In a special public hearing at City Hall, the City Council’s transportation subcommittee met on Wednesday to discuss the 2010-2011 King County Metro budget, and the plan for overcoming a $700 million revenue shortfall.
In front of a chamber full of transit riders, drivers and concerned citizens, King County Executive Kurt Triplett and King County Metro General Manger Kevin Desmond presented their proposal: a four-year plan to offset the projected $546 million deficit including service cuts, fare increases, and improvement program deferrals. Despite an increase in ridership for the last three years, Desmond stressed the significance of 12-13% drop in sales tax collection which is a main revenue source for Metro.
Alongside Desmond and Triplett were two other panelists: Rob Johnson and John Scholes of Transportation choices and the Downtown Seattle Association respectively. Johnson informed the public in attendance that transit cuts were not a King County exclusive issue, citing that 90% of public transit systems nation wide have raised fares and/or cut service hours. Scholes, representing downtown businesses and citizens, applauded the ride free area, but wanted the idea of a new revenue source for Metro outside of sales tax to be on the table. “We need another source that is stable in good times and stable in bad times,” he said.
Representatives from South Seattle and the Rainier Valley area dominated the public comment portion of the haring. Concerned about service cuts to routes 42, 48, 106, and 107, sign-holding audience members and a parade of citizens came up to the microphone protesting bus stop removal and frequency reductions. Citizens called those routes their “lifeline,” and added that the cuts have a disproportional effect on people with low income and people of color.
Other concerns from public comment:
- Labor costs
- Connections between ferries and buses.
- Against scheduled maintenance cuts, stressing the quality of service rather than the span.
- Moving away from the politics of universal service cuts and run Metro like a business. Executive Triplett responded, saying it would have been more difficult to go route by route, and that Metro wanted to “balance the needs of the transit dependent as well as the people just getting to work every day.”
While the $20 vehicle license fee suggested by Washington State Legislature was vetoed by the governor, Desmond provided two other options to aid the falling revenue: $50 million in already allocated stimulus money, and reappropriating property taxes. However, he said that the ferries will continue to be maintained and expanded for the next four years under this proposal.
As expected, cuts to the Metro system were the focus of the proposal. These cuts include:
- Deferring bus expansion: While the new RapidRide(link) services will continue full force, taking 4.5 cents of the total 5.5 cents from property taxes, Transit Now service investments are being deferred as well as investments in scheduled maintenance. Desmond noted that this does not mean Metro is favoring the specific RapidRide routes while cutting overall service.
- Capital program cuts: Metro will greatly reduce the number of buses it purchases, and speed, reliability and asset maintenance programs will be cut.
- Non-service related cuts: 10% reduction in complementary programs like security enhancements, customer information and park and ride landscaping and cleaning.
- Operating reserves: The proposal is reducing its reserve fund, which it uses in case of an emergency, as well as its fleet replacement reserve. The latter will go into funding and maintaining the current buses.
- Fare Increase: The proposal includes the already approved $.25 fare increase in January 2010, but calls for another $.25 increase in 2011. This would move the base fare rate to $2.25. Desmond added that the projected 1% ridership decrease with fair increases was already factored into the budget deficit.
- Bus Service Suspensions: 310,000 hours cut by 2011, with a possible total of 585,000 by 2013. This amounts to a 9% cut in service that will be spread out over all service lines. The first 50k in 2010 will be administrative, and will bypass the normal service change process that will be applied to the rest of the cuts. Desmond stressed that no routes will be removed, but cuts will be administered through reduced frequency, reduction or elimination of weekend routes, and earlier final stop times; all of which depend on the size and popularity of the route. “If you see a line on a Metro map today, that line will stay there,” said Desmond.