Funding alternatives still under discussion to avert Metro bus cuts

Proposed bus cuts still loom large for Metro in 2014 and after as temporary funding expires and stable funding for service has yet to materialize. Officials continue to press for a balanced statewide package as a first choice, but announced a second possible path Thursday.

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“A statewide transportation package that is fair and balanced is still our first choice, but in the absence of action by the state, an imperfect local option becomes necessary so that voters can have the chance to save bus service and maintain roads,” said Executive Constantine.

A tentative agreement with Metro workers also announced could preserve some bus service.

A balanced statewide transportation package, with local options for funding Metro Transit and roads in the cities and unincorporated areas, remains King County’s first choice – but in the absence of action by state Legislature, county leaders say they will develop legislation by year’s end to give voters the chance to save bus service and maintain roads.

At the same time, King County Executive Dow Constantine was joined today by the president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 587 to announce tentative agreement on a new three-year contract that, if ratified, could preserve some bus service.

Transportation benefit district

As part of a statewide transportation package, King County has requested authority from the state to ask its voters to fund transit service and roads in cities and the unincorporated areas through an increase in the motor vehicle excise tax. Referred to as the “local option”, the revenues raised through such a measure would allow Metro to avoid devastating cuts to bus service. It would also provide funding for cities and the unincorporated areas of King County to preserve and maintain their roads and make related transportation improvements.

With the expiration of temporary transit funding, it is critical for King County to obtain this “local option” and to seek voter approval in 2014. If a transportation package does not provide for this outcome, existing state law does allow the Metropolitan King County Council to enact an ordinance creating a transportation benefit district with specific revenue authorities, including sales taxes and a flat annual vehicle fee.

“Time is running out. The people of this region deserve the right to vote on whether or not to accept drastic transit cuts,” said Councilmember Phillips, chair of the Council’s Transportation, Economy, and Environment Committee. “Putting this decision in front of voters in time to save their transit system, with or without state legislative action, is the right thing to do.”

Revenues authorized by voters under a transportation benefit district would be distributed to Metro Transit for bus service, and to funding roads and transportation needs in cities and unincorporated King County.

Tentative labor agreement

Executive Constantine was joined by Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 587 President Paul Bachtel to announce tentative agreement on a new three-year contract with bus operators, mechanics and other Metro workers that could preserve jobs and produce millions of dollars in savings for Metro Transit, subject to member ratification.

“Local 587 recognizes Metro is in the midst of an unprecedented funding crisis,” said President Paul Bachtel. “This is an agreement we feel we can take to our membership – one that reflects our shared desire to keep our operators on the job and buses on the road for our customers.”

“Local 587 recognizes Metro is in the midst of an unprecedented funding crisis,” said President Paul Bachtel. “This is an agreement we feel we can take to our membership – one that reflects our shared desire to keep our operators on the job and buses on the road for our customers.”

“This is a significant agreement that reflects a shared commitment for preserving bus service and the union’s desire to be part of the solution,” said Executive Constantine. “This agreement was reached following five months of good-faith bargaining, and I appreciate the hard work of negotiators on both sides.”

The tentative agreement calls for a one-year wage freeze followed by a 2 percent fixed-rate wage increase in each of the remaining two years of the contract – a wage structure that may serve as a model for other County labor contracts.

The tentative wage agreement would save Metro between $8.4 million and $12.7 million over the life of the contract, or about 40,000 of the 600,000 hours of bus service that would have to be cut in the absence of stable funding. Wage highlights of the tentative contract include:

  • A wage freeze in 2014 the first year of the contract, which covers Nov. 1, 2013 through Oct. 31, 2014,
  • A 2 percent wage increase in the second and third years of the contract,
  • An additional 1.67 percent wage increase in the third year of the contract, contingent on Metro’s ability to avoid a deep service loss. Most other county employees will receive the 1.67 percent COLA adjustment in 2014.

The tentative agreement also contains additional elements that will help contain agency costs. Local 587 has approximately 4,200 members who operate and maintain a fleet of 1,400 buses, Sound Transit’s Link Light Rail, and the South Lake Union Streetcar. The union will schedule a membership vote, likely sometime in December.

Stable transit, road funding needed

The cuts that would be required in the absence of funding are unprecedented in Metro’s 40-year history, and would roll back service to 1997 levels, despite the fact the county has grown 22 percent with 360,00 more people. At a time when that population growth would call for increasing service by 15 percent, under Metro’s service guidelines, Metro faces cuts of up to 17 percent.

metro_funding_gap_ad1The Legislature granted King County temporary funding authority for transit two years ago, pending action on a comprehensive statewide transportation package. Those two years will expire in 2014, along with fund reserves, compelling Metro to outline a proposal to cancel 74 bus routes and reduce and revise another 107 routes to reduce costs starting next year.

Metro Transit held off making service cuts for five years by creating more than $800 million in reforms and efficiencies, along with the temporary Congestion Reduction Charge. Metro needs an estimated $75 million in annual revenue to keep existing service on the road and purchase replacement buses.

Another 150 daily bus trips between West Seattle and downtown Seattle – buses that ease construction congestion during the Alaskan Way Viaduct project – also are at risk of being canceled in June when state funding ends.

Metro last month carried 412,000 average weekday rides, its second-highest ever. The agency is nearing the annual record of 119 million riders last seen in 2008.

Three months of public meetings are now underway in advance of County Council consideration next spring of the proposed service cuts.

The county Road Services Division has 40 percent fewer workers than in 2009 as a consequence of the lack of stable funding. As a result, the roads system is deteriorating, service levels are reduced, and fewer roads will be able to be plowed and kept open for travel and restoration of utilities this year should a region-wide storm strike.

8 thoughts on “Funding alternatives still under discussion to avert Metro bus cuts

  1. I JUST FIND IT TOTALLY SAD THAT METRO IS THINKING OF CUTTING EVEN MORE OF THE LIMITED SERVICE WE ALREADY HAVE IN WEST SEATTLE. AS IT IS NOW THERE IS NO LONGER BUS SERVICE TO SHOPPING AT THE QFC OR JEFFERSON SQ SHOPPING FOR ANYONE THAT LIVES SOUTH OF THE ALASKIA JCT YET THERE ARE STILL BUSES THAT STOP THERE GOING NORTH OF THE SAME JCT. WE HAVE ALOT OF DISABLED AND OLDER PEOPLE THAT ARE NOW FORCED TO WALK 2 OR MORE BLOCKS WITH THE GROCERIES FROM THESE 2 STORES. I’VE BEEN TOLD BY METRO CUSTOMER SERVICE THAT THE DISABLED AND OLDER BUS RIDERS CAN WALK THE 2 BLOCKS WITH A HEAVY LOAD OF SHOPPING BAGS TO THE BUS STOP 2 BLOCKS AWAY. IF THIS WERE YOUR FAMILY MEMMBER THAT WAS DISABLED OR OLD WOULD YOU TALK TO THEM THIS WAY AND FEEL OK ABOUT TELLING THEM LIVE WITH IT AS IT IS WHAT YOU GET TO LIVE WITH. AS SOMEONE WHO WORKS FOR THE STATE AND MY WADGES HAVE BASICLLY BEEN FROOZEN FOR MANY YEARS I FEEL SAD THAT METRO STAFF HAS NOT HAD TO DEAL WITH THESE TYPES OF WADGE CUTS WHILE THE BUS RIDERS HAVE HAD TO. SO IT IS TIME MAYBE METRO LOOKS AT HOW THEY TREAT RIDERS AND STOP PUTTING EMPLOYEES UP ABOVE THE RIDERS AS IF THERE ARE NO RIDERS THEN THE METRO STAFF HAVE NO JOBS!!!!! JUST HOW I FEEL ABOUT THE WAY ALOT OF THE DRIVERS HAVE THIS RUDE NASTY DISRESPECTFUL WAY THEY DEAL WITH ALL OF THE RIDERS ON THE BUS. IT DOESN’T TAKE MUCH TO SAY HI OR THANK YOU IF A RIDER SAYS THANK YOU FOR THE DRIVER TO SAY YOU ARE WELCOME. JUST GOOD MANNORS IS ALL THAT IS AS WELL AS GOOD FOR RIDERS AS IT HELPS US FEEL RESPECTED TOO.

  2. Cutting transit service is going to push King County over the edge into permanent gridlock. Traffic is already terrible for huge chunks of the day and if a few thousand transit riders switch to driving…

    The changes to route 234 will mean I either need to take two buses instead of one, or I will need to walk ten minutes and deal with a halved bus frequency. Either way I suspect that I will decide that busing is no longer worth it. I may become one of those people who drives to work.

    Please do the right thing and *increase* service.

  3. Raise the fares!

    I understand Metro’s concern that this will a burden on people who can’t afford the increase, but it will be less of a burden then losing service all together.

    Yes, I want better options, but if my two choices are: (1) Scraping together the higher fare by tightening my budget or (2) Not having a bus to get to work or to the grocery store, I’ll take the higher fares.

  4. I live in West Seattle also and will be forced to drive downtown to work if the planned cuts go through. It will leave WS riders with no other options. Metro will have to change their tagline from “We’ll get you there” to “Sorry, We won’t get you there”.

  5. Operator’s are taking salary “cuts” (i.e. no increases). I wonder if Kevin Desmond, who makes about 200K would take a cut. He should

  6. Megan, I’m with you there as metro’s line of we’ll get you there went away with the C line as they stopped serving riders living south of the West Seattle Jct as far as shopping goes. If you live north you still have lots of different buses to get you there til they cut off West Seattle even more for service as well as downtown to go to work!!!!! It seems as if metro can’t see past the over grown pot betty they have grown into with the c line and act as if we should be greatful for the poor crapy service they have dumpped onto us and act as if we all should be happy they gave us what they have so far.

  7. Teri,
    The problem with the plan of raising the price to ride the bus is fares don’t cover the cost of running the buses. It is taxes that cover that and with clowns like Tim the tax cutting jerk by cutting taxes for the very rich forget that it is the working class that pay for these cuts in loss of jobs and bus service and roads that start falling apart due to lack of funds to keep them repaired. So by just making it cost more to ride the bus what are you willing to pay to ride the bus to keep our bus setrvices in West Seattle?

  8. I for one can not drive anymore due to medical reasons yet I’m looking at buying a car and driving without a drivers licence and without insurance as I’ll have no choice to get to and from work.

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