In attempt to call attention to the human suffering that the legislature’s failure to authorize more transit taxes will cause, the King County Council is accepting testimony about that subject on May 14th:

A potential 17 percent reduction in Metro transit service due to a lack of sustainable revenue will be the topic of a special meeting of the Metropolitan King County Council’s Transportation, Economy and Environment Committee:

      Tuesday, May 14
3:30 p.m. open house
4:00 p.m. public testimony
Union Station
401 South Jackson Street, Seattle

One can also comment online to lesser effect.

When discussing political tactics, it’s tempting to discuss “starving the beast” to force efficiencies through a round of steep cuts. While there are times that may be appropriate, it’s important not to lose sight of the impact on actual people cuts of this magnitude will have.

58 Replies to “King County Taking Comments on Metro Cuts”

  1. When discussing political tactics, it’s tempting to discuss “starving the beast” to force efficiencies through a round of steep cuts. While there are times that may be appropriate, it’s important not to lose sight of the impact on actual people cuts of this magnitude will have.

    Exactly. The way to achieve efficiencies is to keep banging and banging and banging at the political drum. Compare the current network to the one from 1983 or 1993 and you can see just how far we’ve come; although there is still a long way to go, it doesn’t justify blowing the system up.

    1. For those who weren’t here then, going back to 1990 would mean decreasing the midday 16, 48 and 150 to 30 minutes. The midday 2 and 358 to 20 minutes. The evening 7, 36, 49, C, D, 26/28, and 44 to 30 minutes. The 255 and 271 to 60 minutes. The 8, 67, and 234 would be gone. The evening 65 would be gone. ST would not be directly affected, but for reference the predecessors of the 550 were 30 minutes and the 522 was 60 minutes.

      1. Not only that, but you’d have crazy, insanely long routings like the old 6/174 through route (Aurora Village to Federal Way… what’s the probability of staying on time?)… or the old 340 (your local service in Tukwila is 20 minutes late because of congestion in Totem Lake)… or the old 235 (Kingsgate to Seattle via Beaux Arts and I-90)… or the old 251 and 254 (120-minute service from Redmond to Seattle via Kirkland neighborhood streets). We have already done so much rationalization of the network that I know it’s possible to do a lot more.

      2. The 174 and 6 were interlined??? That takes the cake. And I thought the 226/255 was silly (Redmond – Crossroads – Bellevue – Enatai – Mercer Island – Seattle – Montlake – Kirkland – Kingsgate).

      3. You better believe it. I’m sure someone had some appealing vision of one-seat service all the way up and down 99. Not sure if a 174/6 trip or a 340 trip took longer end to end.

    2. I’m glad, if only for my sake, that I brought up the issue. I may have started with a very naïve viewpoint, but I certainly learned a lot from the ensuing discussion. :)

    3. A 17% reduction in service isn’t going back to 1990. It’s going back about just 5 years. Same level of service hours.
      The sky is not falling. There will be no human suffering. We had great bus service 5 years ago, and we will have it after we trim some fat.

      1. well considering inflation it is going back more than five years that’s for sure. we have the same tax rates now as five years ago albeit with lower consumer spending. there will be an impact. most of the major routes will be spared but as we’ve seen with pt and ct the cuts will have an impact. five years ago the 37 existed. it will not exist next year. not such a bad thing unless you live on beach drive for example. also five years ago the 153 existed but next year it may not and it will crowd the 150 that you ride on every day. this is no joke and once we go down the slippery slope who knows how far we will fall.

      2. We have not gained 17% in service hours in the last five years.

        In any case, you’re overlooking the fact that the population is quite a lot higher than it was last time we had 17% fewer service hours. Metro ridership has gained approximately 20% just in the last decade. And there is less bang per service hour because of increased traffic congestion. Providing only the same number of service hours that we did 10 years ago will mean much more crowded buses, many more pass-ups, and more of the recent additions choosing to go back to their cars and worsen traffic.

      3. we have the same tax rates now as five years ago albeit with lower consumer spending.

        Not true. Sales tax revenue are at the same percentage and bringing in more money. Add to that the $20 tab fee that’s not likely to die and a federal grant program that gives away free money to buy more efficient buses. A population increase in King County is a plus for Metro. Congestion is a plus for Metro. Higher fuel costs are a plus for Metro. Either they are crying wolf (what I suspect since it’s so easy to scare the sheep) or they it’s just a totally inept agency that should be dug up and reseeded. Take your pick; but it’s not a lack of revenue.

      4. David L,

        It doesn’t negate your primary point — 17% is a substantial cut, is significantly more service than has been added any time in the recent past, and would be palpably felt — but the “many more pass-ups” claim really does fall on deaf ears as long as Metro squanders 40% of its carrying capacity to the mantra of “more seats, make them huge, standing room be damned”.

        If a 17% cut convinced Metro to break out the chainsaw and go to town on the aisle-blocking seats, I would consider that a triumph.

      5. “A population increase in King County is a plus for Metro. Congestion is a plus for Metro. Higher fuel costs are a plus for Metro.”

        I’ll grant you that added population will lead to added ridership, and added fuel cost is probably balanced out by added fare revenue, but I don’t think that it’s so obvious that added congestion is a net positive. Yes, it may cause some people to switch to the bus and add to fare revenue, but to the extent that the added congestion slows the bus down, it increases the operating cost per platform hour.

        Added ridership does bring added fare revenue, but it’s not all roses either. More ridership means more stops, added dwell time and potentially passups. At some point you need to add service, which means more buses, more drivers, more mechanics and maintenance time, more or bigger bus bases, etc. And if the rider experience is bad enough, a portion of your added ridership will go back to the car.

      6. More ridership means more stops, added dwell time and potentially passups. At some point you need to add service,

        Overall, very few Metro routes are at the point where they are close to capacity. I see primarily the eastside but even routes like the 255 have loads of extra capacity. Congestion drives more people to the reverse commute. In the 70’s and into the 80’s the Lake Washington bridges were clear sailing in the reverse commute. Now the traffic is almost balanced. The reverse commute on 405 north of Bellevue at least to Totem Lake or Bothell will increase significantly over the next 10-20 years meaning far less “dead heading” which can only help Metro and ST’s bottom line. Of course East Link will leave the East Subarea as rail poor as everyone else except North King which gets it’s free ride on ST Express costs.

      7. Overall, very few Metro routes are at the point where they are close to capacity.

        That is only true if you’re averaging all segments on all trips at all hours.

        Many, many Metro routes are at or over capacity at peak hours. A substantial number is at capacity throughout the daytime (A, D, 3/4, 7, 9, 40, 41, 44, 48, 67, 71/72/73, 164/168, 169, just to name a few that account for lots of hours). And yet more are at capacity on a single high-ridership segment.

        To “make use of” unused capacity, you’d have to cut off-peak and night frequency, or truncate lots of trips — not something that makes for a usable or legible network. It’s not possible to have a functional bus network with every seat full at all times.

      8. Oh, and one other thing…

        Of course East Link will leave the East Subarea as rail poor as everyone else except North King which gets it’s free ride on ST Express costs.

        How in the heck does North King get a “free ride” on ST Express costs? The only routes that even serve a substantial number of North King residents are the 522, 545, 550, and 555. North King pays for a piece of all four.

      9. Several fallacies exist in this thread. First, sales tax revenues have not held steady. Sales tax declined by about 25% during the recession. Now, four years later the economy is growing by about 3-4% a year. It will take at least a decade for Metro revenues to return to where they were in 2008, while costs continue to rise.

        Second, added fuel cost is never good news. I heard Metro say each dime increase in price equals a million dollars.

        Finally, North King does not pay for ST Express service. But East King has plenty of money to build East Link since it took so long to build rail over there due to Bellevue’s dithering.

      10. Since the 2012 Metro Service Report is devoid of any actual numbers we’re still stuck looking at the 2010 Route Performance Report. 164/168, 169 Rides/Platform Hr. (Peak, Offpeak); (40.7, 49.7)/(21.9, 26.4), (41.8, 46.4). Hardly an artic packed to the gills and if there’s one segment that’s clogging up the works that’s indicative of bad system design. Engineers design computer buses to avoid choke points. There’s no reason transit planners can’t do the same with diesel buses in the Kent Valley. DT Seattle is a different story and there in lies the dilemma of density.

        522, 545, 550, and 555. North King pays for a piece of all four.

        Since when? Show me the budget line where North King is paying for any ST Express Service.

      11. reality based commute, my apologies… you’re right. North King is not paying for ST Express. I was under the impression that ST subarea allocations were made using the same procedure Metro used to use in the old 40/40/20 days, which is wrong.

        That said, it’s still amusing to hear people accuse North King of getting a “free ride” when ST has been using every penny of available North King funds, and then some, to build the inner portions of a Central Link spine that will heavily benefit all of the other subareas except Pierce.

      12. Bernie, the 164/168/169 are not artics. Not sure why the 169 is not, but the 164 and 168 have operational constraints that preclude their use. The 164 is full most trips all the way from Kent to GRCC. The 168 is full from Kent to somewhere around Lake Meridian, and has decent business as far as Covington. The 169 varies depending on time of day but is mostly full most of the time over the entire route.

      13. “Finally, North King does not pay for ST Express service.”

        Who is paying for the 522?

      14. Who is paying for the 522?

        East King.

        That’s not the right result, but I don’t feel too bad about that because of the Link situation.

      15. OK Sam, just _where_ is this fat you’re referring to? As far as I can see Metro has trimmed lots of stuff. If you mean making service unusable well then maybe that’s the “fat” you’re referring to.

      16. Bernie, the 164/168/169 are not artics.

        My bad. I only looked at the map for the 169 and like you say, it’s unclear why it wouldn’t be an artic when I see so many articulated buses running around Bellevue/Kirkland with a half dozen people on them. The 255 for example has nowhere near the ridership of the 169 yet I routinely see two artics running nose to tail during peak where the second bus is virtually empty. I don’t know Renton/Burien/Kent that well but it seems there should be a way around the operational constraints that would preclude higher capacity buses. A reroute, removing some parking or maybe Double talls?

      17. One area where North King may pay some ST Express related expense is debt service on the DSTT. The budget makes a reference to sharing this cost between Central Link and ST Express (due to the 550 being in the tunnel). Since the DSTT is in downtown Seattle, it makes sense that it should be charged to North King, but because it’s the 550 I wouldn’t be surprised if all the ST Express allocation were charged to East King.

      18. @aw: As long as farebox recovery is less than 100%, added ridership actually has a negative impact on the budget. You can’t sell every ride at a loss and make up for it in volume. ;)

      19. Orv, that’s not true until you have to add service to accommodate the riders. If you get more riders on existing service, there is no extra operating expense, and their fares are a net plus.

      20. Buses that run near capacity, of which Metro has a few serving DT Seattle, actually do generate greater than 100% fare recovery. The reason the current fare structure only has a 25% fare recovery ratio is because vast majority of buses run far below capacity. Airlines would be posting huge losses if they operated using Metro’s route metrics. That’s not to say public transit should be self sustaining but neither is it a free pass to fall back to 17% fare recovery and just increase taxes to cover the difference.

      21. That is because airlines operate for the sake a profit, not coverage.

        The analogy here would be for Metro to operate no service whatsoever, except rush hour commuter runs from P&R-s to downtown, and a tiny number of core inner-city routes, such as the 2, 7, and 49. The rest of the area would get no service whatsoever.

        Also, airlines do get government subsidies to serve some smaller communities that would otherwise not be profitable to serve. It’s called the Essential Air Service.

        So the concept of coverage-oriented routes, in addition to profit-oriented routes actually does exist for the airlines too.

      22. I thought I qualified my airline reference with “That’s not to say public transit should be self sustaining”. But the point remains that it is not a free pass to fall back to 17% fare recovery. KC Metro is now at something approaching 25% fare recovery. By that metric efficiency has improved nearly 50%! And really, for all of the sky is falling rhetoric and gnashing of teeth service coverage really hasn’t suffered and any honest observe knows there are still a lot more actual efficiencies to be pluck without a tall ladder. Cash reserves? Well, if these simple fixes to the stupid were incorporated before being forced by austerity… well; there would still be ample reserves. Take that model forward to the next burst of the bubble and everything is peachy. Or, we can regress to business as usual, spend ourselves into a hole and then cry about the giant “cuts” to the projected excesses.

  2. You know it’s a big deal when the King County Council gives you an opportunity to address them without going through a metal detector.

    1. What a sad commentary Matt L that the world is like that… :-(.

      I’m pro-military and I’m no pacifist but I sure would like a world where we one day have world peace. Transit helps us come together.

  3. If the public and legislators are confused about Metro funding, then I too share their pain.
    From the link above: “Since 2009, when revenues declined sharply, Metro has been able to avoid these cuts through $798 million in efficiencies, staff reductions, fare increases, reserve spending, and additional revenue.” … and stated above that shows the annual shortfall in revenue of now $75M.
    If MT has saved $798M in 3 years, why is $75M/yr a big deal now?
    From 1996 to 2006, local taxes for Metro rose 37% for operations ($196M to $268M), and only 22% for capital projects ($36M to $44M).
    This year Metro is forecasting sales taxes at $420M. This is a higher rate than in the previous 10 years prior to the recession.
    An unexplained trend in transit operations was recently revealed by JN here.
    John asks why transit cost per operating hour should nearly double by 2040, even after discounting for inflation.
    I don’t doubt for a second that Metro is broke, and will have to reduce service without another dose of tax revenue, but the math and logic behind all this is not easy to swallow.

    1. That $798 million is the total value of cost reduction PLUS additional revenue, including the CRC expiring soon and reserve funding is one-time only. JN didn’t read the data correctly.

      1. JN had nothing to do with reading the data. He merely asked some pointed questions why transit should be allowed to become twice as expensive (inflation adjusted) in the future, with little justification for doing so.
        Rapid Ride, ORCA, stop consolidation, and efficiencies seem to be skewing the cost model in the wrong direction.

    1. As a public service, raising fares is tricky because you need to think of the lowest common denominator, the person living in poverty who rides the bus to get to work each day, or the person on fixed income who uses the bus to get around. Could a lot of people probably afford to pay more? Yes, but who would be left behind?

    2. Metro already has another fare increase assumed in their budget for next year and their projected deficit includes this. This will be their fifth fare increase since 2008.

  4. Are any of the 65 routes on death row more important to keep than the duplicate-head in the 101, 102, 143, and 150? (That is to say, list some routes, and which of these four you’d prefer to see truncated before the other routes get cut.)

    Are any of the 65 routes on death row more important to keep that the de facto subsidy for cash fumblers?

  5. What about truncating some of the Eastside routes to feed in to Sound Transit Express routes (Example, some routes going into 545, 550 and 554)? Would this be a way of saving some money to save some other routes off the chopping block? Could Sound Transit beef up some of its routes?

    1. ST would have to add almost as many buses to carry those extra passengers, and would have to run those buses partially empty on the remainder of those routes east of the truncation points. It robs ST to pay Metro.

      Link and Sounder, however, have empty seats, or at least plenty of standing room in the case of peak-direction Link, still to fill. That’s why truncating the 158 at Kent Station and truncating the 101, 102, 143, and 150 at Rainier Beach Station would save platform hours and generate a profit for ST. Yeah, some riders will be annoyed to lose their one-seat ride, but at least they have a ride.

      A route serving 1st Ave S from the Des Moines Waterfront, then Normandy Park Dr, Des Moines Memorial Dr, and then 154th St to TIBS could also save a lot on service hours that would otherwise be spent on those same riders duplicate-heading downtown on the 121/122/123.

      1. It’s worth reiterating that Renton Transit Center and South Renton P&R are notable transfer points, which are oh-so-close to Rainier Beach Station. By extending those routes to the station — probably by merging them with the remaining portions of the routes that you’ve listed — you convert a lot of 2-seat bus rides into much simpler bus-train connections. I think that’s a much easier sell than 3-seat rides.

      2. The 148 is already through-routed with the 107.

        Since a frequency increase is not on the table, the best candidate for through-routing with the 101 is the 169, as we’ve talked about ad nauseam. After that, there aren’t many peak 101 runs left over, and they don’t match up easily with any other route, but the 153 comes closest.

        With the 143, a better selling point is to make the route consistent throughout the day.

    2. Dana: as others have said, the 550 et al. are very busy buses already; they don’t have spare capacity.

      Now, if East Link were built out to South Bellevue, you COULD truncate a bunch of buses there, because East Link will have a lot more capacity than the 500 et al. Sadly, various things have delayed East Link, which really should be under construction to South Bellevue already. (Most of the delay is due to the insistence on building expensive new carpool lanes on I-90 before even starting East Link construction.)

  6. I plan on going, but I’m just a little bit tired of Metro coming to the community with threats of cutting at the transit system every two years. Somehow they think the magic of public indignation will save them. Metro needs to do something substantial and not count on bandaid fixes that will require them to whine at the public that they’re going to hobble the entire system. Maybe the public needs to stand up to professional pain in the asses like Tim Eyman and realize that saving money in the wrong way won’t fix anything. If people haven’t realized that Tim Eyman only does these petitions because it’s how he makes a living they might think it through better.

    1. Metro does not have the power to “do something” to fix this by itself. Only the state legislature has the power to give Metro a new funding source (or at least authority to go to the voters for approval of a new funding source). Blaming Metro for this makes no sense; they can’t find a quarter of their budget in efficiencies, especially after already squeezing a lot of fat (and some muscle) out in the past couple of years.

      Metro is “whining at” the public that it needs to hobble the system because its only permanent funding source is very volatile, shrank badly in the recession, and has not kept up with costs or population growth since.

      1. they can’t find a quarter of their budget in efficiencies

        Nor do they have to. Sales tax revenue for King County has recovered to pre-recession levels. Metro hasn’t responded to a population increase with increased service hours but in fact has cut back while increasing fare recovery and been the beneficiary of a new car tab tax and mitigation funding for 520 and the viaduct. Things were tough in 2009 nine but even then revenue only dropped 12% from the previous near record level.

      2. Metro avoided massive service cuts during the recession largely by depleting reserves. If Metro is going to be responsible and avoid drastic service cuts the instant the next recession strikes, they need to replenish their reserves as quickly as possible.

        Which means one cannot reasonably expect service levels to immediately increase the instant sales tax revenues go up again.

        Then, there’s inflation. Yes, general inflation is now. But health care inflation is always high, and as long as Metro drivers continue to receive health benefits, the increased cost of health insurance for bus drivers transit into a higher per-service-hour cost for Metro.

      3. Bernie: in addition to health insurance inflation, diesel price inflation has been particularly high.

  7. I’m glad that Rapidride seems to be immune to these cuts because of a special tax. RapidRide getting less reliable than it already is is a scary thought.

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