Ouch, More Cuts on the Way

Time for some more cutting, straight from Metro… ¬† ūüė¶

Public Hearings on Transit Service Cuts

Due to the dramatic recession-driven drop in sales tax revenues, Metro Transit is facing a $60 million annual deficit between revenues and the cost of providing current levels of transit service. To close this budget shortfall, King County has a choice of cutting 17 percent of transit service‚ÄĒtaking the system back to 1996 service levels‚ÄĒor preserving current service levels by enacting a $20 congestion reduction charge on vehicles in King County.

The Metropolitan King County Council’s Transportation, Economy and Environment Committee will host three special evening hearings to hear public testimony on the proposed transit service reduction and the Metro Transit budget crisis. These meetings are an opportunity for you to learn about the proposals and weigh in on the future of Metro transit.

The meetings will be held in Kirkland, Seattle and Burien:

Date Location
Wednesday, July 6, 6:00 p.m. Kirkland City Council Chambers
123 Fifth Avenue
Tuesday, July 12, 6:00 p.m. King County Council Chambers
516 Third Avenue, 10th Floor, Seattle
Thursday, July 21, 6:00 p.m. Burien City Council Chambers
400 S.W. 152nd Street

 

In the past two years, Metro Transit has transformed its operations to hold off these cuts and wrench every available dollar out of the agency for service, including:

  • Achieving new scheduling efficiencies;
  • Eliminating more than 100 staff positions; deferring planned service expansion;
  • Reducing operating reserves; and reducing its capital program.

In addition, riders are sharing the pain: since 2007, Metro has raised fares four times, an increase of 80 percent. Metro’s employees were also part of the solution: negotiating cost-cutting labor agreements that will reduce Metro’s costs by $17 million per year.

Despite these fare increases, budget reductions, and operational efficiencies, it is not enough to cover the anticipated shortfall and we are now nearly out of tools to save our system. The savings and efficiencies created by Metro over the past few years save approximately $147 million per year, but the drop in sales tax revenues means Metro still faces an operating shortfall of $60 million a year each year from 2012 through 2015.

The State Legislature authorized a tool that is available to King County to help maintain Metro service at its current level: a temporary $20 Congestion Reduction Charge on vehicle licenses for a two‚Äďyear period ending in mid-2014. County Executive Constantine has sent that proposal to the County Council as well as two other pieces of legislation:

  • An ordinance approving a Congestion Reduction Plan, a prerequisite for Council action on a Congestion Reduction Charge.
  • An ordinance cutting 100,000 hours of Metro bus service effective February 2012 and directing Metro to plan for reducing bus service by an additional 500,000 service hours in the 2012-2013 budget.

Metro Transit service is critical to the economy of King County, providing approximately 110 million rides annually, taking hundreds of thousands of cars off the road each day, and helping people get to and from some of the largest employment and activity centers in our state. More information about Metro’s financial crisis and the Congestion Reduction Charge is available at this link.

17% Service Reduction?!?! Seriously?

Ok, this sucks. Straight from Metro.

County Executive calls on County Council to enact two-year funding for Metro or face 17 percent service reduction

King County Executive Dow Constantine this morning asked the King County Council to make important decisions about the future of Metro Transit: approve a two-year, $20 congestion reduction charge to help maintain Metro service near current levels for two years, or begin the process of reducing the transit system by 17 percent.

The poor economy has hit Metro hard, causing a drop in Metro‚Äôs funding from sales tax. Over the past four years, Metro has cut costs, raised fares four times, dug deeply into reserves, found new operating efficiencies, canceled the purchase of replacement buses, and negotiated cost-saving contracts with its employee unions. These actions have generated nearly $400 million to narrow Metro‚Äôs budget gap for 2008-2011 and about $143 million annually for the years ahead‚ÄĒbut Metro still faces an ongoing shortfall of $60 million per year.

The two-year congestion reduction charge would be $20 a year on vehicles licensed in King County. The proceeds would be used to preserve transit service while King County works with regional leaders, legislators and the Governor on a long-term funding solution for transportation needs.

In case the congestion charge is not approved, the Executive also asked the Council to authorize a reduction of about 100,000 annual bus service hours in February 2012. This would be the first in a series of reductions totaling 600,000 service hours that the Executive would ask the Council to authorize for the next two years if new funding is not approved.

These reductions would shrink the Metro system by about 17 percent, leading to the loss of an estimated 9 million passenger trips annually.Overall, a reduction of this size would affect 80 percent of Metro passengers‚ÄĒmeaning four out of five bus riders would have to walk further, wait longer, make an extra transfer, stand in the aisle, or even see fully loaded buses pass them by.

Other areas have balancing budgets at this point? Why is Seattle still getting hit so hard? Can we stop serving the areas that barely use transit and bulk back up where we get real ROI already?! This is insane.

The other question I have though, is what in the world is this $20 congestion charge? How would it be applied? It appears that this isn’t a concrete idea or maybe somebody knows something more about it?

Rethinking Transit #2: Make the Route Transitions Transparent

Ok this might actually take some effort on behalf of King County Metro. But seriously, it would help tremendously for anyone traveling through downtown. Most routes come into the city from the north, south, or east (the ferries come in from the west). One example is the #18, which arrives downtown from the north and then becomes another route. Sometimes it becomes the #56 or something else that then heads south, but I’m not always sure what it becomes. It isn’t entirely obvious without doing research on a regular basis and studying the schedules (which again is mostly nonsense). So what’s the solution I¬†proffer? Stop making these routes independent. I understand they’re “different routes” or whatever, but you don’t actually transfer. Not in a physical way. It also doesn’t make sense to any logical person, if you paid when you got on and then when you get off again they want you to pay again. The confusion is stupid. However, I’ll leave the fixes to the fare collection system for another day, so don’t get tangled in all that nonsense.

What I suggest, is keep a route number (or whatever designates the¬†entirety¬†of the route) the same. If the #18 starts at North Beach, goes through Ballard, and generally becomes a #56 that heads south to SW Alaska Way or whatever, just pick a number for that route and stick with it. Stop being all bi-polar about what the route number needs to be as soon as a bus gets downtown. This only serves to confuse regular riders and people that don’t regularly use the system are screwed. Those individuals have no chance of understanding at first glance what in the world the system is doing. If the #18 however changes to another route, say #21, then just change that routes number to #21 from the get go and give it a full north to south alignment.

What other problems does this bi-polar splitting of the route? It makes bus drivers have to deal with passenger confusion all the time. Passengers come up all the time and ask, “where does this bus go now?” or if they know a little bit about the system they ask “what route is this bus changing to?” ¬†Once you’ve boarded there is no way to know without¬†harassing¬†the bus driver. I’m pretty sure they’d be cool with simplifying it for the passengers and just saying this is the #18 route from north to south or the #21 route from north to south. Also, don’t give me some nonsense about this being some normal way to run a bus system, it may be but its a crappy thing to do. For once, act like it actually matters that the passenger has a usable product (the transit service) and make it work for them.

Anyway, that’s solution #2. If you have any ideas, I’d love to hear them! There are lots of improvements to make and I’d be more than happy to be a sounding board for the ideas!

Until another time, happy riding!

In case you want more information about King Count Transit.

Day #15 of the Ballard Commute

Today the sun is out and shining bright in Seattle. This always brings more people out by an order of magnitude. The sidewalks have all sorts of people out and about, in addition it also brings those people out that the rest of society would rather not see. The entertainment factor also increases. People and all their silly pet tricks get into full swing.

But I do digress. It’s nice to see everybody outside wandering and playing around in the sun. I however am going to ramble on about the actual Ballard commute some.

The commute generally stays the same as it did the first few days, except a slight bit faster in the morning and a little bit more cumbersome in the evening. It seems, when their isn’t rain pouring everywhere that people manage to not wreck as much. At least, they aren’t wrecking on roads that I’m riding the bus on.

The Market Street & Ballard Street Bus Stop has been immensely useful. With the #17, #18, and #44 running through that stop, it is very easy to get anywhere that I need to be in a reasonable amount of time. Even the run to the airport isn’t really that bad. Albeit, it would be nice if it were a single seat ride.

The ride out of downtown is the only part of the daily commute that has a little bit of a problem. The Denny to Elliot Street traffic is a complete catastrophe most of the time. It only amounts to about 3-4 blocks of traffic, but the bus lane doesn’t begin until the bus manages to get through that 3-4 blocks. Amazingly I don’t have any solutions for this bottleneck and obviously Seattle doesn’t either.

Anyway, just a few observations from the last few days of the commute.

A Smile For The Commute Home

The commute home today has been an interesting one. I really dug the Coffee Bean Espresso Shop in Belltown when I visited a couple weeks ago. I got a coffee card, a mug, a pin, and other nicknacks when I first visited – because I dug it just that much. Today on the way home I decided to go by again and have a coffee while I waited for my bus.

You might wonder, “why would you go way over there to wait for your bus! That’s the other end of downtown!” Well my main stop that I board the bus to return home, 3rd and Seneca, has so many buses coming by in addition to the #17, #18, or #15 that I usually ride. I decided to board one of the dozens of other buses coming by that exit downtown through Belltown and get off to finish my wait at the Coffee Bean. I boarded a #1 and was down to the Coffee¬† Bean with a solid good few minutes before my next bus arrived.

I egressed the #1 and a few others also did too. I walked under the construction awning that is setup as I walked to the corner. Out of the peripheral of my eye I saw someone following me. I thought nothing of this, it is the city after all. However I walked across the street and I looked behind me to see who it was. Not that I expected it to be someone I’d know, but just wanted to see. When I looked around I saw a young lady walking behind me. I thought “meh” ok, no threat, no concern, nobody I knew.

Well I walked on up to the front door of the Coffee Bean Shop and she says jovially, “yes, I’m following you‚Ķ” with the expected sarcasm one would have when not really following someone. To her surprise though, me being who I am, I decided I’d open the door for the young lady. So I took the door and stepped back pulling it open letting her walk in. She got a smile from this and said thank you as she entered. I jokingly retorted, “and now I’m following you”.

She walked up to the counter to order and I followed in. As she ordered the guy at the counter asked, “is that all?” She responded with, “for me, and whatever he’s having.”¬† So I piped in with, “A small cappuccino, wet.” He responded “cool”. I said “thanks” to the young lady and walked over to my corner and plunked out the Apple Mac Book Pro to work on. I got my coffee, finished up what I was doing, and checked on the arrival time of my next available bus.¬† I had 4 minutes, which was perfect.

I packed up, and walked over to the young lady. I figured, after such a nice gesture, I should introduce myself. One never knows when they may run into a familiar face again. She introduced herself as “Laura”. After a rather long day, thanks Laura for being such a good soul and making my trip home a pleasant one.

I exited the coffee shop and headed to the stop. A #15 rolled up and I boarded. Again, I whipped out the laptop and decided this entry on the Transit Sleuth needed typed up, so here it is. The remaining trip went well, with no traffic congestion.

I sure hope everybody else had a good trip home with the smiling faces of friendly people. Until the next sleuthing about…  good travels.