KCM New Flyer XDE35 #3705

On Thursday the King County Council’s Budget and Fiscal Management Committee unanimously approved a 2015-16 budget ordinance that “maintains current levels of transit services.” The Council will formally take up the proposed budget in its scheduled meeting on Monday, November 17.  As all 9 council members serve on the Budget committee and voted to approve, approval is likely in the Council itself on Monday.

The proposed budget also:

  • Increases funding to $6M per year (corrected from “per biennium”) for an alternative-services “demonstration program” intended to “right size [transit] service options and help those communities most affected by recent service reductions.” The program will be led by Metro and “include discussion with local governments, nonprofit organizations, private businesses, community groups, and other stakeholders in communities where fixed-route transit may not be a cost-effective option.”
  • As part of the alternative-services program, provides for a regional task force to review and make recommendations regarding the Metro Service Guidelines. These are intended to be reflected in revisions to the [Metro] Strategic Plan and in further policy details for transit service agreements with cities.
  • Funds study of  “transition to a cashless fare system… [and elimination] of paper transfers”
  • Approves a low-income fare
  • Increases the number of discounted tickets for nonprofit agencies
  • Maintains the  target level for the fleet replacement reserve (RFRF) at 30% of estimated full replacement cost
  • Funds the recently-enacted “permanent Metro transit audit function”
  • Funds a “Strategic Technology Roadmap for Transit” to “address how technology will be used in the future to support Transit in delivering transit services”
  • Provides for a strategic plan to address “the housing affordability and homelessness crisis”  and specifically includes “microhousing” among the solutions to be considered.

The Ordinance itself does not include a revised Financial Plan for Metro that reflects its provisions, nor the impact on the Revenue Stabilization Reserve. But for those interested, this report by Council staff  evaluates financial plan scenarios of different service levels, reserve policies, and economic forecast assumptions. In that document, Scenario 3 seems to correspond to the recommended budget, and Scenario 4 evaluates that plan in the case of a “moderate recession.”

45 Replies to “County Budget Poised to Pass With No Further Metro Service Cuts”

  1. The transition to a cashless fare system & eliminating paper transfers caught my eye. The first part may take some time, but the second part should have happened a while ago since that is the whole point of ORCA…. right?

    What percentage of transit riders in the tri-county area pay via ORCA including ferries?

    In NYC for example the Metrocard acceptance rate is well over 90% on busses & is required to enter the subway system. Even in the burbs of Nassau & Westchester counties, MetroCard usage is over 75% if not higher than that since Nassau’s busses had MetroCard since 1998.

    1. “… that is the whole point of ORCA…. right?” No, that’s not the point of ORCA. Just as the point of Visa and MasterCard is not to eliminate U.S. currency. As many of you on this blog are fond of saying about public transit, that it’s not meant to take cars off the road, rather it’s meant to give commuters another option, so is ORCA not meant to replace cash fares, it’s just meant to give riders another payment option.

      1. Sam,

        The point of any electronic fare card system is to reduce cash handling by transit agencies. That is why so many transit systems have already done so or are transitioning to that form of payment. WMATA is testing a new version of payment right now that includes NFC technology from Apple pay, Google Wallet & an updated Smartrip card that doesn’t require insertion into the faregate.

        Some transit agencies such as the CTA, want to have open sourse

      2. Continued…

        Some transit agencies such as the CTA, want to have open sourse payment so they can get out of fare payment handling all together. The MTA in NYC has also expressed such desires for quite some time since it costs them fifteen cents per swipe to handle transactions.

        A fare card is more akin to a debit card or check card rather than a credit card since payment is nearly instant.

      3. Continued…

        Some transit agencies such as the CTA & WMATA want to have open sourse payment so they can get out of fare payment handling all together. The MTA in NYC has also expressed such desires for quite some time since it costs them fifteen cents per swipe to handle transactions. http://www.secondavenuesagas.com

        A fare card is more akin to a debit card or check card rather than a credit card since payment is nearly instant.

      4. Sam,

        How about those of us here on STB get together and buy you an Orca Card? That way you can, over time, learn how to use one without the four minute Russian swipe-dance (and we here at STB can see whether you ever actually ride a bus).

        Think of it as noblesse oblige, of the King disguising himself and moving among the peasantry to learn what their real hopes, dreams and problems are. Do it for the downtrodden, Sam, and you will become the Stuff of Legend!

      5. As many of you on this blog are fond of saying about public transit, that it’s not meant to take cars off the road, rather it’s meant to give commuters another option, so is ORCA not meant to replace cash fares, it’s just meant to give riders another payment option.

        I don’t think that the second part (ORCA is not meant to replace cash fares) logically follows from the first part. Just because public transit doesn’t try to get everybody out of cars, it doesn’t mean that they can’t try to get all the riders to do something else.

    2. Anandakos, homework assignment. Completion deadline: 7 PM tonight. This is a simple task and can all be done online in about 15 minutes. You are to research the 25 city or county public transit bus systems in America, and report back to us on this thread if they accept: Only fare cards. Only cash. Or both.

  2. I really like the cashless fare study and RFRF highlights. Some definite good news in this budget. Thanks for sharing, Jim!

  3. The Service Guidelines may require a periodic review and minor adjustments, but I don’t want to see a task force watering them down or carving in exceptions for legacy routes or neighborhoods with a councilmember’s ear. Thinking of the 2 and 12 status-quo activists and the proposed suburban shuttle in one district that was going to be an exception to the cuts.

  4. I’m not going to minimize how much relief Thursday’s outcome must be to anyone concerned with Metro, and through Metro’s connection with it, Sound Transit. Or the efforts of the people responsible. But my indecently-cheap senior card has a cost: a life-time convincing me that a “mild recession” would be a 180 degree positive change from present economic conditions.

    For a very long time’ my own comments have come across as extremely negative, to put it mildly. In particular, for twenty four years, the handling of the Downtown Seattle Transit Project by both the old Municipality, and by King County has been a source of unrelenting fury. Not so much for the waste itself- but for its reflection of the mentality that prevents its cure.

    For the decades of the DSTT’s existence, the term “Budget” has mirrored the fate of the Republican Party- whose fine adherent, Jim Ellis, founded Metro Transit. A valuable sharp-edged tool for building things of quality has become a crude bloody axe of a weapon whose exclusive use has been precisely whatever the enemies of public service itself have demanded.

    The worst butchery has not been starvation for needed and deserved money- but the crushing of the will and spirit to take measures whose cost will be swiftly repaid by the improved use of already-built investment. The DSTT? Exhibit A for the prosecutor. I mean the accountant. Because we’re not talking capital needed. Just the misbegotten philosophy that left it to rot.

    The Waterfront Streetcar- which included a good part of the Downtown Seattle Transit Project -didn’t need anymore capital to survive. Just not to be destroyed and never replaced. And the Downtown Seattle Tunnel needs no more vehicles, bus or rail, and very few additional operating personnel. Generally controllers to put Tunnel operations under the control,- and the dispatch system the designers budgeted a fortune to install. So as to save a wasted fortune.

    Some additional fare inspectors to implement the collection system assumed from the beginning- paid for by restoring the massive of operating time presently lost over fare-boxes in the Tunnel. And the re-assigning and retraining of dozens of platform guards to passenger assistance and information-questions lose drivers worse time than fare collection. Do even one of these things and then read the balance sheet.

    For worldview and ideas, a senior card demands some rigorous inspection. Especially demanding that every ill-tempered declaration about the past require proof of its relevance to the future. Not for what was. But for experience in turning a budgetary wrecking ball into a construction crane.

    Mark Dublin

    1. I’m sorry, that sounded well-thought-out and impassioned, but I couldn’t follow it. I can’t figure out what you’re saying.

  5. Hey bloggers, can you take a look at line 2005 of the striking amendment? The amount there is $12,000,000. Does this mean that the budget for alternative services has been doubled from the original proposal of $6,000,000 for the biennium (that you quoted in your post) to $6,000,000 PER YEAR?


  6. So if an out of towner doesn’t have an ORCA card, or any convienent way to purchase a fare at the curb, what then?
    Metro may wish to review the Federal Reserve Act of 1913 stating that notes are legal tender for all debts, public and private. Here’s a link to Legal tender.

    1. From that same article:

      In some jurisdictions legal tender can be refused as payment if no debt exists prior to the time of payment (where the obligation to pay may arise at the same time as the offer of payment). For example vending machines and transport staff do not have to accept the largest denomination of banknote. Shopkeepers may reject large banknotes: this is covered by the legal concept known as invitation to treat.

      1. Banknotes can be in the $1000’s, which is why you can’t get away with presenting it, knowing nobody carries change for that.
        If I board transit, and a fare machine isn’t at the stop, then presenting a $5 banknote should get you a ride, being the last person to board.
        Doors close, whoosh, we’re off, and service has begun.

      2. Yes, as a policy matter, it should. But the legal tender act doesn’t impose a requirement for that. And, the $100 bill is just as much legal tender as the $5 bill… and I’m sure the farebox will accept either and give change for neither.

    2. That would only apply to pay as you leave. There’s no debt until you board the bus and sit down.

      1. Why do I suddenly have visions of Ayn Rand demanding the absolute right not only to put gold coins in the farebox, but demand exact value gold dust in change? And also to berate all the other passengers for daring to pay with the cheap fake currency that only counts for money because Wesley Mouch says so?

        (Really great how this author always had names like Wesley Mouch for villains, especially bureaucrats, but heroes with handsome-guy names like John Galt and Hank Reardon. ‘Course maybe in her world, the civil service routinely dealt with those names by translating them into Russian, which is why they had no choice but to go to Hollywood, I mean America, and become billionaires.)

        Barter has some interesting possibilities, though. Be a challenge to calculate change for a chicken. And you’d need a cage for same purpose as an ORCA card. “ORCA” sounds like something a chicken would say, doesn’t it? In much of the world, the roof of a bus is a whole menagerie of animals and domestic fowl- but I don’t think they’re generally accepted as bus fare.

        Individual case? Not sure.


      2. haha maybe they can argue with the driver in the DSTT about the gold standard as they insert their gold coins

    3. Though, the situation of the out-of-towner is exactly why I advocate keeping cash fares… with a significant markup tacked on, of course. And maybe even a receipt that lets you apply half that markup toward credit on an Orca card. ;)

      1. Maybe good guide is how they do it in Oslo. Streetcar and bus drivers not only collect cash fares but also make change. Would like to see training- as US systems must once have had too.

        Was told that Metro ended change-making when a driver got shot and killed by somebody trying to steal it.

        But cash onboard of offboard, Oslo makes best sense: cash at a premium aboard streetcars and buses. Offboard payment via machines, fare inspection.

        Our subway is smaller, but equally stressed at rush hour. So same arrangement could work for us. But would be interesting to see our drivers learn fare-handling.

        Remember farebox mechanism that processed pennies, nickels, and dimes with a phone-dial-sized metal wheel that looked and clicked like a phone dial as it spun. Howver, that kind of thing all over the place sadly attracted helpless boys into to become drivers- sometimes dozens of year later.

        Science has yet to find a cure. But fact that little girls are not only growing up to be drivers and supervisors, but also giving their daughters and sisters examples and instructions as to how to keep boys in line aboard transit. Which could count as vaccination against the deadly lure.

        Mark Former little boy in Chicago in 1953. Pity the Doomed.

  7. Anybody know if passage of this budget means that the February changes are off the table? Understandably the route cancellations are nixed but are they still looking at the other ones?

    1. The reorganizations were part of the cut package, so they’re dead. The cut proposal was never approved by the council, so the reorgs weren’t either. But they weren’t specifically rejected either. The council didn’t say, “You can never restucture these routes”, it just said, “You can’t make the cuts as a whole.” So Metro could re-propose them with more service hours to make them stronger and to mitigate the negatives. Metro had already proposed the CD and Queen Anne reorgs in 2012, and a variant of the Fremont one. So those will likely come back someday, but probably not as soon as February, to give the level of controversy around Metro time to die down. The 8 may be part of the Capitol Hill Link restructure, and perhaps the 2 and 12 too.
      The West Seattle restructure looks like it should stay gone forever: it was purely an attempt to stretch the most coverage out of an inadequate number of service hours, with no long-term benefit. Metro didn’t want to do it; that’s why it was put in the last phase hoping something would supercede it.

      The Seattle funding is another factor. It will start having effect in June. Here again I doubt there will be reorganizations, because part of the funds’ premise is to “preserve existing routes on existing streets”. And these funds will fill in a few runs on many routes: they won’t 100% support a route (except reinstating the 47). The city can’t order Metro to change a route that the city is not 100% funding. Any changes would have to go through the usual Metro proposal/hearing/council procedure.

      What we can hope for is that support for consolidations is growing and will coalesce into a visible movement, and opposition to it will diminish over time. As more people understand what they’re losing by blocking consolidations and updates, they may shift from No to Yes or at least OK, and some proposals that failed in the past will succeed in the future.

      1. I figured this would be the answer but was hoping it wasn’t. There were a couple of really nice changes in there that would have been good to have, especially since Metro modified them in response to input so I figured they had a chance of making it out of the council. The West Seattle changes should never happen, for sure.

        This is one reason why I really wish Metro could be like Sound Transit as an independent agency. It just shouldn’t take years…

      2. From a purely selfish perspective, I liked the 3 and 8 changes. The 3 already goes to SPU on Sunday, as the 13, and I hoped that changing it to do that permanently would open the door to someday crossing into Fremont. The 8 restructure also looked good both for trips I usually take that currently require a transfer, and to establish it as a corridor to eventually get replaced with HCT. Needless to say, I also looked forward to the 2 change with all of its pricklyness.

        All things being equal, I’d like those changes with the increased hours of prop 1, but it seems like we’re set for waiting another two years or more while “Seattle process” plays itself out.

      3. The last 8 proposal was going to terminate it at Garfield HS. That’s only six blocks of new service. Is that what was going to obviate a transfer? Or did you mean the 106 part of the restructure, which was going to turn up MLK from Rainier Beach to downtown?

      4. I meant the 8. I live near where the new terminal would be (where the 3’s split-route terminal currently is and where both the 3 and 4 “downtown only” routes turn around) so that’s where the “selfish” part comes in. Also, I’d like to see the 8 do that because I think it could be a good model for a western CD streetcar or dedicated-lane ETB like is proposed for Madison.

      5. The Metro/ST meeting Monday night definitely had talk about the 2,8,12 and Madison BRT (at my table). I have to think all of those are potentially on the table for change as part of the Broadway station opening service changes for Metro.

    2. Also, it’s probably too late to change February service. The council would normally vote on it by November or early December, and it takes over month to write the route schedules and assign and hire drivers and train them. The council would have to have a proposal in front of it right now and it doesn’t. All the dealing with cuts and rescinding cuts and the potential Seattle vote have displaced the normal service-change cycle, so February will probably be on autopilot with only minimal changes.

      1. I was hoping service hours from the underperforming runs could be applied to those that really need more service.
        Go back and take a look at the ones Metro claimed are underperformers when cuts were proposed and ask why no longer so.

      2. Underperformance is only one of several factors. The problem with restructuring simultaneously during a cut is it conflates routes that don’t help anybody from routes that are weak but have some small merit. It also creates a restructuring timetable that is void without the cuts (because again, maybe some of the restructures should be done as-is, some should be modified in the light of more service hours, and some should be cancelled — you can’t just keep all of them across the board). It also prevents the establishment of a reorganization-without-cuts timetable. We lost a year of normal service planning to prepare for these cuts, and the Nov 4th election displaced February planning, so everything’s been on hold, and the service-change windows are February, June, and September. It takes six months to get back on track after all these disruptions, so the earliest Metro can consider reinstating these reorgs is for June. I said I doubted reorgs would go through but that’s just my opinion. If there’s a large public push for consolidation, it could influence what Metro and the city decide. How about a “Save the good restructures!” movement. Remember it must be strong enough counter the status-quo activists. Get the city councilmembers thinking their reelection depends on the restructures, rather than depending on preserving the status quo. But that’s a big task: it’s a sea change in Seattle politics. Support for it has already started to build up, but it needs to be stronger before it’ll be able to overcome the status-quo activists.

      3. Sorry for writing so much in this thread, but next year is a UNIQUE opportunity to push for reorgs with more service hours to make them more palatable. All the previous reorgs have been revenue-neutral. But in a revenue-positive environment, it can make the consolidations more compelling.

        But again, there are some people who will think that reorgs are a betrayal of their Prop 1 Yes vote. How will you prevent them from blocking changes, and how will you prevent them from making the general public mood against Metro funding in the future? You can say, “Look at this frequency!” but not everyone accepts that as valid. Some people are more moved by “Metro deleted the 2 and 27 and imposed hardships on people, especially disabled people”.

      4. Indeed one way Metro got people to swallow some of the late 90’s restructures was they came as part of service hour additions.

        Like the 42 you can delete the old routing later when it becomes clear nobody is riding it.

  8. Not all consolidations/reorgs have to be in Seattle. The Aleks Plan for south King County still merits serious consideration, to help restore span of serve and improve frequency along MLK/Sunset, and increase connectivity to Link that doesn´t have a reason to wait until 2016.

    There are routes outside of Seattle that still need investment, as well as matches of Seattle investments that are really urgent (e.g. for the 120 by Burien or King County and for the E Line by Shoreline or King County). There is no reason the service levels outside of Seattle have to be frozen in amber, route by route, when the Service Guidelines direct otherwise. There are also Title VI reasons to invest in the 120 and E Line when the lines serving whiter neighborhoods that happen to terminate within Seattle, and aren´t as packed all day as these two routes are, are getting a service upgrade. Find a way to make it happen!

    1. For the moment, the reason the routes in Seattle are getting an upgrade is because Seattle is footing the bill. There’s nothing racial about it unless the outcome of two votes on fiscal bills are that.

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