Should Metro Transit be self-contained again? County Executive proposes it

(WSB file photo)

Just announced by King County Executive Dow Constantine‘s office – he’s proposing that Metro Transit break away from the County Transportation Department and become a self-contained department:

King County Executive Dow Constantine directed work to begin on a plan to move Metro from a division within the King County Department of Transportation to a standalone County department. This would increase innovation and accountability in four areas: increasing mobility options, capital construction, investing in Metro’s workforce, and expanding the transit system through partnerships.

“This region increasingly depends on fast, reliable transit. So it’s no surprise that Metro is one of our most vital, visible, and popular services,” said Executive Constantine. “By elevating Metro as a standalone department, we can better encourage innovation and accountability so that we continue to make strong progress in mobility, delivering capital investments, focusing on employees, and forging strong community partnerships.”

The move builds on the successes in creating the Metro Connects long-range plan, the ORCA LIFT fare for riders earning lower incomes, and services that are better integrated with Sound Transit.

Over the coming months, Executive Constantine will form a work group with County Councilmembers to identify shared objectives and priorities for Metro as a standalone department. Following thorough business planning and budget processes, a formal proposal will be transmitted to the Council in fall 2018 as part of the 2019-2020 budget process. It’s anticipated that Metro will become a department early in 2019 following Council actions.

King County and Metro Transit merged in 1994, following a voter referendum. Metro later became a division within the King County Department of Transportation, along with the Road Services, Airport, Marine, and Fleet Administration divisions. Metro is the largest single division in King County government, providing $1.6 billion in transit services in 2017-2018 through 4,800 employees – including 2,800 transit operators.

Metro provides 500,000 rides daily through bus service and under contract for Sound Transit and the city of Seattle. Metro’s daily ridership is above 400,000 and with service expanding, Metro is the largest transit agency in the state and serves the nation’s fastest growing transit market in the country.

You can read Constantine’s letter to KCDOT director Harold Taniguchi here. The plan was announced to Metro employees yesterday, via a memo from Taniguchi that a WSB reader sent us this morning – when we subsequently asked Metro/KCDOT for confirmation of the plan, the response was the official announcement you see above. (Text of the Taniguchi e-mail is after the jump:)

Dear DOT employees,

Today Executive Constantine informed me that he is working with the County Council to make a big change: In early 2019, Metro Transit will become a stand-alone County department, no longer part of the Department of Transportation.

This change makes sense. Public transportation is a top priority for the Executive and our region. Population and job growth mean that Metro must provide more and better travel options for all who live and work here—and Metro has a long-range plan for doing just that. By becoming a department, Metro will be in a better position to partner with other agencies, to deliver the large increases in service and the investments in facilities and vehicles that will be needed, and to grow and support its top-notch workforce. Building upon the strength of Rob’s leadership, and the momentum of the division, now is simply a good time for this reorganization.

Much needs to be done over the year ahead. The Executive will be working with Council members this fall to shape their expectations and a framework for Metro’s new structure. Metro will be working on its own internal plans for moving forward as a department.

What will this change mean for DOT employees? For most of you, the work you do every day won’t be affected. Some Metro employees will see changes in what you do and your organizational structure. General Manager Rob Gannon and his leadership team will be keeping you informed as plans are developed.

The DOT Director’s Office staff, which provides a number of support services to Metro, will also see changes. I deeply value the employees in my office and the excellent services they deliver. We’ll be working hard to ensure they are supported through this transition.

I’ll also be working closely with Rob and the rest of my leadership team both to support and communicate with you and to ensure that Metro and the rest of the department continue to get the services they rely upon.

The elevation of Metro to the department level is an opportunity for the rest of the department to take a fresh look at how we can best serve the people of King County. At the same time, I know that changes like this can be stressful and uncertainty can be unsettling. Your division directors and I will be actively listening and responding to your questions, concerns and ideas as we work toward a successful transition and continue providing outstanding service to the public.


Harold S. Taniguchi, Director
Department of Transportation

17 Replies to "Should Metro Transit be self-contained again? County Executive proposes it"

  • clark5080 September 19, 2017 (12:18 pm)

    Not sure how making Metro a stand alone department will “better encourage innovation and accountability so that we continue to make strong progress in mobility, delivering capital investments, focusing on employees, and forging strong community partnerships.” My guess is that this move will somehow allow them to raise taxes and enlarge the current metro budget.

  • SouthEasterBunny September 19, 2017 (12:39 pm)

    …must make more jobs for cronies…

  • Jeff September 19, 2017 (12:41 pm)

    If we’re going to do anything, how about splitting out a municipal transit agency again so we can fund decent urban service without sending half empty buses to suburbs that don’t even want them.

  • Rusty September 19, 2017 (12:51 pm)

    Well hey, Dow’s doing such a bang-up job with Sound Transit, let’s just make him transportation czar and then he can masterfully re-engineer the entire region with more 19th-century technology (in 30 years for 100’s of billions of course). As for the ‘$1.6 billion in transit services’ – which is their operating budget for 2017-18,  it is significantly up from the latest figure I could find (2012), which was $680 million. That’s a 235% increase in 5 years, of which part I’m sure could be attributable to the cuts needed after the ’08 meltdown that were still being felt.

    Before everyone starts piling on for being negative – these are just observations. I grew up here in Seattle, and recognize that we’ve kicked the mass-transit can down the road until now we’re saddled with ridiculous, insanely expensive alternatives. I actually think investing in buses and transit isn’t a bad idea – just wish we did it in a smarter, more forward-thinking manner (mag-lev trains, non-at-grade-level options, self-driving vehicles/buses), and not in the hands of unaccountable Sound Transit board members that are never on-time or on-budget – unless you count revising their failed metrics every time they fall behind – or truthful. Not every project will come in on time and on budget (few do), but can’t they just be honest about it? Revising your ‘plan’ to seem like it IS on time or on budget, as well as misleading the legislature (how much they would ask for in ST3, and the fact that it is needed to pay on ST2 – hey, isn’t ST1 still not paid for? How much do you say my car is worth again?) stinks, and breeds distrust. Just be honest.

    • wetone September 19, 2017 (6:26 pm)

                   ^^^ 100%  Agree  ^^^

    • Walter O. September 20, 2017 (1:38 pm)

      Rusty – you just compared a 1-year budget (2012) to a 2-year budget (2017 and 2018); all of King County switched to two year budget periods starting in 2015. 

      So, if you just double the 2012 budget for the sake of comparison, that would be $1.4B for two years. That would be a 14% increase from $1.4B to $1.6B in 2017/2018.

      Now, how much has service increased in that time period? I’d wager a bet it is close to 14%….

      • Rusty September 20, 2017 (2:48 pm)

        Walter –

        Thanks for the correction, didn’t see that in the docs I was looking at and wasn’t aware of the change. That seems much more reasonable!

  • Duanob September 19, 2017 (1:05 pm)

    I think Sound Transit should take over all public transportation in the entire Pugetropolis. One encompassing public Trans Dept. makes more sense than a bunch of fractured ones. 

    • Jeff September 19, 2017 (3:21 pm)

      I completely agree and have been saying that for years!  It would get rid of a lot of duplicate bureaucracy and overhead costs.

    • Swede. September 19, 2017 (5:57 pm)

      Metro are doing 100% of the work on all Sound Transits busses… ST is only a paper agency, they don’t have any hands-on people. 

  • max34 September 19, 2017 (1:57 pm)

    lol ok rusty, why don’t we have flying cars right now too?  THANKS OBAMA   [/sarcasm]

    there are no mag-lev trains in america & no self driving transit vehicles (outside of trams in airports), so putting that on the heads of the ST board is absurd.   

    there’s 100% chance we have self-driving buses here (and elsewhere) once they are approved for public use.   as  for mag-lev, the reason why we dont have high-speed rail (mag or otherwise) is mostly geography.  you need very very straight long curves to maintain the speeds necessary to get any reasonable speeds you would want.  otherwise, you might as well just get regular rail.  show me that area around here.  

    and while i agree with you about at-grade options, the real trick is exclusive guideway, not necessarily at-grade.  the trains are never stopped on the at-grade parts along south seattle.  worse is the sharing of the road, whether it’s a streetcar or with the buses in the tunnel.    

    if ST creates their new BRT network along 405 and 522 without at lease 80% exclusive guideway (100% is probably impossible, given cost/geography), then we can commiserate on that together.    those projects have a high level of “future technology” as part of their scope too btw.  

    • Rusty September 19, 2017 (3:20 pm)

      Max –

      The mag-lev idea wasn’t for speed, it’s for no emissions. You COULD build it here if there was a will. The self-driving buses aren’t here yet, but again – since we’re waiting 25-30 years(?) for ST3 to be done, seems like by the time they finish (probably more like 40 based on past performance), they will have been around for a while. Haven’t heard any planning in that area – and instead, we’re going with trains. So no, not exactly pie-in-the-sky flying cars, just not really enthused about our 54 billion dollar train system by a group that can’t seem to talk straight or budget well.

  • Mark September 19, 2017 (2:07 pm)

    Does this result in more or less beauracrats?  If more no, if less maybe.

    And remember their was a scathing audit of Metro Transits Access operation just a few months back.

    Maybe the County should conduct more audits?

    • Swede. September 19, 2017 (5:55 pm)

      As for zero emissions (sorta, there is always sone, somewhere right.) Metro do have a fleet of fully eletrical busses (about 10 right now) and obviously all the current trolleys. (Around a hundred.) 

  • TJ September 19, 2017 (3:25 pm)

    Dow is trying to recreate Metro’s image more than anything else, to try and get support back in preparation of a tax increase levy they are putting together to present to us in the not so distant future. Remember, Metro’s last tax increase levy failed, and I know firsthand that there is not much optimism about future service expansion tax requests. A big part of it is the passage of ST3 and its huge price tag, knowing there are only so many tax dollars to go around. And the backlash over the car tab scheme on ST3 and crumbling support of that agency now won’t help garner tax payer support of ANOTHER transit increase. If they have any dignity, they should not try and propose any tax increases from the overburdened base. But, if I know our county executive, there is no tax levy he won’t believe in.

  • Canton September 19, 2017 (11:09 pm)

    As most of the comments mention, anytime Dow opens his mouth, it’s about more money. Just like his performance arts tax failed, he’s always scheming for the next bankroll. When will any of our local elected officials actually do anything of value, besides trying to separate people from their money?

  • JDub September 20, 2017 (8:46 am)

    Could Emperor Constantine be positioning Metro for amalgamation into Sound Transit?  I think there is a good chance, and separating Metro into its own department would make for a cleaner break. He controls policy in both ST and Metro more than any other single individual, so why not?  It’s not like he would be scedeing any of his personal power or influence.  What I find most puzzling about all of this are the references to Metro General Manager Rob Gannon’s ‘strong leadership’.  Gannon has virtually NO transit leadership experience, having come into the agency as a deputy GM With only Human Resources experience on his resume, and he certainly hasn’t set the world on fire in the short time he’s held the GM position.  Maybe it’s better this way – he will be far less likely to tell the emperor that he has no clothes!

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