A new proposal to keep buses on the road

With the state legislature’s transportation funding effort stalled, County Executive Constantine has announced a new proposal to keep buses on the road. Today he asked the County Council to take swift action to secure stable funding for Metro and avert service cuts.

He asked the Council to form a countywide transportation benefit district—allowed under state law—and put a funding proposal on the ballot for a public vote. The vote could happen as soon as April.

The proposal would generate about $130 million per year from two sources:

  • A $60 annual vehicle fee that would generate about $80 million per year.
  • A sales tax increase of one-tenth of a cent that would generate about $50 million per year.

Sixty percent of the funds, or a projected $80 million in 2015, would go to Metro for transit service. This would be enough to maintain our current service level.

The rest of the funds would be divided, based on population, among King County Road Services and cities for road maintenance and projects. (Learn more)

As another part of the solution, the Executive proposed an across-the-board, 25-cent fare increase for all regular service that would take effect in March 2015. The fare for Access Transportation riders would go up by 50 cents. We would also offer a new low-income fare, set at $1.50, to help make Metro affordable for those who need it the most. Eligible riders would pay the low-income fare only with ORCA—not with cash. (Read a fact sheet about the fare change proposal)

Through Feb. 7, we’re continuing with countywide outreach on a set of proposed service cuts that would reduce service up to 17 percent beginning this fall. Without new funding, these cuts will be needed to address a $75 million shortfall after temporary funding runs out in mid-2014. Metro will send a set of recommended reductions to Executive Constantine for council consideration in April or May. (Visit our website to see what’s proposed and tell us what you think; Read our Metro Future blog category to see what we have been hearing from riders)

As the Council considers these proposals in the coming weeks and months, we’ll let you know about opportunities to make your views known to elected officials on each of these critical decisions.

21 thoughts on “A new proposal to keep buses on the road

  1. Submitted on 2014/01/14 at 5:32 pm @Jim Sullivan said – “OK Metro, let’s say the Executive’s proposed ballot measure for funding to make up the budget shortfall passes in the next election. And let’s say the measure is able to restore “full funding” to Metro. Will all of the recently proposed service changes and reductions be withdrawn? JimS”

  2. Submitted on 2014/01/14 at 8:19 pm @Deb Hemingway said – “We will soon be living on a fixed income but rarely, and will rarely, drive or bus. Yet your vehicle tax and sales tax will double what we already pay for having a vehicle (we have only one and it’s use eases our health issues). Having very detailed knowledge of the special deal that Seattle businesses receive to provide very inexpensive transport for their employees, I’m quite unconvinced that Metro’s budget is hitting in such a regressive way. (I’m sorry but the downtown legal and accounting firms don’t need these deep discounts.) Metro needs to increase what businesses pay and the fares should go up fifty cents not just twenty-five cents.”

  3. Submitted on 2014/01/15 at 1:21 am @Robert Wright said – “From what I have read, the FARE for the Handicapped Bus Passenger would jump $.75 from $.75 to now a $1.50 BUS FARE each time they wanted to use the bus. Is right? … and this is after they dropped the Bus 28 route for much of the day and then not even offering a round trip opportunity within the same hour, when it does run up to Greenwood and 145th Street. I would like to see the return of the Route 28 that had been servicing the Elderly and the Handicapped that lived in facilities like Seattle Housing Authority’s TRICOURT Apartments.”

  4. Hi @Robert Wright – thank you for sharing your views about bus service to Greenwood and 145th. To clarify, the disabled fare for regular bus service is proposed to be increased $0.25 – from $0.75 to $1.00. The fare for Access paratransit service is proposed to increase $0.50 – from $1.25 per trip to $1.75 per trip.

  5. I want to echo Jim’s comment, though possibly coming from a different angle.🙂 Some of the cuts that Metro has proposed would be devastating, especially the reductions in night and weekend service, and I think it’s very important that those cuts be avoided. However, some of the restructures that Metro has proposed would make the system strictly better, and I would love to see these changes happen regardless of the funding environment. For example, I would love to see the creation of the new route 73; the merger of routes 3 and 4; and the consolidation of UQA service on the 13 instead of the 2. Will these positive restructures still be happening in the absence of a revenue crisis?

  6. Regarding the fare increases, I would like to see the transfer period extended from the current 2 hour window to a 2.5 or even 3.0 hour window. Tapping the Orca card as a pre-boarding operation can consume time off of that available for transfer period travel.

  7. Henry: I’ve spoken with Kevin Desmond on a number of occasions. He’s an exceptionally qualified administrator, and I have complete confidence in his ability to make the right decisions for Metro. The fact is, he’s faced with a very difficult problem: how do you make everyone happy, when you can’t afford to maintain the status quo? This would be hard for anyone, and I think he’s doing an admirable job.

    I’m not sure what you’d accomplish by replacing Metro with a new agency. Sure, it would give you a chance to come up with a more modern route network and fare structure — something that Metro is trying to already. But you’d spend a lot of money liquidating everything, and a lot more money building everything back up again, and you’d be left with an agency that has the same challenges as the ones that we have now.

    There’s one structural change that I would support, and that would be to reduce the size of the Metro district. Instead of including the whole county, it should include only the Sound Transit district. This would be more fair for everyone; it would lower taxes in the places that receive absolutely no Metro service, and it would also make it easier to pass tax increases in the places that do receive service. But I don’t think you need to create a completely new agency to make such a change.

  8. Constantine’s idea would be good providing he ELIMINATES the sales tax part of it… I am strongly against raising the sales tax because that hurts low income people who can barely afford to buy necessities as it is… Surely there are other areas that could be taxed that would target higher income individuals, or frivolous items more, instead of something like sales tax that hurts poor people facing already high prices at every turn…

    And regarding Desmond, he’s GOT to be better than the administration down
    at Pierce Transit! So by comparison, I’d have to say he’s doing pretty good!

  9. If I thought the money raised was going to actually go to what it was allocated for, that would be fine.

    But you yahoo’s collect all of these taxes, then shuffle them around to other initiatives, then “poof”, we’re back in the same situation AGAIN.

    By the way, where did all that monorail funding we paid into for years go?
    If it didn’t get used, I sure haven’t seen my refund.

  10. (apologies if this double posts I experienced an error while commenting)

    I am all for Metro staying at full capacity and service levels but money is being mismanaged somewhere.

    My wife and I pay $13 per day to commute to and from work. So that’s $65 per week and $3,120 per year out of pocket. No corporate Orca Card annual pass deal…hint, hint.

    I believe Metro had over 115 million reported boardings in 2012. So I’d love to see the operational costs of the organization and match that to revenue collected with a ride free zone adjustment since the new service rules.

    I think proposing a fare increase is a slap in the face to public transit commuters.

    Corporations have more privilege than the individual. Why do they get deals buying annual passes for employees, while I pay almost $1600 annually to use public transit as an individual. I think it’s shameful. So you want to tax me more and charge me more and yet give fare discounts to corporate customers.

  11. Josh,

    If you’re referring to the Business Passport program, there are a few reasons why companies get a discount.

    One reason is that, by buying a huge amount of passes at once and committing to an annual contract, they provide a stable source of revenue for Metro. I think it would make sense for Metro to sell annual passes at a discount, but currently, Metro has no way of knowing if a monthly pass holder will buy a new pass each month.

    Another reason is that Metro and ORCA have lower administrative costs when a company places a bulk order. Distribution and management of cards is handled by the company. Metro simply passes on those savings to employers.

    Yet another reason is that, when a company buys a Business Passport, the company must pay for every single employee. In practice, for most large companies, a good fraction of the employees will never use this benefit. The price of the passport is calculated based on estimates of how many employees will actually use it.

    I would be very surprised if ending the Business Passport program would save Metro money. More likely, what would happen is that fewer employers would provide transit passes to their employees, and fewer people would use the bus for their commute. In other words, Metro’s financial situation would be even worse than it already is.

    Regarding Metro’s fiscal management in general, note that tax revenues have been steadily *declining* for the past few years, while Metro’s costs have not significantly changed. I don’t know why you’d assume this is evidence of mismangement. If your boss cut your salary by 2% every year, then after five years, you’d probably have to ask for a raise, or else change your spending patterns. That’s pretty much exactly what’s happened to Metro.

  12. @Aleks Bromfield
    I will commit to buying an annual pass right now for the same fee a business would pay for me, I did not ask for special month-month treatment, will Metro treat me the same way as a business?

    I am not asking for the Business Passport program to be cancelled but if they get a break for making up front annual commitments, why can’t that be offered to individuals willing to commit to an annual pass?

    I did make a bold statement about fiscal mismanagement but then to my credit I did also ask for data of total earnings and boardings alongside annual operational costs.

    My basic math for 2012 based on the 115 million boardings reported here http://metro.kingcounty.gov/am/reports/annual-measures/ridership.html (assuming a boarding is $1.50 because I know there are many factors that effect fare rates) totals about $172 million. Now I know this may be wrong, that’s why I am asking for the real data.

    I appreciate the example to my employment, really I am not trying to attack Metro. I am trying to understand how much money comes in, and what the operational costs are. I should have made my desire for these facts more clear.

    If proposals are being made to dig deeper into commuters budgets to save metro, then I want to understand exactly what the facts are.

  13. Josh,

    I can’t comment on why Metro doesn’t offer annual passes anymore. I also don’t know how big of a role this plays in the Business Passport discount. My guess would be that the under-utilization of passes forms the biggest part of the discount.

    As far as fare revenue goes, Metro’s latest budget indicates that 23% of the total $639.8 million, or $147.2 million, comes from fares (http://metro.kingcounty.gov/am/budget/revenue.html). 23% is rounded; it could be as low as 22.5%, or as high as 23.4%. If we divide by the figure of 115.4 million annual riders, that yields a figure of between $1.24 and $1.30 per trip.

    Here’s another calculation, using data from Metro’s financial summary page (http://metro.kingcounty.gov/am/reports/annual-measures/financial.html). Currently, Metro’s average farebox recovery rate is 29.4%. The cost per boarding is $4.25. This places the revenue per boarding at around $1.23 per trip.

    Why are these numbers so low? Here are a few reasons:

    – A rider who takes multiple transit vehicles pays the same fare as a rider who takes just one. If we assume that every rider takes at least two buses, and that the average fare is $2.50, this explains 100% of the difference. In fact, if the rider also transfers to a non-Metro service, this is even worse, since Metro will ultimately collect only a portion of the total fare.

    – Monthly passes are priced at 36x the base fare. It’s easy to see that a commuter who takes a round-trip every workday will come out ahead in general (44 trips), and even in February (40 trips). If this commuter then takes transit for any other purpose, those trips are effectively free.

    – Children, seniors, and the disabled pay discounted fares. The effect of this is small but measurable.

    – There is some amount of fare evasion. This is more difficult to measure, and the effect is also very small.

    According to the 2013 Service Guidelines Report (http://metro.kingcounty.gov/planning/pdf/2011-21/2013/metro-2013-service-guidelines-report.pdf), the system average is 32.9 rides per platform hour. Meanwhile, the cost of a platform hour in 2012 was $135.68. Therefore, in the absence of any other revenue, Metro would need to charge passengers an average fare of about $4.12 per boarding to fully recoup its expenses.

    But we’ve still got the connection problem. You don’t want to charge people extra just because they have to change buses. Airlines generally charge a premium for non-stop service, because it’s more expensive to operate and it’s also a more desirable product. It would be silly for Metro to do the opposite. So if you assume that the average Metro trip involves two buses, then the average fare for a complete trip would need to be around $8.25. In practice, you could imagine using some form of distance-based pricing, so that short trips are cheaper and long trips are more expensive. If the average length of a “linked trip” is 8 miles (http://www.publictransit.us/ptlibrary/specialreports/sr6.PortlandvsSeattle.pdf), then we come up with a figure of approximately $1 per passenger mile, with no monthly discounts.

    That may not sound like a lot, but consider a passenger who commutes from Seattle to Bellevue every day. This 30-mile round trip would cost $30/day, or about $660/month. Who would spend that kind of money, when they could drive a comparable distance?

    My point is that, however you try to structure it, any kind of dramatic fare increase is bound to lose a lot of riders. So if the goal of Metro is to provide mobility and access to the community, then a dramatic fare increase isn’t going to achieve those aims.

  14. I would like to have a response to this question: If Metro regains “full funding” for its operations as a result of the proposed ballot measure or by some other means, will all of the recently proposed service changes and reductions be withdrawn?

  15. @Aleks Bromfield

    Thank you will read up on Metro’s budget.

    Please, please consider the following comment
    “I will commit to buying an annual pass right now for the same fee a business would pay for me, I did not ask for special month-month treatment, will Metro treat me the same way as a business?”

  16. @Jim Sullivan, thanks for the nudge… If the King County Council forms a Transportation Benefit District (TBD), the TBD puts the Executive’s proposed ballot measure up for a vote, and the measure is approved by voters, it would generate an estimated $80 million annually for Metro. That is enough to maintain the current level of bus service and buy buses to replace old ones that should be retired. Keep in mind that Metro regularly assesses how well the transit system is working and adjusts routes to make service more efficient and better at getting people where they want to go. You might see changes some day even though Metro’s overall service level stays the same. An additional set of reductions (45,000 hours of service) is being considered by the King County Council right now on routes that serve areas affected by Alaskan Way Viaduct construction. Right now Metro is using funding from the state to provide extra service on these routes, but this funding runs out in June. If the Council adopts the proposed reductions and the state funding isn’t extended, these cuts would start in June.

  17. @Aleks Bromfield – to your point about whether some of the restructure concepts embedded in the reduction proposal would go forward in the “absence of a revenue crisis,” Metro will continue to use our strategic plan and service guidelines to plan bus service that is productive, gets people to key destinations around the county, and serves communities that heavily depend on transit. See http://metro.kingcounty.gov/planning/#guidelines Metro revises bus service three times each year, and we use the guidelines as we develop proposals to reduce, add, or change service. We seek to involve the community in planning service changes, and we always like to hear your ideas!

  18. I have read all of the previous comments and, since I live a Center Park, another Seattle Housing Authority community, I find the proposed cuts in service to be unacceptable, especially for people living in the Rainier Valley. The most objectionable proposals deal with the Route #4, which is proposed for total elimination, the Route #8, which is proposed to be replaced with Route #106 service from Renton (with service on the Route #8 turning back at 23rd and Yesler) and the Route #9, which is proposed to become a peak-hour only route.

    The reason I strongly oppose these revisions is simple: All three routes serve significant parts of Rainier Valley, which has an extremely high number of residents who rely on transit for all of their transportation needs–and making these cuts would be a severe disservice to residents in Southeast Seattle. In fact, the Route #4 is used by a large number of Center Park residents and employees from the Lighthouse for the Blind because it is the ONLY route these people can easily use–all other transit service requires a person to travel at least two blocks and cross a very busy arterial (usually Rainier) between the nearest bus stop and either building. In addition, the Route #4 serves four major destinations–Swedish Cherry Hill (formerly Providence Medical Center), Swedish First Hill, Harborview Medical Center and the DSHS office on Cherry Street If the Route #4 is eliminated, people will need to either make what I consider a very difficult transfer between the Route #3, and Route #48 at 23rd and James or ride a bus (on the already overcrowded Route #7 or Route #106 or LINK downtown) and connect with the Route #3 to go back up the hill. For these reasons–and the fact METRO made a significant investment for this route (which uses trolley coaches) over 30 years ago, no cuts in service on this route should be made.

    As for the proposal for the Route #8 (and it’s replacement with Route #106 service) this is another route that should be left as it currently is. It currently serves a large part of the Rainier Valley, replacing the Route #42, which was eliminated several years ago, connecting the Valley with Capitol Hill, the Denny Regrade and the Seattle Center area. As such, this route carries a large number of passengers, using articulated coaches. If this route is replaced with Route #106 service, these vital connections would be lost.

    As for the Route #9, this route should also not be cut back, since it provides a VITAL connection for many people who live in the Rainier Valley and work in or are patients at the many health-care facilities on First Hill or go to school at Seattle Central Community College or Seattle University. For these people, having a reliable, one-bus trip is essential. Although the Route #60 already provides service on First Hill and Broadway and the First Hill Streetcar is scheduled to begin service fairly soon, neither option may not be an adequate solution for many people, due to the need to cross another busy arterial (South Jackson) to connect between them and the Route #7.

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