Ridership rolls to all-time high, but rough road ahead for Metro

8444499449_ec1094a7e2_b (1)Here’s a puzzle. As King County Metro ridership continues to soar, the agency is having a harder and harder time paying to keep its buses and trolleys on the road.

“King County Metro is experiencing its second highest ridership year and is closing in on a new record as demand for transit continues to strengthen along with the local economy and job market,” Metro announced this week.

Delivering more than 400,000 daily weekday passengers since the year started, Metro officials say it is on pace to break ridership records not seen since before the economic slowdown.

King County Metro's annual  budget forecast

King County Metro’s annual budget forecast

KCM ridership hit a weekday average of 408,000 passengers in May making this the 2nd highest average ever recorded by Metro, the release states.

“This preliminary ridership data shows we’re poised to achieve a third straight year of ridership growth as our economy continues to strengthen,” Metro general manager Kevin Desmond said in a statement. Metro said the data suggest more people are relying on Metro as they re-enter the local job market and comes amid “a 5 percent drop in gas prices and elimination of the downtown Seattle Ride Free Area.” Down the road, Metro is preparing for a $60 million shortfall coming in 2015.

“Instead of gearing up to meet this growing demand as it should be, Metro is preparing to dramatically cut service if a transportation funding package is not approved by the state legislature,” Desmond said in the release.


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5 thoughts on “Ridership rolls to all-time high, but rough road ahead for Metro

  1. I cannot lie, I do not understand their gap chart. I assume I am not reading it correctly, because if I am, I read it as Metro will have more sales tax revenue (about $225 million in ’15) than they have expense ($150 million). I also assume their total budget is much more than $150 million (or $250 million) so I am not connecting the dots.

    • That number is the “gap” or the shortage in the budget. The bar then shows all the measures Metro is taking to cover that gap. As you see in the past years metro was ususally able to make up the full gap. The rest was covered by reserves. In 2015 they wont be able to cover the gap anymore, and will be out of reserves. When you look at it Metro has already reduced their budget by nearly $150M through trimming fat, but are unable to make the budget work without more revenue or cutting service.

      The bottom line is that funding using sales tax is not a stable funding source. The recession killed the sales tax revenue and has not recovered. Metro is seaking another form of revenue to make up the difference. They perfer a MVET, since the level of revenue would be much more stable, and therefore eaiser to buget with.

      • The confusion is that even though the sales tax totals appear like they are declining, according to the numbers on the chart they are increasing. In ’09 there was approx. $110 million in sales tax funding, in ’15 there is a projected $225 million. What is true I have no idea. Also, in ’13 the budget was $200 million and in ’15 a projected $150 million for a reduction of $50 million. I realize they are saying they have a deficit of $60 million, but the chart reads they have a surplus of $60 million.

      • What really would clear this up is if the scale of the graph was “negative”. The sales tax is not generating $225M in 2015, it will generate $225M less than Metro’s long term budget requires. The problem with the Metro budget is that in the mid 2000’s the sales tax was projected to grow at a steady rate indefinitely. In 2008 when the economy crashed, this revenue did not just stop growing, it declined. As a result the deficit from the planned budget, to the incoming revenue continued to grow year over year. Seattle Transit blog had a great write up about it here: http://seattletransitblog.com/2013/05/02/explainer-2014-metro-budget-cuts/

  2. The budget gap graph is horrible–far more confusing than enlightening. If you click on the link D. Murray posted in his reply there is another graph that is far clearer.