On Monday, King County Executive Dow Constantine issued his proposed budget (warning: 100 MB (!) PDF) for the 2015/2016 biennium. The headline news for Metro is no surprise, as Metro and the executive announced it a few days ago: 400,000 annual service hours will be cut from the 2013-2014 baseline level, with 320,000 of those spread between service changes next week and next February, and another 80,000 to be cut in March 2016 if the revenue picture fails to make further improvement. (City-level measures such as November’s Seattle-only vote may defer or eliminate a few of these cuts, but the county’s budgeting process can’t take uncertain city funding into account.) The headline impact is a $21 million annual reduction in Metro’s direct service budget.
A detailed read of the budget proposal, though, reveals a few interesting tidbits that were not previously public. I’ll list some of those here, below the jump. This thread is an open thread with respect to Metro and King County Transportation budgeting; please feel free to discuss the items I list or anything else you see in the transportation section of the proposed budget.
Move to Two Service Changes. For as long as we can remember, Metro has had three service changes, or “shakeups,” per year. At each shakeup, Metro can change or adjust service or move existing trips around as needed for efficiency. Drivers also pick new work, based on seniority. Beginning in March 2016, the Executive proposes to move to only two service changes per year, and predicts that the move will save $190,000 for 2016 through reduced overtime and printing costs. This seems like a no-brainer, in general. The only question I have is how annual summer cuts to school and college service, now rolled into the summer shakeup, will be handled.
Elimination of Printed Timetables. A longtime sign of service changes is a new color in buses’ timetable racks. The budget proposes to save $200,000 annually by eliminating printed timetables starting in 2016, but states that “a number of mitigation and educational activities will need to be put into place” to support the change. Personally, I would prefer the elimination of paper transfers.
New Technology Resources. The budget proposes adding an analyst position for the purpose of helping “successfully transition various large transit technology projects into an operational phase,” and adding substantial resources to support transit signal priority. This is an area where Metro has long struggled, as the interminable RapidRide C/D/E rollout and Metro’s extended transition to its current bus radio system amply demonstrated. The roughly $370,000 annual investment is a welcome surprise, especially in a time of service cuts.
Management and Staff Reductions. Beyond the obvious reduction in operators, the proposed budget includes other reductions in management and staff commensurate with the planned reduction in service hours.
- Eight base chief and service supervisor positions,
- one superintendent,
- one auditor,
- 10 vehicle maintenance personnel,
- three planner positions,
- six data entry positions,
- four design and construction positions, and
- one rideshare position
will get the ax, for a total savings of roughly $3.5 million annually. These are partially offset by:
- the two new technology positions described above,
- three new security camera technicians,
- one new lost and found position,
- one new physical asset management position,
- one new construction coordinator, and
- two new leave coordination positions.
New positions will also be created to support Sound Transit-funded projects, including the First Hill Streetcar, University Link, and the Angle Lake Link extension.
Fleet Renewal. The budget continues to fund existing fleet renewal projects, which include:
- 60 35-foot hybrid buses delivered in 2014-15, replacing high-floor Gillig Phantom 30-foot diesel buses delivered in 2000.
- 60 40-foot hybrid buses delivered in 2014-15, replacing the last of the high-floor Gillig Phantom 40-foot diesel buses delivered between 1994-1998.
- 86 40-foot trolleys for delivery in 2015, replacing high-floor Gillig Phantom trolleys delivered in 2001 (but which reused propulsion hardware from Metro’s 1979 AMG trolleys).
- 55 articulated trolleys for delivery in late 2015 and 2016, replacing Breda trolleys that were delivered in 1990 and refurbished in 2004.
In addition, the budget proposes initial funding for three more bus procurements, which would result in a Metro fleet that is entirely low-floor, air-conditioned, and either hybrid or trolley:
- 200 articulated hybrid buses for delivery in 2016. These would replace all of the remaining New Flyer D60 high-floor diesel buses delivered in 1999-2000, with a few left over, possibly to replace the 30 oddball New Flyer D60LF diesel low-floor buses delivered in 2004.
- 100 articulated hybrid buses for delivery in 2019-2021. This is an anticipated expense in the 2017-2018 biennium, included in this budget only for explanation. These would be the first hybrid buses to replace older hybrid buses–the first batch of New Flyer DE60LF hybrids delivered in 2004.
- 105 40-foot hybrid buses for delivery between 2017 and 2020. These would replace Metro’s first batch of low-floor New Flyer buses, delivered in 2003.
Alternative Transportation. The proposed budget includes $3 million annually in new alternative transportation funding, intended to provide a “new ‘toolbox’ of alternative services.” The “toolbox” could include privately operated community shuttles such as the Valley Shuttle; multimodal “Community Hubs” in places suffering service cuts; and rideshare programs. It is not clear from the budget’s description how much of the appropriation would be for direct operational support and how much would be for planning and development work. $3 million is a very large number in light of the $21 million annual direct service cut, and I find it difficult to believe that the county wouldn’t benefit more from simply leaving the $3 million in Metro’s direct service budget.