Money for Metro: King County Executive Dow Constantine says he’s creating ‘clear path’ for cities to buy more transit-service hours

May 12, 2014 at 3:58 pm | In Transportation, West Seattle news, West Seattle politics | 33 Comments

King County Executive Dow Constantine has just outlined a three-part plan regarding Metro‘s future, ranging from a way for cities to avoid service cuts within their borders, to a way to counter the claims that Metro doesn’t spend its money wisely, to a way to figure out how to improve customer satisfaction.

First, Constantine said he remains “fully committed to a regional transportation solution.” And he says a statewide package remains “desperately needed … but doing nothing while we wait on Olympia” is not an option. So, he says he’s “creating an enhanced Metro program for cities … to have a clear path for” buying additional hours of Metro service. He says this is intended as “a bridge” until a permanent funding solution is found: “Until the Legislature acts, I cannot ask cities to accept cuts that they are willing locally to prevent.” He says this won’t prevent the first round of Metro cuts this fall but if cities choose, might be able to hold off subsequent rounds. (The four West Seattle bus routes slated for “deletion” aren’t scheduled to go away, for example, until September of 2015.)

He says he’s also calling for “new transparency” in how Metro spends and is run, to “clear the air” and “get the right information” to people to refute a perception that Metro doesn’t spend its money well. He says Metro’s costs are 99 cents per mile, while the industry standard is 98 cents per mile, and “growth in Metro costs is now well below the national coverage, 19th out of our 30 peers.” Constantine says he’s calling for a financial audit of Metro’s reserves and capital-spending plans. He says Metro spends cash on buses rather than go into debt.

And he says he’s forming a new customer-service panel to find out “how to make the experience of riding Metro, even better.”

The first part of his announcement would seem to pave the way for Mayor Ed Murray‘s expected announcement tomorrow of a Seattle-only tax-increase proposal. Voters in the city approved Proposition 1, though it was defeated countywide because of a strong “no” vote outside the city; that was pointed out by City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, who was among those joining Constantine at the news conference that has just ended.

4:13 PM: Here’s the full county news release. And Mayor Murray’s office has just sent word that his announcement is set for 9 am tomorrow.

5:18 PM: And carrying over the footnote from our earlier item previewing this story – you’ll be able to follow up on the county news today and the city news tomorrow morning, by hanging out with the West Seattle Transportation Coalition tomorrow night.

33 Comments

  1. Just a reminder for everyone: Tomorrow night at 6:30pm, Mayor Ed Murray’s transportation and transit policy advisor, Andrew Glass Hastings, joins the West Seattle Transportation Coalition to discuss all this and a wide array of West Seattle related transportation issues.
    .
    Join us at Neighborhood House High Point, at 6400 Sylvan Way SW in West Seattle, from 6:30pm to 8:30pm.
    .
    A few of us will be there at City Hall to observe tomorrow as well.

    Comment by West Seattle Transportation Coalition — 4:22 pm May 12, 2014 #

  2. I truly appreciate this paragraph:

    .

    He says he’s also calling for “new transparency” in how Metro spends and is run, to “clear the air” and “get the right information” to people to refute a perception that Metro doesn’t spend its money well.

    .

    Show the taxpayers you are not wasting our money, and this proposal might work.

    .

    Comment by West Seattle Hipster — 4:32 pm May 12, 2014 #

  3. audit; good
    ~
    more transparency; good
    ~
    better customer service; good
    ~
    repeat of regressive taxing of the poor; not good

    Comment by Diane — 4:41 pm May 12, 2014 #

  4. NO vote for increased car-tabs and sales tax. Until Metro raises fares and enforces that all Metro passengers pay their fare, their financial woes will not go away. Union contracts need to be looked at because that’s where the buck stops.

    Comment by Seattlite — 4:52 pm May 12, 2014 #

  5. @Seattleite fare box recovery is on par with the national average. Fares may go up; if they go up too much you penalize the poor and drive others back to driving. There are almost no or no transit services in the world making a profit. That is explicitly NOT their purpose. Their purpose is to support functional urban areas.
    .
    As for labor law, that’s Federal jurisdiction.

    Comment by Joe Szilagyi — 5:13 pm May 12, 2014 #

  6. I was recently looking up bus fares in my grandmas city in Germany, and the fares are much higher, more so when converted from Euros to Dollars. They have 5 zones ranging from $2.50-$13.50 for a single trip. West Seattle to Downtown would probably be a lower-mid zone around $3. Buses are nice and clean there, the drivers have full cash registers so you can get change and you can still set your watch to them.

    I hope instead of looking at their US peer agencies, and start looking at what European agencies are doing. Technology that metro has only started putting on buses in the last 3 years has been on German buses for decades, like automatic stop announcements.

    Another thought, a colleague who lives in Woodinville told me they run full sized buses out on his road empty! It’s time to downsize from large coaches to the smaller Access van buses.

    Comment by Trickycoolj — 5:30 pm May 12, 2014 #

  7. if this is the deal that called signature collection off for a property tax to pay for metro in Seattle..

    we are in trouble..

    Comment by JoB — 5:38 pm May 12, 2014 #

  8. Transit fares need to be low, particularly to commuters, in order to attract increased ridership that will reduce carbon emissions and traffic congestion. Metro has done a good job increasing ridership, and poison pills like fare increases are bad for the poor and bad for our sea levels.

    None of the proposed tax increases for Metro have seemed to me onerous or unfair to drivers or property owners.

    I spoke to a deaf and blind person with the help of an interpreter the other day. It would be helpful if those who carp about Metro focus their criticisms on the plight of other advantaged persons who desperately need transit solutions they can count on. Even if they live outside of Seattle.

    Comment by Bob Shields — 5:40 pm May 12, 2014 #

  9. Seattlite, they would need to have more fare enforcement officers, which costs more money. Are there really that many people that don’t pay?

    Comment by West Seattle since 1979 — 5:41 pm May 12, 2014 #

  10. Why go to car tabs? Nobody likes car tabs. Property tax can be written off against your income taxes. As for taking up valuable levy space, it gets into what they can vote on vs. what we vote on voluntarily. If they are worried about some of the upcoming levies, they could always put them on their part of the levy.
    .
    The foot ferry taxes are higher (with a lot lower ridership), Port of Seattle, and others take up way more levy space. They always put the “feel good” stuff (EMS, schools, veterans) on our half while their pet projects never get voted on. Perhaps it is time they chose which pet projects they want to fund on their half.

    Comment by Eric1 — 5:56 pm May 12, 2014 #

  11. Because I work from home now, I ride the bus only a handful of times a week usually. About 60% of the time, fare enforcers are on board. Seems like they are pretty diligent to me.
    .
    There’s already been one Metro audit and subsequent buudget cuts, so I’m not sure what this new audit will find. Maybe they spend too much on coffee creamer in the break room.
    .
    I appreciate Dow’s efforts, but I think people will just find other reasons not to pay for transit unless they directly personally benefit. Far too many people are short-sighted and anti-government. Unfortunately, the end game to that thinking is a place few of us will like very much.

    Comment by Kayleigh — 6:19 pm May 12, 2014 #

  12. I’m all for reduction in service and operating within your budget. As a good faith gesture, the transit union should reduce wages and salaries. Transit supervisors make over $100K/year.

    Comment by Drives alone — 6:22 pm May 12, 2014 #

  13. @West Seattle since 1979: One only need to stand at the 3rd and Pike bus stop for a few minutes to see the lively trade in paper transfers going on to facilitate fare evasion. All the fare evaders know which transfers to flash (“I’ve got some pinks today”) and the bus operators are literally not allowed to stop them from boarding if they flash an obviously invalid transfer (per Metro operating handbook section 4, part 9: “Fare Disputes”).

    Comment by hj — 6:32 pm May 12, 2014 #

  14. This is really good news. I am happy to hear that Dow is stepping up KC efforts to create some transparency as well as a plan to assist (in this case) Seattle in funding bus service. I am heartedly disappointed in what I have heard about Mayor Murray’s plan so far. I think I-118 is the way to go, in conjunction with Dow’s plan – slam dunk!

    Comment by AmandaKH — 6:56 pm May 12, 2014 #

  15. West Seattle since 1979 — The following might shed some light on how many people don’t pay bus fares:
    “So called “fare evasion” is the practice of riding a bus where fares or valid passes are required – without presenting a valid pass or fare. In some cases the passenger has realized that they left their pass at home, or makes an honest error. In many more cases however fare evasion is the deliberate act of a passenger wishing to make use of public transportation without paying the fare – either due to inconvenience (I don’t have change right now), entitlement (I pay taxes already), or outright disregard for the law (I just don’t feel like it).

    Regardless of the reason given – Metro drivers are instructed (appropriately) to not engage in “fare disputes” with those who fail to present a valid pass or transfer or to pay the correct fare.

    How to Evade – The Verbal Pass
    The “verbal pass” is the explanation given to the driver for not having fare, pass, or transfer. If you wish to board without paying a fare and don’t want to go to the trouble of using a physical “prop” (see following sections), simply tell the driver one of the following:

    “Sorry – I don’t have change.”
    Don’t worry. The fact that you are in the retail core and there is a Bartell’s, a McDonald’s, a Starbucks – even a number of banks nearby has no bearing on your ability to ride with this excuse. Heck – it doesn’t even matter if you wave a big pile of bills in the driver’s face. It’s clear that you are a poor unfortunate individual who is a victim of a society without proper outlets for breaking large bills into small bills; or the ability to buy an Orca pass thus eliminating the need for change altogether.
    “I forgot my pass.”
    Probably one of the verbal passes used more legitimately than others. However – there really is no way to distinguish between someone who lost their pass and someone who just said they lost their pass. The only legal way to ride a bus is by presenting a valid pass, fare or transfer. If you went to the store without your debit card – would they let you take the groceries anyway? Nevertheless, “no fare disputes” applies.
    “I just had my wallet stolen.”
    The driver won’t let the fact that he/she just saw the customer put their wallet away as they stood at the bus stop; or took it out to dig for a phone number after they take their free seat impact your ability to get to their destination. No fare disputes. If the driver forgets – remind him or her. Use those three words exactly.
    “I’m on my way to customer service to buy a pass.”
    Even if the customer is headed to Federal Way, or they got off nowhere near any Metro customer service location, this verbal pass works. Even though “I’m on my way to the bank” would unlikely fly with a cab driver, this verbal pass is effectively legal tender on board King County Metro.
    “Sorry, that’s all I’ve got,” or “sorry, don’t have it”
    This “verbal pass” involves dropping a few token coins in the fare box to demonstrate an effort, or to simply shrug off the responsibility of paying at all. Most common form of fare evasion.
    The key here is that if a driver – any driver – refuses boarding or in any way gives you a problem beyond “stating the fare once”, simply remind them that Metro policy requires them not to engage in fare disputes. If the driver refuses to give you a transfer for boarding when you don’t pay or show a pass or transfer – just use the same tactics on your next ride. Remember – METRO IS (effectively) FREE!!
    Props: The Orca Card
    The Orca card is a great tool that has streamlined fare collection, decreased boarding times, and radically enhanced data collection regarding revenue and ridership patterns. Savvy deliberate fare evaders have also figured out that some flaws in the Orca system – both technological and policy related – can turn an Orca card into a free pass that never expires.

    “Broken Card”
    As Orca cards are vulnerable to bending and other physical trauma that can damage the RFID chip and/or its fragile antenna inside, Orca cards often wear out due to rough use, or even normal use over time. Metro Operators are instructed to accept non-functioning Orca cards as “flash passes” – i.e. show it visually to the driver and it will be accepted as a valid fare. The passenger is then to be referred to Customer Service for a replacement card. The down side is that these cards can be deliberately disabled or shielded by foil or other metal to cause them to refuse to register on the reader. The really savvy deliberate fare evader will simply hold their wallet up to the Orca reader several times, tell the driver that their card must be broken (turning the “prop” into a “verbal pass” and ride that way. Some may display the top quarter-inch of a pass poking out of their credit car holder as evidence that they indeed have a card.
    “Insufficient Funds”
    This message comes up when the pass on a customer’s card is expired or their e-purse is empty. It will also come up if not enough time has passed between the customer adding funds or a pass to their card and their connecting to the most current database update on the bus they are boarding (database updates for onboard ORCA systems only occur when the bus returns to base, which may be many hours after the customer added funds online or via phone). Drivers are instructed to accept “Insufficient funds” cards as “flash passes”, not to demand cash payment if a card scans that way.”

    Comment by Seattlite — 6:58 pm May 12, 2014 #

  16. Please do NOT cut and paste long lengths of text from other websites, including personal blogs, from which that was taken (I found it quickly on Google). Everything written online is copyrighted unless there is an express permission given on a site to excerpt.
    .
    If you read the entire thing (what is posted in the above comment is NOT the entire piece, but it’s way long enough to be a copyright violation), it notes at the end that it’s offered as satire.
    .
    http://rantingsofatrimetbusdriver.blogspot.com/2012/02/how-to-ride-metro-bus-free-jeff-welch.html
    .
    TR

    Comment by WSB — 7:05 pm May 12, 2014 #

  17. Mr.Shields- bus fares need to reflect what it actually costs to ride the bus. ( reduced fares for low income & students is fine)They don’t need to be low to attract more riders- more efficiency & routes that work will do that.- as well as help the disabled.

    Comment by Anne — 7:32 pm May 12, 2014 #

  18. Dow is a piece of work, looks like he wants to be the next mayor. All people that live in the city of Seattle just be ready for all cost to go up to live here. Sales tax, usage fees, car tax, utilities and more that they will slowly sneak in. That will help them pay for their bad spending choices. Raise bus fares.

    Comment by wetone — 8:10 pm May 12, 2014 #

  19. West Seattle since 1979, I ride the bus 4x a week (8x if you count to and fro trips separate) and I see someone get on without paying at least once each week. Last time it was a man getting on the bus, said he had no change but needed to get from downtown to just outside downtown. Bus driver said ‘sorry, it isn’t too far to walk but I can’t let you on without paying the fare.’ Man got mad, said ‘you expect me to walk there?’ and the bus driver let him on. I also see people sneaking on the back door (some clearly don’t know how the bus works, tourists, etc.). It is a problem, although the majority pay to ride.

    Comment by margie anderson — 8:16 pm May 12, 2014 #

  20. Watch out. See if METRO/King County loads up the overhead on charges to cities.

    Comment by Mike — 8:38 pm May 12, 2014 #

  21. My friends who live in St Charles, Il (about 40 miles West of Chicago) pay $10,000 / year in property taxes on a $325,000 house. And Illinois has a state tax. We live in a major city (#15 on the Metro area list). If you want to live in a major city, you need to be able to move people around it. And how you do that is efficient, interconnected, diverse transportation options. And you pay for that with property taxes, or B&O taxes. Everything that makes cities great are paid for with taxes. If you don’t want to raise property taxes, gas taxes and sales taxes. We NEED to have a state income tax. This is getting ridiculous.

    Comment by AmandaKH — 9:16 pm May 12, 2014 #

  22. Of course there’s all after any sporting event or festival where the drivers just let waives of people on in the tunnel, “on the house folks lets keep it moving” and it’s being blasted on the scanner to just let people on even though it was after 7pm pay as you enter. When I rode the 41 daily to Northgate those buses would be sardine can crowded to the transit center and they would just open all the doors and let everyone out. I always had a PugetPass from my employer, and it made me happy to not miss the transfer about to pull away. But I’d just watch all that money go down the drain. They’re not safety hazard fare disputes, they’re just plain letting whole buses of people slide on a daily basis.
    .
    I will genuinely never forget the driver that let me on the bus for free. I was already running late to work and made a run for the new bus stop (they had closed every other stop on my street) probably in heels, and my stupid puget pass wasn’t in it’s spot in my wallet and I kept digging and looking and realized I had put it in my coat pocket the day before in a rush to cross the street. I didn’t have cash on me to pay and I said oh well and turned around to get off and the driver said “I can’t be the bad guy and make your day worse, at least you remembered your coffee!” and he handed me a transfer slip so I could transfer at Northgate and get to work. Sweetest thing ever.

    Comment by trickycoolj — 10:00 pm May 12, 2014 #

  23. One more time-no to car tab taxes. Plus the Bridge the Gap levy will be renewed in 2015 and raise property taxes for transit as well.

    Cut the overhead and admin costs.

    Comment by wsguy — 10:07 pm May 12, 2014 #

  24. All this bitching about fare dodging, and not one mention of the real evaders,the developers. The city allows all of this infill but would rather private developers reap incredible profits while contributing very little in comparison to other metro areas. This is crippling our city. Why aren’t we looking to those who can and should be contributing more? Why hasn’t the city council raised the fees already? This is a failure on their part, it makes one wonder who they are really working for.

    Comment by Realist — 5:01 am May 13, 2014 #

  25. To those who say that bus fares must cover the whole cost of riding the bus, let me substitute a few words:

    Gas taxes must cover the whole cost of driving.

    As anyone who travels, even to Canada, knows, people in other countries pay in the neighborhood of $3-5 per gallon of gas. Remarkably, most of these countries have effective public transportation systems and do not have crumbling infrastructure like bridges and roads.

    So the next time anyone complains about having to subsidize bus riders, I want to know why I should be subsidizing your driving as well as paying the cost through increased air pollution and climate change.

    Comment by Pay for what you use — 7:36 am May 13, 2014 #

  26. I kind of think the Metro cost for riding is already pretty high by comparison to other cities with busing I have lived in. In previous post I saw comment spam pushing for more cars and less metro. The city is mostly surrounded by water so unless we want it to look like a bowl of spaghetti in overlapping bridges [that should work out great for the next overdue earthquake] I’m thinking forcing transportation on traffic isn’t really a good idea. My husband and I used to live in Everett and 3 or more hours of transit to and from work that was sometimes stop and go was already on I-5 when he was commuting. More cars on the highways is not a solution.

    Comment by cj — 8:27 am May 13, 2014 #

  27. Parks property tax increase coming in August and more tax increases in November….why not lay them all out at once and call it a Tax Increase Buffet and let the voters pick which tax increases they want or don’t want? seems odd we now have elections 4 times a year voting on different levy, tax and car tab increases. if the city/county/state is so broke why not save money and have one election for everything? must cost money to print ballots, mail them out and collect and count them all……to the poster above who mention gas tax not paying for all of the roads….I guess this person never paid a car registration fee as I paid mine last month and there were 4 taxes for roads and others for transportation. Let’s not forget Gregoire’s 2 gas tax increases that were supposed to pay for the roads.

    Comment by joel — 9:11 am May 13, 2014 #

  28. This one will be in November. Re: “not paying the cost of roads,” it’s been discussed here multiple times, but here’s just one link. Transit is far from the only subsidized means of transportation.
    .
    http://www.governing.com/topics/transportation-infrastructure/Do-Roads-Pay-Themselves.html

    Comment by WSB — 9:28 am May 13, 2014 #

  29. Can KC Metro jack up bus fair to help subsidize my higher property taxes/sales taxes/car tabs?

    Comment by pilsner — 9:30 am May 13, 2014 #

  30. @AmandaKH: I lived in the Chicago area for 12 years. You are correct about high property taxes and income taxes. However, public transit in suburbs like St. Charles is a joke — a local bus system (Pace) that makes Metro look fantastic and expensive commuter trains (Metra) that share tracks with freight trains + have limited range. Higher taxes do not necessarily equate to better service.

    Comment by Brian M. — 9:33 am May 13, 2014 #

  31. I hate to break this news to you, Eric1, but your car tabs are fully deductible from your federal income tax.

    Comment by ivan — 9:48 am May 13, 2014 #

  32. @Brian. I grew up in Wheaton ;) My point is that they have service into Chicago from 40 miles away, and it’s not just the freeways. It’s interconnected and well funded. I just don’t see how people can think so insular on this topic.

    Comment by AmandaKH — 10:48 am May 13, 2014 #

  33. Car tabs are not fully refundable. Only RTA tax portion. Which is usually less than half of total annual “fees” in Seattle.

    Comment by Uncle Sam — 7:36 pm May 13, 2014 #

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