanted anyway, and transit riders are suffering the consequences.

      To Brian’s point above, the right fix then (and now) to the MVET would be to change the depreciation schedule to match reality. Which is what the Legislature and then-Gov. Locke SHOULD have done.

  5. Thanks for this Frank. I knew many of the pieces of this, but it’s great to put them on one page like this. I’ll likely refer to this post in the future.

  6. I’ll echo AlexKven’s comments — great article.

    Having said that, I disagree strongly with the assessment that there isn’t any more fat. There are wholly redundant routes like the 4; routes with very inefficient paths, like the 2S and the 5 (as Bruce recently identified); deviations that aren’t worth it, like the 8 from Yesler to Jackson; scheduling inefficiencies, like the 70-series to the U-District; and lots more. Altogether, I’d say that there are more Metro routes that need changes — at least in Seattle — than ones that don’t.

    Some of these changes might reduce ridership, but there’s almost no question that they’d save money.

    When I look at the list of routes that Metro has proposed for deletion, I see a list of some of the most inefficient routes in the county, and almost nothing that I’d truly regret losing. When I look at the list of routes that Metro has proposed for revision, I see a list of some of the routes that are most desperately in need of revision.

    At this point, I’m honestly at a loss as to how we can improve Metro’s network without the forcing function of a budget cut. I want to take those 600,000 hours and redirect them to provide 10-minute frequencies on all our key routes, but I just don’t see how the current political environment will ever let that happen. I’m hoping that someone who’s smarter and/or more politically savvy than I am has some ideas, because I’m out.

    1. At this point, I’m honestly at a loss as to how we can improve Metro’s network without the forcing function of a budget cut.

      We just keep trying, over and over again. Any reformer loses a lot of political battles because reform is inherently harder than the status quo. So you don’t give up after failing once.

      Some of the routes cut in last year’s restructure had been proposed for deletion on multiple previous occasions. Looking a little further back, it took several years to get the Council to go through with the restructure that turned the 20, 135, and 136 into the 120 and 125.

      We’ve raised a lot of awareness of some of the remaining pathologies in the network; there are other forces also driving toward reform (such as the Seattle TMP); and I’m optimistic that in a year or two there could be another good attempt at the CD/Queen Anne changes that were scuttled this past time. Don’t think failure is forever.

      1. I’m not saying we should give up. I’m wondering if the best tactic to expedite reform is to force it, by making the current network unaffordable. Then, once we have a more sensible network, we go back to the voters and ask them for the money to build on our successes.

      2. And I should emphasize that I’m wondering, not proposing. I honestly don’t know what’s the best thing to do here.

      3. Aleks, I hear the frustration, loud and clear. But I’m very wary of forcing change by starving the system…there’s no guarantee you get that money back. My hunch is David is right, and that the long slow slog is the way to go, as painful as it often is.

  7. Thanks for writing this up. I shared this on facebook in hopes that it will educate a few of my friends in the area regarding this issue.

    I did contact my legislators with regard to this issue, but since I live in Jessyn Farrell’s district, I’m pretty sure I know how they’re voting.

  8. Everyone seems to think the fat is in some other neighborhood.

    Truer words were never spoken. And anyone who proposes “trimming fat” or “cut empty buses” has no credibility unless he or she names specifically which routes or trips he or she would cut. Railing against unspecified “government waste” is the cheapest and dumbest of arguments.

    1. …And for the record, I would cut some routes entirely, and I’m happy to name them, but most of these cuts would be very bad without adding service to other routes with the saved funds:

      4S (needs added service on 3S and 48S)
      7X (needs a stop diet and added service on 7 and 9X)
      27 (needs added service on 14)
      152 (needs added service on 183)
      190 (needs restructuring of 177/178)
      202 (needs added service on 204)
      268 (needs extra trips on 545)

      …But all that, after mitigation, would be a tiny, tiny bit of 17%, and is counteracted by urgent needs for more service on some of the busiest corridors.

      1. For some Ballard input:

        Add to this cancelling the 61 or at least replacing it with an electric Smart Car, because I never see more than one person on that bus.

        Then you have the 29 and the 62. I get their purpose, as a one seat ride between SPU and King Street Station, but I’m curious of their overall performance, as passengers are pretty sparse when I see they, and they typically use an accordion bus. And as I learned, the 29 and the 62 are one in the same, existing as a perpetual, underused couplet loop. So you essentially have to keep both or cut both. I think you could trim most of the trips, convert them into some sort of 13X route and use the service hours elsewhere.

        These won’t buy a whole lot of hours, but I’d rather see these unnecessary routes go than see other productive routes neutered.

      2. The only reason the 61 wasn’t on that list is because I would do the proposed Magnolia restructure, which would turn the 61 into a tail of the 24.

        The 29 is lightly used between Ballard and SPU, but is extremely heavily used between SPU and downtown (it’s the former 2 Express). The 62 has some use between downtown and SLU, but relatively little past SLU. The 29/62 structure was a concession to SPU, and I’d expect it might be revised in the future once Metro has performance results that apply directly to it.

      3. Unfortunately, I think we’ll see light rail to Ballard before we see Magnolia allowing the “Ballard riff raff” to come in by bus. I’d love to see it happen though.

        I had a hunch the 29 might be used, but I only ever see the Ballard tail of it, I never see it once it disappears into the thick of Queen Anne. But I see the 62 on all lengths of it’s route and it never seems to be very crowded. I wonder if people just use it as a route 40 alternate (in which case, couldn’t they just delete the 62 and add some extra morning 40s to counter the 29?).

    2. Can you quantify how little it is and how many more service hours are needed? That would answer some of the criticisms like Aleks’ above that we should just let the cuts happen and it’ll only affect the service Metro should be cutting anyway.

      1. That’s actually a really helpful stat. I probably should have known that, but at least I do now. :)

        Frank, might I suggest that you update the post to include that information?

      2. I didn’t even include all of KCM’s low-productivity routes in my list (which I now see needs extra refinement, in any case). After necessary mitigation I don’t think I could cut more than 4%-5%. And my cuts would hit the Eastside disproportionately and so would be pretty much untenable politically, to boot.

  9. Can someone explain what that bottom graph is supposed to illustrate? I’ve been staring at it for a few minutes and can’t make heads or tails of it.

    First off, the scale on the graph starts with zero on the top and increases to $250 million on the bottom. Usually you put higher numbers, well, higher. Okay, let’s move on.

    Then there’s a gray line graph of sales tax revenue. Either the sales tax revenue is decreasing but doesn’t have a scale shown, or if we’re using the scale on the right it’s actually projected to go up somewhat significantly in the next few years.

    The line showing sales tax revenue is superimposed over a bar chart of something (expenses? budget cuts?) broken down by category. This bar graph is shown as diverging from the sales tax line, with an ominous $60 million red circle showing something, but what? If expenses are less than sales tax revenue that’s a good thing, right? I’m confused about pretty much every aspect of this graph.

    1. Yeah, I agree it’s confusing. My read is that the grey sales tax line is the is the delta between sales tax projections and actual sales tax collected. So in 2014, sales tax is collecting $200M less than projected (which matches the first chart). The color bars are the various actions Metro has taken to close the gap. You can think of the second chart, flipped over, as fitting entirely inside the red area of the first chart.

  10. “It’s not just Metro: transit agencies all over the state, including the Washington State Ferries, haven’t really made up for the money they lost after I-695 passed.”
    Let’s at least be accurate about this.
    In 1999, Metro’s budget was $484M providing 100M trips to a population of 1.7M residents.
    In 2011, Metro’s budget was $867M, providing 117M trips to a population of 1.9M
    So, inflating the budget at the CPI-U would give about $653M. Adding 10% for more residents being served would raise that to $718M, still short about 150M/yr after inflation and population are accounted for.
    Ridership is up an extra 7% over population growth, so now we are up to $768M.
    The graphs are pretty, but they don’t explain away why the budget is so much higher than either inflation or population growth will account for, and if Metro really wants to ratchet up taxes and fares significantly, it should be prepared to explain the reasons why, instead of just saying we’re gutting the system if we don’t get it.

    1. I’m about as far from an economist as it’s possible to be, but isn’t the CPI-U a measure of a “basket” of goods and services consumed by the general population? If so, would it be a fair multiplier for a service agency that buys very little or none of many of the goods/services in the index (food, clothing, housing etc.) and much more of others (fuel, vehicles etc.)?

      This may or may not make any difference to the multiplier, but if it does make a difference this could skew the figure you’ve arrived at.

      1. If there was a CPI-Transit I would have used it. I’m not trying to pick a fight today, but asking riders and non-riders for huge increases, on top of what they now give to ST for both Capital and Operation improvements for better local transit is a really big ASK.
        It should be justified to those that struggle to make ends meet, and blaming Tim Eyman for all the shortfalls is just not accurate.

      2. How much have healthcare costs increased over that period? Fuel costs? Are those not much more relevant to Metro than CPI?

      3. Likewise, this is far outside any area of my knowledge. But off the top of my head I can tell you that certain transit-specific costs have gone way up, even beyond healthcare, which has badly affected all employers.

        Buses are much more expensive because safety, accessibility, and emissions requirements have become far stricter. Modern diesel emissions controls in particular are very costly. On top of that, Metro has elected to go all-in on hybrids, which are more expensive yet from a capital standpoint, although they are slightly less expensive once in operation. (I think they are worth the cost — their operational performance is dreamlike, in addition to the environmental benefits. But you could disagree.)

        Also, fuel has roughly doubled since 1999…

      4. Fair enough, so what about all the efficiencies in the system and cost cutting should we credit to offset higher than normal fuel and medical costs?
        You can’t have it both ways. What about all the service hours ST has taken over from Metro to reduce their costs?
        It’s the never ending death spiral I have feared since the recession started, and complained bitterly about here with few sympathizers. The cuts and efficiencies should have started years ago to stave off disaster.
        So we cut all the lower performing routes (bottom 25%)next year, so now we have a new batch of bottom 25%ers. Another round of fares and taxes in 2016, else we whack away again?
        Will we still be blaming Tim, or will a new villain emerg?
        Here’s a good thought provoking article by John Niles, why Seattle spends $166M more than Portland on transit, after adjusting for area differences.
        It’s healthy to question government on how they spend your money. It keeps everyone on their toes, and Seattle should expect no less from Metro.

      5. #1) increasing fuel costs are a windfall for transit. Ridership increases dramatically and marginal cost increases are negligable since fuel is only about 10% of total cost. The increased fare revenue far exceeds the increased cost of fuel; even with Metro’s idiotic excursions into futures markets which should provide stability (management failure).

        #2) Capital costs are largely paid for with federal dollars. Metro buys the high priced spread (hybrids) because it’s cheaper after federally subsidies than conventional buses. Yes, Hybrids are good for certain routes but subsides often distort results into the sublime.

        Bottom line is Metro’s sales tax revenue has completely recovered since the bubble burst. You never hear it that way but why do you think housing is so expensive in Seattle? It’s because a lot of people have really good jobs and spend a lot of money (i.e. we aint’ Detroit). A lot of people have crappy jobs or no job at all but they never made a big contribution to the sales tax revenue. Fact is Metro is rolling in dough and is poised to be even richer. They are running fewer routes and claim to be more efficient. Where’s the beef?

    2. Fair question, mic. I’d love to see a more detailed breakdown of costs. My suspicion is that the rise in health care costs alone is enough to make up the difference. Transit labor costs are a classic “Baumol’s Cost Disease” situation, unions or no unions. I’d be happy to look into it further.

      1. I looked back to Oct ’09 Frank, when I made this frustrated post to STB on the Metro funding cliff. Well, here we are.
        “I’m concerned that many of STB’s readers are missing some important points that Martin has been trying to shed light on – Metro is in financial crisis, and the problem is getting worse.
        Even dire warning in today’s post (graph and all), merited only a couple of comments before the thread digressed into technical comments of graphing, definitions, smoking and SLU ridership. METRO IS BLEEDING CASH and it’s not being solved.
        Here’s one example, and I’m not picking on ST. SE Seattle has seen dramatic increases in service levels in the past year, with more to come. 5,500 ‘net-new’ service hours from Metro, and 70,000 new hours from Link serving MLK (plus DSTT and airport riders). In a recent SE Seattle meeting, Metro revealed they intend to add another 35,000 hours next Feb. to SE Seattle. (http://blog.seattlepi.com/transportation/archives/180763.asp#comments)
        “Metro’s manager of service development said 35,000 hours of bus service will be added next February to local streets in Southeast Seattle.”
        A recent post on STB placed all of this in perspective, showing SE Seattle service hours (Editorial: Stand behind your agency)

        In one year overall service has dramatically increased, and more is on the way!
        But Metro is broke, and will soon begin to cannibalize reserves, degrade service, shelters, buses, customer service, and accept huge ridership losses and bus overloads. What’s wrong with this picture?
        Another example: Metro unveils a new Rapid Ride route from Burien to Renton. The post quickly turns to running light rail between the two, and places for the station. This sounds like GM unveiling a new Hummer variant just before they beg DC for more cash.
        I read and post to STB for several reasons. I’ve moved out of the area, but still have kids and grandkids who depend on a healthy Metro to get around and I still have lots of friends who work at Metro and am saddened by today’s financial crisis. STB is read, posted to and respected for presenting facts and ideas on transit when local media is off covering the latest fashion craze or pop star sighting. Plus it’s a fun read for a transit junkie.
        OK STB and readers — Metro needs your help. Constructive ideas Welcome!”

    3. The original sales tax projections seem unreasonably robust. An increase from 425 m to 675 m over eight years. This is, I assume, nominal growth, but does not seem realistic to project this kind of growth without some slowdowns along the way.

      And the shortfall is not a shortfall from the current budget but from a trend line of a rapidly increasing budget projection. Actually the now projected 2014 total sales tax take looks to be the same as the tax take for 2008. There will have been some inflation in that period and service improvements, but also some efficiencies and fare increases. It is hard to tell whether this would be 17 percent. I am not here to argue against more transit funding, but the budget disclosures really have not been that clear.

      1. That 60% increase in eight years is starting at the top of the business cycle. With that sort of planning even a minor recession would result in big problems.

  11. The only problem with the MVET is the depreciation schedule was no where close to reality, and based off the msrp with no course for revaluation based on current value or sale price. Fix that and i might be supportive of MVET taxes for transit.

    1. Why should this matter. As long as everyone was treated the same, it really makes no difference how the thing is calculated. If vehicle values were reduced to reflect the actual market values, the tax rate would just have to be increased to raise an equivalent amount of money. People would still basically pay the same unless they had some unusual car that depreciated differently. Actually MSRP and straight line depreciation have the attraction of simplicity.

      1. Because people don’t like to be taxed unfairly, even if everyone else is paying the same unfair tax (which is why I-695 was so popular).

        The reality is, the MVET needs to be based off a realistic valuation for your vehicle, even if the rate is higher. Right now, its based off MSRP, which a) no one pays, and b) the formula is generally is no where near realistic for the current value of the vehicle.

        Also there’s no course for even attempting to talk about adjusting the valuation, since when you start asking you get punted around to different agencies (ST > DOL > DOR) and no one has an answer of how this thing works. I have been through this a couple of times before with a vehicle of mine and gotten no where, I cant wait until I can get collector plates for it.

      2. The problem was that by overvaluing older cars more than it did newer ones, it was effectively a subsidy from those who drove older cars to those who driove newer ones. In practice, I suspect that ended up being quite regressive.

      3. @Bill: “Quite regressive” compared to a perfectly calculated MVET. But compare it to the rest of the taxes collected here in Washington. No matter how badly it’s calculated it’s certainly better than sales tax.

      4. Considering that grocery store food, utilities, and housing are not subject to sales tax, sales tax is not as regressive as it might seem.

        Yes, cars are subject to sales tax, but fuel and insurance are not (*), and not everybody has to own a car anyway.

        (*) When the cost of fuel and insurance is included in the base rate of a rental car (e.g. Zipcar/Car2Go), not only is sales tax collected on such, but a car rental tax on top of that, for a total tax rate of 17.5%.

    2. Have a look at the current valuation schedule.


      It changed in 2010 and is much more accurate than it used to be.

      And of course it’s based on the MSRP. What do you expect the state to do? Waste its time chasing down average transaction prices for 1000 trim levels of new vehicles? That would be stupid.

      1. Can’t they just use the most recent sale price as a starting point, since that already has to be reported to the DMV?

      2. People would have precisely zero incentive to report that number correctly. The alternative would be to force people to submit, and force DOL to process, actual documentation supporting the sale price for each vehicle. That would be an enormous burden.

        Using MSRP is far more efficient and really not that far off.

  12. My only issue with the proposed legislation is that it is agency specific with separate proposals for Metro and Community Transit coming up this year. The law should be written for any transit agency that wants to pursue this (including city and regional agencies).

  13. If you really want to cut service in ways that get people’s attention to demand funding increases, how about furlough days? That’s right, simply decree that on the first Monday of every month, there will no bus service, period.

    For maximum effect, and savings, the furlough days should be weekdays, not Sunday.

    1. Excellent idea. It saves the most money, because nobody has to work. But make it Friday……..

    2. Even just one day of furlough, especially on a weekday, would have a huge impact in terms of making a statement on people who never ride the bus and believe that it has no effect on them.

      When people see just how bad the traffic is that day, compared to other days, and how much more difficult it is to find parking downtown, compared to other days, they will appreciate why our bus system needs to be funded.

      1. Aarg! Arg!
        And if that doesn’t work matey, we’ll send our pirates out to rape and pillage the landscape…
        … then the’ll come a runnin with their bounty.

      2. // sends in the socioeconomic care bears

        The effect of this plan (and I recognize it is hypothetical) is desirable, but the impact is more widespread.

        The impact also falls on people who have no options but the bus to get to work, like the construction worker who travels from Burien to Bellevue. (this is a route that you would drive if you could, rather than via DT -> Evergreen Pt)

        I imagine his Bellevue boss doesn’t give a damn about transit furloughs, his employment will be in jeopardy if he doesn’t show up, and there isn’t a rideshare he can take part in.

        So maybe in the next funding cycle, some people will remember the day of horrible traffic and maybe vote to fund a better transit system, but people who depend on transit will have had to search for new employment, or at least, lost a day of pay.

        On the other hand, white collar workers might take the day off (with no pay cut), or telework and have to provide their own drinks (the horror the horror).

      3. I would think if it was just one day, with lots of advance notice, that people would find a way to make due. Lots of people (including myself) would just take vacation and not come to work at all. And those that needed to come to work would have lots of time to arrange carpools with co-workers.

        Nevertheless, traffic would be considerably worse than on a normal weekday, especially around downtown. Parking downtown would be noticeably worse. I would not even be surprised to see private parking garages charging higher rates for that one day, in reaction to increased demand. No question, a Metro furlough day would be a huge windfall for downtown parking garage owners.

        I would also expect taxis on a hypothetical furlough day, to be very difficult to come by.

        But yes, inevitably some people without other options would be screwed.

  14. Raise the fares on the commuter expresses, both inside and outside Seattle. That’s what we did in Clark County and the ridership was not really affected. Of course, the 99th Street TC was opened about the same time, so that may have masked what would have been a downturn.

    1. Or do a distance based fare system like taxis do. Tap On, Tap Off (TOTO).

      1. Oy! We just got rid of pay-as-you-shove-to-the-exit. Metro seriously considered installing backdoor ORCA readers, and decided it wasn’t a viable plan. I was a proponent of such an approach, but can we trust that their techies know what they are talking about?

    2. This, so much this. Four criteria for routes that should have a peak-express fare, probably 2x the regular fare:

      1) Long distance traveled
      2) One-way (or other source of disproportionate expense)
      3) Local alternative available
      4) Most of the route has limited or no stops

      1. The idea makes sense. However, I would argue that trips in the reverse-commute direction should not be charged the premium fare, even if it is an express with a long distance traveled. The reason being that the marginal cost of operate reverse trips given that the buses are already out there operating peak trips is negligible. We need all the riders in the reverse direction we can get.

      2. David,

        Double the fare might be too high. Yes, it’s expensive to park in downtown Seattle, but infinitely so. C-Tran charges $1.00 more than the local “all zone” fare to Portland which is $2.25 That’s apparently enough extra that the expresses recover nearly 40% more than the local buses do (still not a lot –and NOT 40% overall — but more). Of course, they only run at the peak hours and are full on most runs. One nice thing about express buses — from the operator’s point of view at least — is that they only have as many runs as needed to clear the TC’s. There’s no base service with three or four people on a run occasionally.

        (This is not an argument for dropping base service, d.p., so calm down. It’s just stating a reality.)

        So for Metro, a similar surcharge on the peak in-city expresses would be about 40% more than the peak period local fare and 33% for the two-zone ones, not double.

        More might work, but doing it incrementally doesn’t carry as much risk.

      3. No need to calm me; you’re not being unreasonable.

        Though if any of your all-day “base” routes routinely have trips with three or four people, you’re probably doing it wrong. Route consolidations and transfer-based services with very high frequencies should put an end to any of that.

      4. d.p.

        There are a few all-day (but not evening) base routes in Clark County running once an hour that are purely “equity” based. But they serve the only part of the county which always supports transit (the 49th LD). So they’re probably a “good investment” for the financial health of the system, even if they do nothing for congestion or air quality.

        The C-Tran service area has been shrunk and shrunk again in the face of hostility from the areas of the county not within Vancouver proper and Hazel Dell/Salmon Creek. There is one route with fifteen minute base service, one with twenty minute and three with thirty minute bases. The other six lines all run once an hour to serve pockets of high-transit dependence or those supporters of transit who want it available for their kids or snow days.

        Then there are the very popular express routes.

        It’s certainly not the best of all possible worlds, but it’s about right for a suburban “city” with an inferiority complex.

    3. The ridership shift from the 592 to Lakewood Sounder is a good case study in the willingness of riders to pay more for premium service. It’s too bad the 592 is ST’s to cut, as that is gobs of service hours that don’t have a ridership to speak of needing alternate service that doesn’t already exist.

      1. ST will cut 592? Where did you find that out? I would want to lookup the 577,578, and 574.

      2. I *think* Brent is saying that ST *won’t* cut the 592. But that it *should*, because its ridership is taking Sounder by preference, and the buses and the drivers could be better used elsewhere.

    4. I don’t think that this is the right answer, and will simply drive away riders to cars (no pun intended).

      People are really surprised that is costs $2.25-$3.00 (!) to ride the bus. Although it will still always beat car costs for commutes, raising fares beyond the already-high status quo will make riding the bus seem ridiculous to some. Imagine if a short trip on the bus cost you $3.00 each way. Taking a car might be cheaper.

      If they want to increase fare revenue, then they should try this:
      Single ride (no transfer): $2.00
      Transfer 1 zone off-peak: $2.50
      Transfer 2 zone off-peak: $2.75
      Transfer 3 zone off-peak: $3.00
      Transfer 1 zone peak: $2.75
      2 zone peak: $3.25
      3 zone peak: $3.50

      Zone 1 = South King County (South of Seattle and Bellevue, including Bellevue)
      Zone 2 = Seattle
      Zone 3 = North of Seattle and Bellevue, including Bellevue.

      1. …And under your proposal, no one-seat rides ever get cut again.

        David L has the right idea. Charge a premium for actual premium services. Keep regular fares as low as possible.

        In addition, charge a premium for wasting time. At peak, using cash will cost you $3 and you won’t get any transfer credit at all. Don’t like it? Get a damned ORCA, and your fare drops to $2.25, with transfers, any time of day.

      2. Charging $3 for 2-zone peak expresses hasn’t seemed to deter ridership, or transfered it to ST routes charging $2.50 for the same trips. Notice how people gladly pay the extra fifty cents to avoid Mercer Island P&R.

        But don’t forget the premium service Metro isn’t charging for at all: Pay with cash, no penalty. This is one example of very-low hanging fruit Metro hasn’t picked (but is at least pondering, since it is mentioned in the LIFOAC’s notebook). A little more income from a cash surcharge in exchange for the privelege of slowing down the bus by 4.6 to 6.8 seconds, according to Metro’s numbers. Faster service. Service hours saved — probably enough to cover 1-4% of the 17%. Not a real fare increase. What’s not to like?

      3. Also, zone systems and the CBD do not mix. If a route could be 1-, 2-, or 3-zones, then a lot of riders will be asking for zone resets, turning them into virtual worse-than-cash-fumblers. Metro’s workaround since October 2012 has been to pre-set a lot of local routes to one zone (meaning everyone riding over the zone line is a pre-forgiven fare evader, unless they have a 2-zone pass), and pre-set some (not all) 2-zone expresses to 2 zones. A service-type-based fare avoids this mess.

      4. Every major East Coast city charges a much higher fare for premium express service, usually $4 to $6. And people pay it! When parking is $250/month, it gives people a big incentive to use transit. When passes are heavily subsidized, it mitigates the pain of a $5-$6 fare to some degree, as well.

      5. What’s not to like on charging a cash premium is that the lowest-income, most transit-dependent riders are the ones who suffer. They are the ones who can’t afford to buy a monthly pass and pay by the trip. I admit I’m not as familiar with Seattle as I am with St. Louis, but that’s certainly the case in St. Louis and I don’t see why Seattle would be different. It would be nice if people “just” got a card, but there are all kinds of challenges to being that low-income that those of us who haven’t experienced it, have no idea.

      6. Jennifer, you don’t need to buy a monthly pass to avoid a cash premium. You just need an ORCA card. You can put money in the e-purse in small increments.

        And, yes, we should be handing out free ORCA cards like candy, not charging $5.

      7. Brent, who’s paying an extra 50 cents to avoid the MI P&R?

        – People who ride the 21x in preference to the 545? My observations at Eastgate are that people fall into two categories: those who want to be able to catch teh bus downstairs, which force them to ride the 212 who just ride the first bus to come upstairs who are going to end up on a 21x more often than not simply because they are so much more frequent.

        – People riding the 202? Both of them? Paying an extra fifty cents not to have to drive at all seems like a more likely explanation — it would certainly be mine.

        The fact of the matter is that my natural journey these days is car to the MI P&R and the 550, but I end up having to use a bus from Eastgate because the P&R fills up too early to be useful. At best, this is paying 50 cents for a more relaxed morning routine for myself and my kids. At worst, it’s simply transit reaping a benefit from its own bad planning.

      8. Jennifer,

        St. Louis doesn’t have a contactless smart card, so there is no pay-per-ride alternative to cash or ticket vouchers there.

        The lack of a cash surcharge slows down buses and costs service. Less service hurts the poor.

        You can look at the lack of a cash surcharge as a de facto subsidy for poor riders. But then, it is a poorly-targetted subsidy, as plenty of middle- and upper-income riders take advantage of the personal convenience of cash, to the detriment of every other rider. Metro could do something clever like calculate how much additional income they are getting from cash surcharge collection (which would probably come out to $1-2 million a year, before the remaining third of Metro riders opting for cash switch to ORCA) and allocate that extra income to subsidizing monthly passes for low-income riders. Metro will save more from faster service due to the cash surcharge than it will bring in from cash surcharge fare revenue, BTW.

      9. “middle- and upper-income riders take advantage of the personal convenience of cash”

        Many middle- and upper-income people think cash is a burden, and are using Starbucks cards and debit cards to avoid carrying cash. So why doesn’t this phenomenon transfer to ORCA cards? I think because most of them are occasional or first-time riders. By my observation, when people pay cash they are mostly lower income, teenagers, or aren’t familiar with the bus system. E.g., “How much does it cost?” “Can you change a 5?” “Does this bus go downtown?” (No, the one across the street does.)

        As to why newbies expect buses to take cash, it’s because it has been drummed into their head since they were children by movies and anecdotes that all buses everywhere take cash and that’s the primary form of payment. They know frequent riders have monthly passes, but since they’re not a frequent rider it has nothing to do with them.

      10. I have a big problem with charging for transfers. Before this last round of service cuts I could take the 56 non-stop to downtown, about a six mile ride. With the slash of service, I now walk 1/4 of a mile and take two busses to get downtown. I don’t like the idea of paying a 25-75 cent surcharge to walk longer and take multiple busses due to service reduction.

      11. Maddie, no one is suggesting making you pay for a transfer… as long as you have an ORCA card.

        The cash transfer penalty would only be for those refusing to use ORCA (and thus holding everyone else up).

      12. David L, my comment was in reference to AlexKven’s post above. Maybe I misunderstood his post plus I may have inserted my comment incorrectly…I kinda stink at these postings!

      13. Maddie, no worries. I think I was the one who misinterpreted AlexKven’s post. I totally agree that we shouldn’t be penalizing people for transfers unless they’re using cash (although people who transfer onto premium service should pay the difference between their first fare and the premium fare).

      14. As I said at the top on the nest, Alex was simply wrong to suggest that.

        The only systems that continue to reinforce bad behavior (demanding one-seat commutes over all else) by charging extra for transfers are in places like Philadelphia — i.e. places notorious for having accumulated backwards policies over the years, and for having far less transit usage than you would expect given the extent of their existing service infrastructure.

        On the other hand, policies that subtly encourage painless transfers and farecard adoption, while discouraging on-board use of cash, are the domain of progressive, high-demand, high-functioning, and improving systems from London to Hong Kong to New York.

      15. Oh, and I shouldn’t neglect to berate Pittsburgh.

        Pittsburgh has never met a terrible transit policy it didn’t adopt. Expensive transfers, no multi-fare discounts, one-seat rides everywhere, “BRT” infrastructure that is 100% useless within the city proper. They’ve even still got “pay as you shove to the front”.

        Unsurprisingly, non-downtown-commute transit ridership in Pittburgh is bloody awful. Commuter usage isn’t particularly impressive either.

      16. Washington D.C. has an express bus from Dullas to downtown D.C., which is largely redundant with the orange line. It did charge a premium fare of $6 one-way. However I gladly paid it because the only alternate route (a shuttle from Dullas to the nearest Orange Line station, West Falls Church) would have cost $10, plus an additional $4-5’ish to ride the orange line train, itself.

        A premium fare for an express buses that is both redundant with and slower than the Metro, makes perfect sense. What doesn’t make sense is why the shuttle bus that goes just to the nearest Metro station charges a higher fare than the bus that goes all the way downtown.

      17. The shuttle from Dulles Airport to Metrorail is the (privately-run) Washington Flyer Coach Service. Unfortunately, the free transfer on SmarTrip doesn’t help. So, why does Metrorail not reach Dulles?

        One possible answer is that Metrorail is already at peak capacity, as indicated by their peak-of-peak surcharge (which feature allows the balance on a SmarTrip card to go to -$2 upon tap-off, and is dogging their desire to make SmarTrip free).

        So, a key difference between here and there is that we are still trying to get people to ride Link, and DC Metro is trying to manage capacity on their trains.

      18. It feels very strange that in D.C. the service that goes just from the airport to the Metro station would be privately run, while the service that provides the one-seat ride from the airport all the way downtown would be publicly run. Normally, if both types of service exist, I would expect the reverse.

        Also, with respect to capacity on the Metro, the 5A (Dullas->downtown D.C.) is a pretty small bus that, even during the peak, runs only every half hour. Even if the bus is packed, it’s capacity is negligible, compared to the capacity of the Orange Line trains.

        Finally, there are plans to extend MetroRail service to the Dullas Airport in the future via the Silver Line, parts of which are already under construction. Once MetroRail does directly serve the airport, I expect the 5A to be dead.

  15. I paid more for tabs on my 1972 Ford Fairlane in 1984 than I do on my current 2005 Dodge minivan. Soooooo tired of the whiners on the MVET.

    1. Yep. I just renewed the tabs on my 2009 vehicle a couple of weeks ago. I larded its plate down with expensive extras (personalized, and special background for national parks) and even then the total was less than it cost in 1993 to renew for the pedestrian 1987 car I had at the time.

  16. Last week, I took the 197 home to Federal Way from the U-district, and…
    How is this route in the bottom 25%? That thing is packed to the gills. And a packed bus is a financially efficient bus. I know that the driver has to drive the same distance without passengers, but still, even this load spread across this distance should make it more productive.

    Maybe it’s the Twin Lakes p&r routing. If they just ran it to Federal Way TC, then would it make the cut? 173 does, and it’s not in the bottom 25%.

    This just baffles me.

    1. Cutting the 197, and making more buses have to crawl through downtown on a forced transfer, makes no sense at all, even if Alex is exaggerating the 197’s ridership. I would even say bringing back the 133 Burien-to-U-District express would be a cost-saving measure, if headway is set to keep the buses packed (which is a big if), and service hours for those riders are pulled from the heavily-used buses that get those same riders to downtown and then to the U-District. Not happening.

      But consider who represents Federal Way: Tracy Eide, Co-Chair of the Senate Transportation Committee. Metro has to put her and Chairwoman Judy Clibborn of the House Transportation Committee on the hot seat in order to get action. If only the low-ridership routes serving Federal Way and Mercer Island are cut, it isn’t a very effective tactic.

      1. You don’t have to look for a political reason to figure out why the 197 is on the list. You just have to look at where the route goes and how it serves passengers. It’s a service pattern that is tailor-made to perform poorly on Metro’s metrics (and most others). The only metric on which it might perform even OK is average load factor, which Metro doesn’t use to evaluate route performance.

      2. So, the 197 should terminate at Federal Way TC and at a spot closest to I-5 on the Ave, right? If UW sees their routes getting cut, won’t they want to reduce their Husky Pass payment to Metro?

      3. Brent, that would help. My view is that the 197 should be truncated to Federal Way P&R/TC (serve them both) right now, and then cut altogether once University Link is open. In my opinion U-Link will make commuter routes from the south to UW completely redundant; going downtown and transferring to Link will actually be faster than the one-seat ride at rush hour.

      4. The last time AlexKven referred to the 197 as “packed to the gills”, I had never even heard of the route.

        By sheer coincidence, the next day I was waiting for a 43 at the stop right before the 197 gets on the highway, and happened to see the last 197 of the day go by. It was an articulated bus carrying exactly 12 people (I counted).

        I’m not calling Alex a liar, but it’s clear he’s a victim of observation bias. He obviously tends to be on the sole trip per day in each direction with anything resembling a full load — presumably the last one inbound in the morning and the 5:00 or 5:30-ish bus outband.

        From the contrast between his “packed” description and the empty bus I saw, I wouldn’t be surprised of the vast majority of 197 ridership is on a single trip.

        Either way, it’s clear that this is not a direct trip of overwhelming need. There are lots of express downtown-Federal Way buses every day, especially around this time. Make getting in and out of downtown and transferring there less of a nightmare — as we should be doing for the benefit of all — and the 197 has zero reason to exist.

      5. I also resent the fact that if you need have to live all the way in Federal Way or Tacoma to get a bus to the U-district that bypasses downtown, while people closer in, for instance, Burien, Tukwila, West Seattle, have to go through downtown. It’s almost like we’re telling people that if you want a quick ride to work, you have to live far, far away.

      6. It takes Link longer to get from SeaTac to downtown than it takes the 197 to get all the way from Kent to Campus Parkway. Seriously. Taking the Link would add a half hour to my commute, *if* it were possible to get a space in the station park-and-ride, which it isn’t.

      7. Orv, you wouldn’t ride Link all the way downtown from the south end. You’d take an existing Federal Way express downtown and take Link from downtown to UW Station — a 6-minute trip.

    2. The 173 *is* on the elimination list. Of course, alternative service is available A + 124, both of which are not actually packed to the gills, and the 173 is only two runs each way.

      Are you thinking of the 193, which is merely on the restructure list? Oddly, the 303 is the only First Hill Express not being threatened. I was under the impression that all five FH expresses are subsidized by First Hill major employers, and Metro would be forgoing subsidy revenue if those routes are cut.

      1. Although 173 is on the “to cut” list, it is performing above the bottom 25%. That is what I meant.

      2. The First Hill expresses are subsidized to some degree, but not enough that they don’t have to perform. And performance of a few (particularly the 211, 265, and the First Hill part of the 64) is iffy at best.

    3. Distance, distance, distance. The 197 is traveling a very long way, and spending a very long time, for a single group of 50 or so passengers. That makes it perform abysmally on the boardings per revenue hour metric. Because of the extremely long deadhead segments, and the fact that a significant chunk of the ridership is getting on mid-route, it doesn’t even perform all that well on the passenger miles per platform mile metric.

      Extremely long commuter routes are very difficult to make perform well. This is why a 2x express fare is necessary. Such a fare works very well in Boston, New York, and Washington D.C; parking and driving expense are so high that people gladly pay it.

  17. Alex, I think that what he’s saying is that Metro doesn’t have teh authority to cut the 592 (because it’s a ST bus) not that ST are planning to cut it.

  18. To what extent does the cut list take into account the opening of the First Hill Street Car? If the 205, 211, and 193 can hold on that long, they’ll at least only be adding one bus to downtown traffic, rather than two. At that point, I think we can let go of them.

  19. Continuing Jobs Sprawl means that this was a self inflicted wound.

    Rather than chasing customers (and their taxbase) into the suburbs, they chose to dictate to the market with over building in centralized density…a place that fewer and fewer will choose to live or work.

    All the decisions in the last 20 years have been tragic mistakes, not only for the taxpayers, but now it seems for the agencies themselves!

    How would a Metropolitan Seattle look now if transit were run by rationalists back then? You might have 100 miles of LINK on elevated trestles, running from downtown to Everett, to Kent, to Renton, Bellevue and Issaquah.

    It would have been built for $100 per mile, quickly. And we would have left the tunnels for later.

    That system would work. It would do what people wanted…and what they thought they paid for.

    1. Make that $100 million per mile. My polemic is little off today.
      Time for a bike ride.

    2. a place that fewer and fewer will choose to live or work.

      Which, of course, perfectly explains the ~20% rise in central Seattle housing prices in just the past year, despite a significant amount of new supply.

      If you were making any sense, Seattle prices would have been flat, and a ~20% rise would have happened on East Hill instead.

    3. I think your “polemic” is a little off the mark. Either that or the Free Market (TM) is in the process of failing abysmally in Seattle.

      “Why?” you ask.

      Well because one can’t have “density” without people living — and working — within it. So, if in Seattle has density run amok such that “fewer and fewer will choose to live or work” there, then the developers who are putting up apartments, apodments, condoments, and breath mints all over Seattle are going to take a bath!

      Better warn them now!

  20. As a state employee and Metro rider I have to say blaming our pensions is not fair or right. Public employees earn less than the private sector and thus make up for that in the benefits but even those have not kept pace. It’s not the fault of the employees that the legislature chooses to underfund the pension plans . Bus drivers put up with so much crap from the public that the least we can do it let them retire without worry that they will not be able to afford to live because their pension will be cut and who knows if social security is going to be around for those like me in their early 40’s now.

  21. Let me pose the question in a slightly different manner: Are there any routes on the list to be cut there are more worth keeping than it is worth to run the 101 all the way downtown instead of to Rainier Beach Station?

    1. I’ve been thinking more about this area lately, and I think it would be far easier to truncate the 106 than the 101, for about the same savings (a little more, actually) in service hours. There are a variety of ways to restructure routes to cover South Beacon Hill, and the Georgetown part can just disappear (especially if the 124 is ever made into frequent service, which it should be).

  22. I’m one of those who started using Orca less and cash and tickets more. Why? Because Orca gives you a strict two hour transfer and the paper one often gives you 2.5-3 hours and the return trip driver will often let you go a half hour beyond that. If we reduced the transfer to 60-90 minutes and enforced it, we could take a big chunk out of that 17%.

    1. The longer transfer window for paper transfers is an accidental artifact of the way our paper transfer system works. Changing it strictly enforce 60-90 minute transfer windows would require the transfer slips to have timestamps printed on them as they are handed out, rather than pre-printed pieces of paper which are exactly the same. This would cost significantly more to administer.

      I would rather simply eliminate paper transfers altogether and spend the money and effort to make obtaining an Orca card easier. One simple solution would be to distribute Orca cards on the bus. Simply insert a $10 bill into the farebox and the driver hands you back an Orca card pre-loaded with $5, minus the fare for the current trip.

      It would also be nice if we had machines to reload Orca cards available right there on the bus. Lots of other cities have this. Even Houston has this. There is no reason why Seattle can’t have this too.

  23. What can you do about it?

    Petition Congress to stop long distance passenger trains.


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