What’s next for King County Metro Transit? A Message from King County Executive Dow Constantine

Metro bus in CID resizedWe’ve seen the idea of a Seattle-only tax measure directed at preserving bus service within the city. This property tax proposal needs 20,000 signatures by June 4 to reach the November ballot.

Seattlepi.com – 8 legislators endorse ‘Seattle-only’ bus rescue plan

The Seattle TimesGroup seeks property-tax hike to preserve Seattle bus routes

Publicola – Metro: Seattle-only bus plan would stiff suburbs

Keep in mind that King County is still working on a way to save Metro. The message below was sent to members of the Move King County Now campaign from King County Executive Dow Constantine.

 

Transportation Coalition Partners:

I want to thank you for your leadership and ongoing commitment to improving mobility in King County and Central Puget Sound. We are all deeply disappointed by the failure of King County Proposition 1. Unfortunately, without the revenue from Proposition 1, reductions to transit service are now unavoidable. The repair and maintenance of our local roads will fall further behind, and it will be costlier to catch up.

Last week I transmitted the package of proposed transit service reductions to the King County Council. It is one of the most difficult actions I’ve taken as King County Executive. Nearly three quarters of Metro’s 214 routes will be changed in some way; 72 routes will be eliminated and 84 routes will be reduced or revised. Only 58 routes will remain unchanged. These reductions will be phased in quarterly starting in September.

The timing of these cuts is bad – not that there is ever a good time to reduce mobility and increase congestion. Our economy is still recovering from the recession, and transit ridership is increasing along with job growth. Our economic health depends on transit now more than ever, and demand already exceeds supply by some 15%. Yet an estimated 11 million rides per year will be lost once all of the cuts have been implemented.

While the election outcome is a setback, this was but one battle in a long war to secure economic opportunity and protect our environment. I remain absolutely committed to seeking solutions to our regional transportation needs, and I know that you share that determination. Our region simply must have adequate and sustainable revenue for our transportation system, including transit, local roads, ferries and state highways.

In the unincorporated area and many of our cities, local roads and bridges are in perilous condition. Among other factors, the 1% limit on aggregate property tax increases has made it impossible for jurisdictions to keep up with population growth and inflation, and has caused an accelerating decline in the condition of the infrastructure our ancestors taxed themselves to build for us.

On the transit side, we’ve created a strong foundation of solid management, and made great strides in improving our system in recent years. We formed a Regional Transit Task Force and, following their recommendations, adopted a new, better way of allocating service hours based on performance, and geographic and social fairness. Metro leadership took many actions to cut costs, operate more efficiently, and increase revenue, including implementing the numerous recommendations of an outside performance audit. These actions significantly reduced costs and increased efficiency, and Metro’s program of continuous improvement will generate ongoing innovation.

As a reminder (since you may not see this in your local daily newspaper) we have:

  1. Hired Booz Allen to audit Metro, and have adopted their      recommendations;
  2. Eliminated over 100 positions, mostly in      administration;
  3. Created the Regional Transit Task Force and adopted      their recommendations to allocate service based on productivity, fairness,      and data. For their work, the RTTF received the Municipal League’s 2011      Jim Ellis Regional Leadership award;
  4. Secured a 2011 COLA freeze from our transit employees;
  5. Argued successfully in arbitration to bring transit      employees fully into our money saving Healthy Incentives health care      program, a program for which King County is receiving the prestigious      Innovations in American Government Award from Harvard’s Kennedy School;
  6. Eliminated the downtown Seattle free ride zone;
  7. Implemented alternative, less-expensive transit modes      in hard-to-serve areas;
  8. Delayed vehicle replacement;
  9. Drawn down $100 million in reserves; and
  10. Established a program of continuous improvement and the      use of Lean principles.

Through these and other measures Metro was able to maintain bus service through the Great Recession despite losing $1.2 billion to the sales tax collapse. Metro saved or recouped a total of approximately $800 million through 2013, with ongoing annual savings of nearly $150 million. I challenge the critics to identify any agency that has been able to avoid service reductions for so long despite such a significant drop in revenues.

The state legislature in 2011 took notice of Metro’s reforms and granted King County- and only King County – authority for a temporary congestion reduction charge to help fund bus service for two years, while they worked on a more permanent funding mechanism as part of a statewide transportation package. A courageous supermajority of the King County Council adopted the $20 charge, raising about $26 million per year, to be coupled with the draw-down of $100 million in reserves. The two-year congestion reduction charge ends next month. In addition, over just a few years the Council raised fares four times.

After our coalition joined with others from across the state to demand action, the State House passed a comprehensive statewide transportation funding package in 2013, one that included local funding options. But the Senate majority refused to bring it (or any other transportation package) to the floor for a vote.

As a result of this legislative paralysis, King County’s only remaining option, before cutting service, was to establish a transportation benefit district and to offer the voters the choice to raise the imperfect taxes available under the TBD statute. As time and money had run out, an April special election was selected.

Unfortunately, the proposed funding for transit and roads was not acceptable to a majority of voters. I believe voters did not reject transit service but the proposed means of funding Metro, and in particular the flat vehicle license fee. We had sought from the legislature but were denied the ability to propose a motor vehicle excise tax, which is a more progressive tax based on the value of a car. The state once levied this tax and allocated funds to King County Metro to provide for transit service. Only a few years ago, 23% of Metro’s revenue came from the state. Now it is just over 1%. The national average for state support of transit agencies is 22%. Ever since the loss of these revenues, Metro has had to try to make up the difference by seeking local taxes to supplement farebox recovery, federal grants and other agency revenues.

Even though the election outcome is not what we had hoped for, the question had to be put to the people. I am grateful for the broad coalition of business, labor, environmental, non-profit, education, and local government partners, and so many others who came together to work on this campaign. I particularly want to thank Kate Joncas, President and CEO of the Downtown Seattle Association; Rob Johnson, Executive Director of the Transportation Choices Coalition; and Dave Freiboth, Executive Secretary of the Martin Luther King County Labor Council for serving as campaign co-chairs.

For the good of our people, our economy, our region and ultimately our state, this unprecedented coalition needs to stick together, stand strong, and keep demanding real solutions from our legislature. If we do so, I am confident that we will in time prevail. Your campaign co-chairs are already working to schedule our next coalition meeting to debrief and discuss what might lie ahead. I hope you’ll be able to join us.

Let’s get back at it.

 

Dow Constantine

King County Executive

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