This morning at the County Council’s committee meeting on the ULink Restructure (separate from tonight’s public hearing), Metro will respond to a question posed by Councilmember Dembowski: Does Metro have the capacity to enact the restructure and save routes such as the 43 and the 71?
Metro’s response is a fascinating look into an agency struggling to cope with the whiplash of recession-era cuts quickly evolving into unprecedented boomtime demands. In their letter to the Council, Metro admits that, yes, they have the money to run more buses but neither enough buses nor enough drivers. Metro has hired or promoted to full-time 350 new operators to fulfill Prop 1 commitments as well as its own recent service additions, but the ongoing driver shortage has caused an increasing number of trip cancellations. I suppose recruitment is one challenge of a 3.6% unemployment rate.
Metro states that on a temporary basis they could use revive 14 buses that are past their useful lives for continued service on Routes 43 and 71, far short of the 32 buses necessary to operate them as they exist today. So there are two options that could potentially satisfy Dembowski’s request: the full restructure with less frequent variants of Routes 43 and 71 retained, or paying for their full retention by making cuts elsewhere in the restructure proposal. The former is strongly preferable to the latter.
If the fleet and operator issues can be solved, Metro’s letter seems structured to achieve some sort of compromise that would stretch Metro a bit but also satisfy Dembowski and his constituents. Speculatively, the 43 and 71 could be retained as peak-only, or the 43 could be shortened to run from UW Link Station to Capitol Hill Station only. The discussion at this morning’s committee should give us more insight into their current thinking.