What a difference a year makes. Less than a year, actually.
We spent last summer reporting on the dramatic, high-stakes conflict between Metro, County Executive Dow Constantine, and a faction of the County Council led by Councilmember Rod Dembowski over whether Metro would need to carry through the four increasingly painful rounds of service cuts it planned following the failure of King County Proposition 1. In the end, of course, Metro made only the first of the four rounds of cuts, under protest that canceling the other cuts made its financial future uncertain.
The growing economy, and possibly fading memories, have apparently eliminated the uncertainty. It looks like Councilmember Dembowski’s gamble ended up paying off.
In November, Seattle voters passed Proposition 1, using city funds to restore (and then some) the cut service hours within the city. Late last Friday, the other shoe dropped: Metro announced a new investment in service hours, using its own funds. Almost all of these service improvements come from the county’s own revenue, and the county cites a laundry list of sources: low diesel prices, higher-than-expected sales tax receipts, and new state grants. The new investment will add 69,000 service hours, which, combined with Prop 1, essentially makes up for the September cuts.
The catch: all of these Metro improvements are to service not covered by Prop 1. More below the jump.
Metro’s press release and much local reporting describes this package as improvements to “suburban routes.” That’s a bit baffling, because improvements only to suburban routes would seem to violate the Seattle/King County interlocal agreement implementing Prop 1. Section 7.1 of the agreement says:
[T]he City’s purchase of service hours under this Agreement shall not supplant other service on routes partially or completely operating within the City that the County would otherwise provide in accordance with the adopted Metro Transit Service Guidelines.
Yet, one would think, there is no way that the Service Guidelines would add 69,000 hours of service only in the suburbs. So isn’t some city service that could be added being “supplanted?”
Why This Isn’t Bad for the City
As it turns out, the answer is no. The city, as well as Metro, appears to believe the additional service announced Friday is consistent with the agreement. And there are four separate reasons why.
First, a surprising amount of the added service will actually be in the city, the “suburban” label notwithstanding. Metro’s release lists which routes are scheduled for improvement without saying anything about the relative size of the improvements. But we understand that the RapidRide E Line and route 120, two routes with suburban endpoints that mostly serve as two of the busiest city core routes, will be getting something like a third of the total hours in this package. Both routes are slated for all-day frequency improvements, likely to 12-minute frequency. The city would have liked to make these improvements through Prop 1, but neither route quite meets the eligibility requirements. Also, route 372 serves many city riders and will receive several new trips to relieve overcrowding, and a number of routes serving many city trips are in line for reliability improvements.
Second, the city will receive some additional hours for more improvements of its choosing, which may be added to the Prop 1 improvement package. Section 7.6/2 of the agreement provides that the city will receive a “credit,” through which Metro will take over funding of some Prop 1 hours, if Metro identifies additional revenue.
Third, in an unintuitive result, Prop 1 itself made the Service Guidelines process favor the suburbs to some extent. Prop 1 is slated to completely fill many needs the Service Guidelines identified in Seattle. Many of the most pressing needs remaining unmet in areas such as overcrowding and reliability improvement are now in the suburbs. This package addresses many, but not all, of those needs.
Finally, a few of the suburban commuter trips added in this package are actually funded through Prop 1 funds. Prop 1 established a “regional partnership fund” through which suburban cities could partner with Seattle to improve service on Seattle-suburban routes. But no suburban cities took Seattle up on the offer, perhaps because elected leaders outside Seattle were fearful of the King County Prop 1 vote results in April. Now, Metro itself is taking advantage of the “regional partnership fund,” with Seattle’s approval, to add trips on high-ridership routes serving Seattle job centers.
What’s In the Package?
Again, Metro’s release is very vague as to exactly what is included. Piecing together information from what we have heard and what is in the 2014 Service Guidelines Report, the following is an educated guess.
All-Day Frequency Improvements: RapidRide E Line*, 120*
All-Day Routes with New Peak Trips: 101, 240, 372*
Peak-Only Routes with New Trips: 143, 179, 190, 212, 214, 216, 218, 219, 268, 301, 312*
No New Trips, but Schedule Reliability Improvements: 102, 105, 111, 114, 124*, 128*, 131*, 132*, 157, 158, 159, 166, 167, 168, 169, 177, 178, 180, 192, 193, 221, 232, 237, 242†, 245, 255, 257, 269, 277, 309*, 311, 316*, 355*
*A significant portion of the trips served by these routes are within Seattle.
†Route 242 will most likely be canceled in March 2016.