9:58 AM: We’re downtown at Metro HQ in Pioneer Square for GM Kevin Desmond’s upcoming briefing on the cuts that are foreseen if “sustainable funding” isn’t found (here’s our background report from last night). The top of the news release we’ve just been handed is “65 bus routes face elimination when Metro Transit’s temporary funding expires.” **The cuts, if needed, would start taking effect in fall 2014, not this year.**
UPDATED: Full list of 65 routes that might be cut: 7EX, 19, 21EX, 22, 25, 27, 30, 37, 48NEX, 57, 61, 76, 77EX, 82, 83, 84, 99, 110, 113, 114, 118EX, 119, 119EX, 123EX, 139, 152, 154, 157, 159, 161, 173, 179, 190, 192, 197, 200, 201, 203, 205EX, 210, 211EX, 213, 215, 216, 237, 243, 244EX, 250, 257, 260, 265, 268, 277, 280, 304, 308, 601EX, 907DART, 910DART, 913DART, 914DART, 919DART, 927DART, 930DART and 935DART.
Full list of 86 routes that might be cut: 1, 2S, 2N, 3S, 3N, 4S, 4N, 5, 5EX, 7, 8, 9EX, 10, 11, 12, 14S, 16, 21, 24, 26, 26EX, 28, 28EX, 29, 31, 36, 41, 43, 47, 48N, 60, 65, 66EX, 67, 68, 70, 71, 72, 73, 106, 107, 116EX, 118, 121, 122, 125, 148, 156, 177, 181, 182, 186, 187, 193EX, 202, 204, 209, 214, 221, 224, 226, 232, 234, 235, 236, 238, 241, 245, 246, 248, 249, 255, 269, 271, 309EX, 311, 312EX, 331, 355EX, 372EX, 373EX, 901DART, 903DART, 908DART, 909DART and 931DART.
A Metro summary of what West Seattle/White Center might face, with a clearer view of the map shown above, is here.
10 AM: Metro GM Kevin Desmond begins his briefing. “We have a lot to share with you, a lot of information.” He says the system is at a “crossroads. … Unfortunately, bus service cuts are on the horizon again.” After some background about Metro’s second-highest ridership last year, and the increasing use of the service, he gets to the explanation of why they are in money trouble, including sales-tax revenues and the impending expiration of the “Congestion Reduction Charge” approved by the Legislature as a bridge that runs out next year. Metro also has raised fares, reduced staff, improved productivity, drawn on reserves, cutting its capital program to cover the budget gap, Desmond says. He says they are still looking for belt-tightening ways, but when the CRC expires, “we are still facing a very considerable hole in our budget” – $75 million. And that doesn’t even speak to needs, he says, such as retiring aging buses.
10:08 AM: Desmond explains that what’s being released today are not just projected cuts/reductions, but also the annual route-performance report mandated by the County Council for delivery on this date. He says that ideally, they should be increasing service by 10 percent “right now” to serve underserved corridors and improve quality of service – including relief of overcrowding – and that he wishes he were here talking to us about such improvements and increases. “What we’re facing right now based on the initial analysis is reduction of about 600,000 hours of service” – a 17 percent cut. He says the 65 routes potentially to be cut are those falling in the bottom 25 percent of ridership and other criteria. “Mind you, that’s just relative – that does not of course mean that people don’t use those routes – a lot of people do in fact use those routes.” But he says only half the 600,000 hours to be cut could be taken from the bottom 25 percent – some of the lowest-use routes have to be kept to serve certain areas.
Metro currently has 200 routes – discontinuing 65 would be a cut of about a third, and “the effect on our customers cascades.” Routes that aren’t ended or cut would become more crowded, and overall, the reduction would affect an estimated 70 percent of the system. And he says they will certainly lose ridership, including those who are no longer served, and those who say it’s too inconvenient and go back to driving. “Particularly in the context of a growing economy … this will place more and more pressure on the region’s highways and arterials that are already crowded by more and more traffic.”
10:16 AM: He says they are announcing the possible cuts now – even before knowing for sure if the Legislature will provide relief by giving permission for seeking new revenue sources – because they have to prepare. None of this would kick in till fall. And this doesn’t even cover possible restructuring – such as what happened in West Seattle last September. Overall, he says, sustainable funding is not just about staving off cuts, but also enabling Metro to grow, which it needs to do. **We have added the full lists of routes that MIGHT be cut and routes that MIGHT be reduced, above. Please let us know if we’re missing identifying which ones are West Seattle-linked.**
10:23 AM: Q/A. First one: What about fare increases? Desmond says they have had many already, and “that’s raised a lot of money.” They are already assuming a fare increase in 2014, he says, “and that’s built into the deficit.” He says they haven’t lost hope for this legislative session – Desmond says he’s heard talk it may go overtime. “We think the time is now,” since even though these cuts wouldn’t kick in until NEXT year, so much preparation is needed, they need new revenues flowing by the time the Congestion Reduction Charge expires in the first half of next year. He says that if there is a statewide solution, great – the state used to provide a lot more money – but if not, “we need local options,” such as a Motor Vehicle Excise Tax, but “we’d be open to other tools.” He doesn’t think more sales tax is the solution – relying on it so much in the past has left them vulnerable, because of sales tax’s “volatility” as the economy fluctuates.
10:32 AM: Going through more of what Metro has put online – here’s a close-up look at how our region might be affected if these dire cuts are needed. There’s a map, too, which we’ll add to this story as soon as we can process it. Meantime, Q/A continues – Desmond says they are continuing to “work with our labor unions to find ways to contain cost growth” as well as other ways to be “smarter” about spending, but he insists that the King County Auditor’s finding have already resulted in changes and there is not much more they can do. “We will continue to push reforms, we will continue to push working as smart as we can …” If the Congestion Reduction Charge can be extended – $20 for every motorist – it would still only cover a third of the money problem they have, he says. If the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax suggested by regional leaders including King County Executive Constantine and Mayor McGinn is implemented, it would go to roads as well as to transit (which would get 60 percent of it, more than $80 million). But that would only leave $10 million to cover growth, and Desmond says they need to be growing to the tune of $30 million a year, because “the demand for transit is insatiable in this county, frankly.”
10:39 AM: Asked if cuts are inevitable given all the pressure, Desmond says he’s an “optimist by nature. … King County needs to succeed.” He says he thinks even people who don’t use transit will understand the need to “dig deeper into their pockets” because of the road capacity and the fact transit helps with that. “It makes the overall network work better.” So what would he want to see? He’s not specifying exactly which funding source he thinks would be best, just a source that’s “progressive enough and consistent enough … for a sustainable future.” Asked to reiterate the timeline of these possible cuts, he says what’s being discussed today is just “a starting point for our planners,” who would be coming up with something to take to the public starting late this year. Asked again about raising fares, which one reporter says people are suggesting on Twitter, he reiterates that another fare hike is in the works for next year and the farebox recovery – how much of the expenses are covered by fares – is already at more than 27 percent. But, he says again, a quarter fare increase only covers about $10 million. “At some point, you start raising the fare too much, and a lot of people will not be able to afford transit,” or quit because it’s not cost-effective.
10:49 AM: The other shoe dropping on transit funding, the looming expiration of the “mitigation money” covering 45,000 hours of service – mostly in our area – has been brought up. Desmond says he has not spoken to Gov. Inslee yet about that problem (or transit funding in general), but they remain hopeful that the state will find money in WSDOT’s budget to extend that. He says the mitigation money so far has resulted in a “roaring success” – more people on transit, fewer people driving on “that very congested corridor.”