On Monday, County Executive Dow Constantine released his $11.3B biennial budget proposal for King County, and the Metro portion of the budget represents a positive and ambitious forecast for the next two years, and one that telegraphs the expected adoption of the Long Range Plan in the next few months. The proposal adds 300,000 total service hours over the 2017-2018 biennium, roughly as big as Seattle’s Prop 1 investments (270,000 hours). It invests primarily in suburban routes in South King County, East King County, and the Ballard and West Seattle corridors. The service improvements are yet to be fully detailed, and while some of them are suspect – such as Route 22, or Night Owl routes set to be replaced in an upcoming proposal – most of these routes can clearly support additional frequency or reliability improvements. In the spirit of the Prop 1 supplantation clause, the Metro-funded Seattle investments will allow the city to increasingly focus its purchased hours on its Move Seattle Rapid Ride corridors.

In addition to the more-visible service hours, there are a number of other exciting additions. First and foremost, Metro’s Capital Program is back from its recession-era slumber. The bulk of the added 2017 costs are for fleet improvement, including $209m for 181 40-foot hybrid coaches, $297m for 252 60-foot hybrid coaches, $21m for 13 60-foot trolleys for Madison BRT, and $9m for 8 additional battery-electric buses. By the end of the program, Metro’s fleet would be entirely new and 100% hybrid or trolley. So long Bredas and high-floor buses.


Additional items of interest include:

  • $1.1m for a 4-year pilot for expanding Alternative Services, such as the Snoqualmie Valley shuttle and the new Redmond Loop
  • $30m for 213 new driver positions to fill the 300,000 service hours, which will exacerbate Metro’s current hiring challenges.
  • $800k for 3 new Base Chiefs
  • $224k to replace driver bus seats far more often, from every 5 years to 2 years
  • $2.6m to deep-clean buses twice as often, every 30 days instead of every 60 days
  • $4.4m for 24 new Link Operations staff (fully reimbursed by Sound Transit)
  • $565k for “to improve the quality of real-time information”
  • $43m for Metro’s share of the ORCA Next Generation project
  • $2.7m for Metro Comfort Stations (operator restrooms)
  • $20m for the development of permanent layover space in South Lake Union and Pioneer Square
  • $30m to develop plans and purchase property for an 8th Metro bus base, in South King County
  • $27m for near-term implementation of One Center City (formerly Center City Mobility Plan)
  • $47m to expand South Base, and $60m to expand Central/Atlantic Base
  • $2m for Yesler trolley wire
  • $7.6m to install cameras on 100% of Metro’s fleet

The budget now moves through the normal Council budget process.

56 Replies to “Dow Releases a Bullish Budget for Metro”

  1. They need to order more ETBs so they can actually retire the Gilligs, & Bredas while increasing service

    1. I’d be happy to keep the Bredas on board to provide peaker service in places like the UDist where they could be stored off-wire midday.

      1. I’d be happier to have every single Breda machine on Earth run through an electric steel furnace and the product used for actual buses and rail vehicles. At least if I thought the process could get rid of the mold.

        Dead serious, for years I’ve either waited for the next bus or walked rather than have my clothes smell like a dirty drain for the rest of the day. The age of them is no excuse. I’ve been on many other transit machines that age without that offense to the passenger public.

        And to anybody whose lack of seniority forces them to drive those miserable things. The suspension could never anywhere near handle the weight, so they’ve also got the ride quality of a rolling dumpster.

        Somebody told me that the frames cracked, and have been leaking into the walls ever since. Other reports have it that Metro left them parked in the yard with windows open ’till they finally decided what to do with them.

        If we give our mechanics haz-mat suits, they can save the excellent electric power package. And forgive it for making it possible to keep the rest of the bus on the road so long. Also mandatory, before the zombie craze lurches off the scene eating a fried brain, is to let Johnny Depp do an Ed Wood-imitation sequel called “The Rush Hour of the Rolling Dead!

        Which would be not as ghastly as the movie where Michael Douglas and Demi Moor rode the 302 through the DSTT

        Mark Dublin

    2. The 2nd group (24) of XT40s are arriving, so the Gilligs probably won’t be around much longer. 4386 has entered service and a few more have been spotted at Central/Atlantic.

      As for the Bredas, I would’ve thought they would have been all gone by now (I’m assuming all of the XT60s have arrived and have entered service).

      1. Are a couple Gillig and Breda ETBs being saved for the heritage fleet?

        Does this also mean we have enough new ETBs to run them normally on weekends now?

  2. $20m for the development of permanent layover space in South Lake Union and Pioneer Square

    Is STB going to advocate for Bruce’s solution: https://seattletransitblog.wpcomstaging.com/2014/12/15/wanted-a-pioneer-square-bus-layover-facility/

    You’d think with the need for layover space AND housing that it would be a win-win.

    Who would people write to about this, Dow? Their County Councilperson? I wonder if the Pioneer Chamber would be helpful in pushing for it.

  3. Flipping through the list of routes slated for improvement, I see a lot of peak-only routes on the list, which suggest that most of the benefits of the upcoming service improvements will be restricted to 9-5 commuters to downtown Seattle. But, the list doesn’t say what proportion of the improvements go to what routes, so maybe things aren’t quite as rush-hour-focused as they, at first appear.

    1. Improving rush-hour service isn’t necessarily a bad thing. I ride the bus at most hours of the day, but rush hour is the only time when the bus passes me up because it’s packed to the gills. Adding more night owl service is nice and all, but let’s also make sure that the daytime service has enough room for the people who want to use it.

      1. There are some routes, like the C and D that really do need more capacity. But there are others, like the 157/158/159 which simply duplicate Sounder service and don’t need more investment.

        Rush hour service is also relatively expensive to provide, since every trip requires buying a new bus and hiring a new driver, whereas off-peak service is mostly about putting the buses and drivers you already have on the road for more hours per day. Furthermore, many of the peak-only routes slated for improvement run one direction only, so every mile the bus carries a load of passengers means at least another mile that the bus is traveling empty, either between runs or to/from the base. If you think of it in terms of cost per passenger-mile, a full bus that runs rush hour only, one direction only, is about as productive as a half-full bus that runs both directions all day long (because the sum of two half-loads traveling both ways is one full load).

  4. “$43m for Metro’s share of the ORCA Next Generation project”

    Yikes! Once you factor in the other agencies’ share, you’re probably looking at $100 million to replace ORCA 1.0.

    Everything else on this list seems great and I am very much an advocate for spending money while you have it, but that’s a large chunk of money for something that allows us to pay our fares.

    1. Yeah, that is an oddity. But it could mean a lot of different things to what their doing. Could mean that ORCA 2.0 might be a bigger overhaul of the system than we initially thought. It will be interesting to see what ORCA 2.0 will look like.

      1. I’m willing to pay just about anything to make the thing functional and convenient for more than passholders (even though I’m one). I was in Tucson last weekend and could buy a paper day pass at small vending machines that allowed 24 hours of rides on their buses and streetcar, activated when tapping on any bus or train (they also have an ORCA-like card for more frequent users). In freaking Tucson. We have nothing even remotely that useful for occasional transit users or visitors.

      2. +1. For anything beyond buying a one-way ticket between downtown and the airport, our payment “system” is hopeless. I’ve driven friends around tound because it was easier than explaining how to pay.

      3. Exactly, Bruce. My brother’s flying in for the Husky game tomorrow and taking the train into town, but he can’t use that to go anywhere else before or after the game (for example my house is on a bus line but not the train, so he gets to pay extra to get there). I keep a couple of ORCA cards with money in the purse for visitors, but that doesn’t help when you are arriving. 1/3/7 day passes valid everywhere ORCA is are the way to go and it’s crazy we can’t do that. (Yeah, yeah – ORCA2, in a few years, might have that. Possibly.)

        The Tucson tap-on paper card was cool because I could buy them whenever I was near a machine (or at a store that sold them) – since they weren’t activated until you tapped on I could buy a couple for the weekend at once.

      4. I think Trimet’s Hop Fastpass will be the thing to watch to see what it does right that ORCA doesn’t and will probably incorporate a lot of ideas form that system into the next iteration . Mind you I would rather us go to Translink’s Compass type of system(to cut down on Fare Evasion), but that would mean a complete renovation of certain stations just to add Fare Gates to the system.

      5. @Scott: I was also in Tuscon over the weekend (Go Dawgs!) and was very close to mentioning in my post that Tuscon, of all places, has a system that would put ours to shame and why we would spend $100 million to build our own when we could just cannibalize theirs or others like it. Granted, like Oran said below, a good chunk of the cost could be the actual implementation of the physical hardware.

        Beyond the permanent commuter cards and the one day/one use paper cards, the Tuscon system also has an app for your phone to be able to tap, if it has an NFC reader on it, no need for a separate card!

    2. ORCA2 involves replacing the existing equipment. One can hope for ORCA readers at every door?

    1. Should have been wired long ago. All the way to the Lake. It’s much steeper than the Route 2, which has been wired for decades.

      I can’t think of any route in the system that deserves it more. Didn’t the huge iron wheel south mezzanine Pioneer Square tunnel station (in its working days not far away) power cable cars over that route?

      Looking at San Francisco, I think experience proves that trolleybuses are natural successors to cable cars. Money saved on components from motors to brakes will exceed what’s saved on fuel.


      1. Mark, it’s trolley wire for the 3 to avoid the James grade and traffic, not the Yesler service. There is no way that the tail of the 27 is going to be wired.

    1. Hang onto your wallet when the article, then a 7 page link to the Metro portion of the Budget fails to mention what the actual Budget number is. Going to the County’s 757 page report reveals the 2-year capital and operating budget is 2.5 B. for a little more than 120 m annual boardings.
      Pre-Recession years budget for 2007-2008 showed the same 120 m boardings for only 1.4 B (adjusted for inflation from 1.2 B).

      1. Buses have to be replaced sometime. Metro has delayed it for over a decade due to funding constraints.

      2. Fair enough!
        Overall costs are up 45% (current $$) and Operating Costs are up 34%, while ridership is nearly the same as in 2008.
        Just making the point Metro can’t keep promising new goodies without disclosing that everything costs money – paid for by everyone.

      3. Choosing 2008 for your comparison is a dishonest abuse of statistics. It was a fairly extreme outlier year. Metro ridership is up 10% over the last 5 years and over 20% in the last 10. Trendlines, not endpoints strategically selected to mislead and obscure.

      4. “fairly extreme outlier year” Oh BS.
        And your picking 2005 is just random?
        2008 was the last year before the recession, when transit ridership was in fact growing every year. We’re comparing that trend against the budget for 2018.
        The recession cost Metro a lot of riders for 2 years, then it has steadily been gaining them back to 2008 levels.
        Unfortunately, the operating costs didn’t slow down after adjusting for inflation, up by 1/3.
        Instead of spending all your hours cheerleading, spend some time figuring out why Metro can’t even keep up with population gains since 2008, and why it chooses to plow iny savings from Link back into even less productive services.
        I quit falling for the 2 cars in every garage decades ago.

    2. “All kinds of goodies! Nothing like extra revenue coming in!”

      This is what normal transit planning looks like. Cities in Europe had transit like this in the 1990s, and then the made expansions like this to deal with a growing population or add transit lanes. Los Angeles has been doing something similar the past decade. The problem is that other American cities don’t put resources into transit, consider it coverage service for the poor, and have never thought about how a high-transit infrastructure would transform how people behave in their metropolitan areas. Europe turned toward transit after the 1973 oil crisis to make their countries less dependent on mideast oil sheikhs. The Netherlands turned toward bicycling in the 1970s to reduce the number of children killed in car accidents. The US shrugged and went back to the auto-suburb utopia and then to SUVs. Even cities with a large pre-WWII rail network haven’t expanded it much: they’re mostly living off what they had. Not like London and Moscow that are busy building at least one new subway line a year to keep up with the population/ridership growth. (Not that the lines are finished in a year, but as soon as one finishes another starts.) So Metro and the region have finally kicked into a normal level of transit planning and expansion to address the backlog.

  5. I realize it is not part of Metro’s budget, but did the overall budget include anything about the (somewhat crackpot) idea of expanding the water taxis from Ballard/Shilshole to downtown, etc?

  6. 300,000 service hours for 30 mil? I thought service hours cost metro more like 130-140 a piece. How are they getting the price down? That seems like sharp savings even assuming fuel prices stay low.

    1. That’s just the cost of labor. I don’t remember the precise labor cost ratio but it’s somewhere around 75%. That would give a per hour cost of 133 dollars. Probably still a little low, but these are new drivers, so lower paid than average.

  7. Does anyone know what “to install cameras on 100% of Metro’s fleet” means? Is it the internal security cameras? In which case I’d ask, “Why did you buy any new bus within the past ten years without security cameras?” [The ten year period is based on the plan to be 100% “green” by 2019, and the fact that hybrid buses came out around 2005.]

    But, if it’s forward-facing traffic observation/accident fault resolution cameras [I hope, I hope!], then can folks get the City Council to establish San Francisco style automatic ticketing for “Red Lane” violations?

    1. It’s the latter, as there’s interior cameras on every bus in Metro’s fleet. They’re doing this to help with enforcing local city traffic and parking laws, as there is probably not enough enforcers to carry out putting tickets on every car in the city that violates such laws.

      1. Doesn’t state law restrict pretty severely what can be done with traffic cams? My recollection that it’s red lights and school zones only. You don’t have to be a transit opponent or even an autos uber alles type to oppose allowing indiscriminate extension of their use to non-safety enforcement.

      2. Why is that, William? If the State or its designated suttogate (county or municipality) places a “speed limit” on a particular section of roadway, isn’t that ipso facto a “safety enforcement”? I know the autoistas don’t agree, but they’re just being ideological.

        Similarly, if the State decides that excluding non-transit vehicles from a section of roadway is a valid means by which to manage the capacity of that roadway, why then is automated ticketing of violations of that prohibition not also a “safety enforcement”? After all, if a violator sees a police car she or he is apt to swerve into the adjacent lane unsafely. Better that they are kept out by fear of that damnbus behind them photoing their plate.

      3. Mr. Z, Zachary was answering my question by saying that every bus already has interior cameras and that the new ones to be added are for traffic surveillance. I’m sure Metro primarily wants them for accident resolution.

        However I hope that the City will use them for Red Lane ticketing. It really doesn’t matter much if people violate when there’s no bus behind them, other than default “Law and Order”. But when there IS a bus behind, the offender ought to be ticketed every time.. That can happen only automatically.

      4. Absolutely agreed. SPD traffic enforcement should be self-sustaining with ticket revenue. We don’t even need to ticket people in person; WSDOT has shown that it’s possible to associate license plate with address for tolling purposes, so let’s use the same infrastructure. I’d even be willing to be generous to these “hapless” drivers, and limit the “toll” to $124/hour.

      5. I was referring to RCW 46.63.030, 46.63.170 and 46.63.180 which together limit the use of traffic cams pretty much as I described. [I’d forgotten railroad crossings and school bus violations, and ignored the single special case speed enforcement camera allowed for Tacoma].

        The tolling idea is a clever dodge, but tolling requires either specific legislative authority or a vote of the people. I can imagine Seattle residents approving it, I’m less convinced about King County’s. The levels are tolling are, in many cases, subject to regulatory oversight at the state level. Moreover, I doubt the courts would play along if you set the “toll” that high.

        Any increase of the use of surveillance equipment by the government, no matter how valid the societal good served by its use, deserves scrutiny on civil liberties grounds alone.

        Using law enforcement as a revenue source is not usually considered a best practice.

  8. I think the Red Lane cameras are working in San Francisco. So all that’s needed is for the City to keep those lanes reserved 24-7-365. Instead of opening them to general traffic well before the end of rush hour. Thereby opening city’s heaviest-hauling arterials go parking too.

    At least five well-used lanes of it. No need for Freedom of Information demand for bus-camera footage. Just send iPhone videos from thousands of cell phones. Exact same number as trapped passengers. A lot more embarrassing than South Lake Union Trolley-shaming.

    Though still think one of those cars should have a wrap like a net stocking, with a frilly garter all the way around the streetcar. Bet Dolly Parton would love to come to Seattle for the kick-off. When she was a little girl, she told her mother she’d like to be the Town Tramp, because the lady was so pretty!


  9. I’m hoping for some service span improvements for suburban routes. It’s a shame the 903 isn’t on this list, since it had its service span cut by 2.5 hours in 2014 (last trip went from 9:45 to 7:15), which I think is really quite early (it also dropped to hourly frequency, which is fine, but service span is more important than frequency!), and in fact many suburban routes are still running at their boosted peak frequency when the 903 wraps up for the night.

    That and the 183, which stops running obscenely early for a coverage route that also acts as a regional city connector.

  10. Can we fund Metro so that they can purchase and install removable snow blades on their maintenance vehicles to clear snow on major bus routes, and put them to use when needed? We lots tons of buses and hours of service in 2011 as buses we careening down hills and into parked vehicles. Maybe Metro could even back-bill the cities when they don’t clear bus routes quickly. It’s a better investment to have a back-up snow clearing program rather than keep losing bus runs and pay for loads of overtime and bus repair.

  11. “Some of them are suspect – such as Route 22”

    Route 22 currently runs LESS than once an hour (roughly once every hour and 5), which is exactly the same as having no bus service at all; here’s why: When a bus runs that infrequantly it’s not even a case of checking the schedule, seeing it’s not coming for an hour, and then deciding to drive instead. No, what happens is nobody ever even considers taking a bus that runs that infrequently; there is no chekcing the schedule, there is not deciding to drive instead, the bus is just known to not be an option. This is because route 22 is designed to fail. Metro has followed a familiar pattern with buses in West Seattle: cut service because of low ridership, the cuts reduce ridership even more, which results in more service cuts, which reduces ridership even more, etc, with the intention of eventuially eliminating the route entirely. Metro has done this with the 21 Express, 22, 37, and 57, among other routes in West Seattle and around the city. This is also what leads to the “hide and ride” phenomenon. I used to hate those people, until I moved away from the Junction and found out how bad-to-nonesxistent bus service is for the rest of the peninsula, and now I’m sometimes one of them, there’s often no other choice.

    So no, adding service on the 22 is not “suspect.” What it is is a much needed reversal of Metro’s treatment of West Seattle over the years. I don’t have any hope they’ll actually add enough service to make these routes useful for significantly more people, but at least they’re not being cut for the sake of being cut as they have been in the past.

    Yeah, we get it: minor improvement forthe hinterlands of West Seattle aren’t as sexy or exciting as BRT to Madison Velley, and we don’t have the support of transit advocates who consider proposed improvement for us “suspect,” but we’re real people with real transportation needs, and it’s long past time for Metro to start paying attention to our needs instead of always ignoring us in favor of adding service to areas that already have better bus service than we do.

    So improving routes like the 22 is only “suspect” if you share Metro’s past disregard for most of West Seattle.

    1. I only meant that it is suspect in the context of the stated rationale, namely that the increase is justified based on performance as shown in the Service Guidelines Report. It vies for the lowest ridership route in Seattle with Route 78, so by definition it can’t be a priority route for investment.

    2. It comes back to the first point: the low ridership of the 22 and 37 for decades, even when they were half-hourly or hourly. And those areas refuse to upzone which would bring in more potential riders and make the routes more viable. So in the 2014 recession cuts or 2012 C restructure, I forget which, Metro deleted all-day service to Arbor Heights and some other areas, and I gather reduced the 22. Metro got huge protests over that, as it also got over the 42, 47. and 25. And because of those protests Metro has restored or replaced them or has proposed increasing or replacing them — they got to the head of the line because of activist protests and perhaps ahead of more-deserving corridors.

      So let’s look at Metro’s long-range plan. South of Morgan Street there’s RapidRide on Morgan-Sylva-8th, RapidRide on Delridge-WV-WC, Frequent on 35th-Barton, Local on California-Thistle-WV, and Express on Fauntleroy-106th-35th. The latter two are 30-minute minimum. In the 2025-2040 interim there’s a Frequent route all the way down 35th and around Arroyo Heights and Roxbury Heights, which in my little knowledge of that area looks like it serves Arbor Heights.

    3. Would it be utter blasphemy to suggest just building an actual park and ride on the C somewhere? Urbanist it is not, but it would kill the hide and ride issue and give those living in the wsea hinterlands a transit option for at least most of their trip.

      1. If the hide and ride thing works, what’s the problem? Why should we spend a bunch of money and waste prime transit-adjacent land just because some people get annoyed when they have to walk a block or two sometimes between their publicly subsidized car storage and their home?

    4. This is also what leads to the “hide and ride” phenomenon. I used to hate those people,

      I will never wrap my mind around this mentality. The policy is this: free car storage on a first come, first served basis, for whatever purpose you choose. The notion that people with nearby housing who can’t be bothered to deal with their own car storage needs, but rely on the public subsidy, are somehow more deserving of that space doesn’t make a lick of sense to me. At least the hide-and-riders are finding a way to using transit.

  12. Route 22, or Night Owl routes set to be replaced in an upcoming proposal.

    Can you expand on this upcoming proposal?

  13. It would rather see them buying battery-electric buses to replace the existing fleet. I was going to say the future is battery electric, but based on TCO, it is here today.

    1. Agreed. Why so few battery-electrics?

      I understand that they can’t do highway express routes yet. But for city routes they already have better Total Cost of Ownership. They have higher upfront costs…. but Chicago is getting them funded through CMAQ grants because they *very obviously* reduce emissions downtown. Seattle could do the same thing.

    2. Its a lot more complicated than that. First off, last I heard battery buses are around 3/4 of a million dollars each. Secondly that’s just the bus, you need to build charging stations on all the routes you intend to deploy them on, at what amounts to probably a couple mil per charging station. Once that’s all done you need to reconfigure the schedule so that the bus has enough time to charge in-between trips, which may mean adding extra runs to compensate, So another 1.5 mil for coaches just for one line. Also add in extra operator time (or security if you’re falling back operators), etc. (because you’re not going to leave a bus sit at a remote terminal unattended while it charges). And it may be that you do a quick charge on the bus at the terminal, but eventually it will need to go back to the garage for a full charge, which means you need yet more equipment. It all adds up pretty fast. They work, and they seem to work well, but they are like trolley coaches. They are clean on the surface and have a VERY high infrastructure cost.

  14. Does this mean that the 44 might finally get 3-door articulated diesel buses when Metro doesn’t run trolley service? It seems that basically every other articulated route in North Seattle has gotten them for some runs, but for some reason the 44 has been left out. It’s unfortunate, since not only could the route use them, people are used to making use of all three doors when trolleys are running.

  15. More red bus lanes please… cheap to install, and save Metro operating costs from day one with more productive buses not stuck in SOV traffic

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