Route 106 at Rainier Beach Station. Photo by Oran Viriyincy.
Route 106 at Rainier Beach Station. Photo by Oran Viriyincy.

Yesterday County Executive Dow Constantine launched the official Long Range Plan process, moving it from a (very good) draft to an actionable item of legislation. Now called “Metro Connects“, the County Council will tinker with and debate it through the autumn, with expected adoption in early 2017. As a reminder, the plan would a number of good things: commit Metro to a full alphabet of Rapid Ride routes, double ridership by 2040, comprehensively restructure Metro’s system to feed a Sound Transit 3 buildout, move toward a cashless system, and enact a de facto ban on new transit parking with Seattle and other inner-suburb activity centers.

Though yesterday’s launch was a process milestone, the plan’s formal release doesn’t add much to what we already know. But more newsworthy, Dow also took the opportunity to preview the next biennial budget, and it contains a number of substantive improvements independent of Metro Connects.

Boosted by a continued strong economy and solid wage growth in King County, Metro will be in expansion mode:

  • Dow’s budget proposes $30 million in new service hours, including overcrowding relief on 27 routes, reliability improvements to 60 routes, and frequency boosts on a further 18 routes.
  • Metro’s capital program is back, with a 6-year capital spending plan.
  • There will be $215m set aside for bus base capacity, including a new South King County Metro base.
  • Responding to legitimate concerns over operator safety and comfort, the plan will put cameras on 100% of Metro’s fleet ($8m) and expand Metro’s operator comfort stations ($7m)

We’ll have to wait until late September to see the list of routes proposed for improvements. Though the non-supplantation clause in Seattle’s Prop 1 agreement should ensure that Seattle gets its full proportional share of improvements, we’ll be there to analyze it along the way. And as the Metro Connects process moves through council, it will be interesting to see the degree to which council meddling alters the plan. So stay tuned and engaged throughout the fall, but things are generally looking up for Metro.

35 Replies to “County Budget to Boost Metro Service and Security”

    1. To keep things fair in terms of city/county budget, Metro calculates as if the prop 1 trips were not in the schedule, and as though the riders using those trips were spread amongst the surrounding trips.

      Then just apply the normal overcrowding standard which as best I can recall – forgive if the numbers are off – is:
      * A trip has over 150% of it’s maximum seated capacity at any point on the route
      * A trip has over 100% of it’s maximum seated capacity for more than 20 consecutive minutes.

      Because all the added prop 1 trips are pretty full, and all those riders are added to counts for the surrounding trips, it’s very likely for a prop 1 route to be labeled overcrowded and get added service on the County budget to replace the prop 1 trips. That leaves the city free to either keep the prop 1 hours on that route for even higher peak frequency, or to move them to other routes/times of day.

      The math basically guarantees that if a prop 1 funded trip is successful and carries a good ridership, that route is more likely to be tagged as overcrowded, and more likely to pick up extra service at the county level. This kind of reminds me of the old “Transit Now!” setup, where a municipality could buy extra trips on a route from Metro for a period of something like two years, and at the end of the time period, if the trips were carrying significant riders, Metro would add the trips permanently.

  1. The Urbanist reports that some of the funds will be used to hire more transit police officers. Maybe some of these officers could be dedicated to traffic control at key intersections (NE 45th St & 15th Ave NE being top of my list) since SPD is uninterested in doing their job.

      1. Metro Police are county sherrifs, so they would have jurisdiction throughout the county (also pretty sure that any law enforcement officer commissioned in the state can enforce any law in the state, regardless of location).

  2. So, King County Metro has plenty of money despite their “needed” car tab increase being defeated a couple of years ago?

    1. It passed on the second go around as a Seattle only measure. So, Seattle gets the route improvements.

    2. That’s the problem with having transit funding be dependent on sales tax revenue. It turns transit funding into a roller coaster. Every time the economy hiccups all the budgets fall apart.

      1. When sales tax revenues fall, it is because the economy is in recession, which means fewer jobs, which means fewer commuters.

        Therefore, when sales tax revenues fall, less transit service is needed because fewer people are working, and there are fewer people commuting to and from work.

      2. That “analysis” assumes that everyone who is employed in a recession uses transit solely as an alternative to driving; in other words, if there were more space on the roads, everyone would drive. That is, needless to say, untrue. Many people employed in a recession are employed at lower wages than previously and they cannot afford to drive. Prices of parking don’t drop immediately in a recession either.

      3. Yes. At least some of the records I have seen from the recessions in the 70s and 80s indicate transit use increases rather than decreases during a recession.

        Also, with so much of the funding coming from sales taxes, it cuts back funding disproportionally to the need, since the first thing people cut back on is their discretionary purchases.

        Now, if it were a payroll tax, that would be different. That corresponds with employment. However, so far that hasn’t been allowed in Washington.

    3. You answered your own question, a couple of years ago they cut routes and frequency. Now they get to add back some frequency. So yes, a couple of years ago they needed the cash infusion.

      1. No, they didn’t. A couple of years ago revenue was already coming in way above what they had projected. King County Prop 1 was not necessary at all, as the major increases in spending for Metro now prove.

    4. It irritates me when people expect the government to have a crystal ball that predicts the future economy and private companies’ future decisions with 100% certainty. When King County Prop 1 occurred the recovery was just starting. Dembrowski canceled the 2nd-4th round of cuts in what was basically a successful gamble that the recovery would sustain itself. When Seattle Prop 1 came the economy had made solid gains. Seattlites voted for it for additional service, but it was also insurance in case the economy faltered. But there are two other reasons why the Prop 1 additions were a good thing and why the rest of the county has been missing out. One, Seattle had several routes that had severe underservice according to Metro’s performance metrics — Prop 1 filled in those.

      Two, Dow showed a poster in 2012 that the percent of Metro’s shortfall was equal to the percent of population increase. In other words, the service was already falling behind the population growth and would-be ridership and the gap was increasing every year, and the gap happened to be the same size as the revenue shortfall from the recession, so Metro really needed twice as much to get to a “good” level of service like our peer cities have. There was no long-term planning at the time because that had been cut to keep the buses running, but it was reinstated a couple years ago, and the current Long Range Plan is more or less what Dow meant by a “good” level of service. (In case you’re unfamiliar, both Chicago and San Francisco have 5-10 minute service on most bus routes during the day, 20 minutes in the evening, and half-hourly night owls spaced a mile apart. A half-hourly day route is pretty rare.)

      1. Maybe it was Kevin Desmond with the poster. It was in a small forum at UW when they were first discussing cuts.

        Going further with my point, we have to think beyond just maintaining existing service, as if ti’s the right level. What if the long-term plan had been unveiled in 2012, and the first round of implementation (2025) were now? That’s nine more years that people would find it easier to get around, and those arguing for parking minimums would have less excuse, and those who wanted to live near frequent transit would be more able to do so.

    5. In this state when you plan for the future one thing we’ve learned is not to take anything for granted given the nature of sales tax. If people stop buying things then sales tax goes away. And the county government was doubtful that it’s sales tax was sufficient based on past receipts to maintain service at (then) present levels. That’s why they pushed it. Had it passed it would have meant an increase in service instead of simply maintaining existing levels. Look at Seattle and prop one. That was just meant to maintain service not to expand it. But they spent the money on more trips where they are needed. Had this passed in King County you’d have seen some positive impacts on a county level.

  3. Rather than a full alphabet of RapidRide, how about we go back to numbered routes. Give them their own series or append an R to the route number.

    1. I’d rather see the money spent boosting frequency on the routes we have. We still have a large number of core routes that drop to half-hourly evenings and Sundays. For example, the 40 and the Fremont->U-district corridor on the 31/32. The 271 is worse, dropping to hourly in the evenings.

      1. Would like to see Metro 255 maintain 30 minute headway until midnight 7 nights/week. Currently drops to 60 minutes 10pm weekdays and 6-7pm weekends. It really could keep 15 or 20 minute headways until 9pm weekdays.

      2. Yes, please!

        And these Service hours are cheaper to provide than peak trips and they make the whole network more useful because you can get back home!

      3. How about routes like the 1, 2, and 4? Which are still at 30-minute frequency on Sundays, in spite of being so close to the center of town? The 8 is also still 20-30 minutes in the evening. As is the 372.

  4. Hopefully they will have enough drivers by that time for the increase in service so that they don’t have to cancel individual trips on different routes which seems to occur on a daily basis right now.

  5. “enact a de facto ban on new transit parking with Seattle and other inner-suburb activity centers.”

    I wish Sound Transit weren’t going in the opposite direction.

  6. There’s an obvious error. It says increase percentage of all trips using transit from 14 to 23 percent. That’s obviously commute trips. The percentage of all trips using transit is probably under 5%.

    1. How about a consistent $2.75 fare for all in-county trips – Sound Transit bus, Metro bus, Link, peak, off-peak. Stop the stupid inconsistencies where it matters whose bus you use or whether it’s bus or rail

Comments are closed.