Yet more budget news: Metro fare increase partly delayed

November 17, 2008 4:33 pm
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 |   Transportation | West Seattle news

Latest government-budget news with potential direct effects on you: Just got word from the county that it’s figured out how to delay the second half of a proposed 50-cent bus-fare increase till 2010. So that would mean a 25-cent increase next February, 25 more cents at the start of 2010. Here’s the official announcement:

Council finds savings in Metro budget

that enable delay of half of bus fare increase

$43.7 million in savings help push back second half of Executive-proposed 50-cent fare increase by one year while maintaining current levels of bus service

With record numbers of new bus riders coinciding with plunging revenues to support public transit, the Metropolitan King County Council today unanimously adopted a two-step fare increase that protects current levels of service while scrutinizing the transit system for cost-savings and efficiencies.

“Our highest priority is to maintain our current levels of service and keep buses on the streets,” said Councilmember Dow Constantine, chair of the Council’s Transportation Committee and co-sponsor of the fare ordinance. “This fare increase is not as sharp as originally anticipated, but should allow us to maintain service despite spikes in fuel prices or drops in the revenues that support public transit.”

“In talking to citizens about our budget crisis, people have said they value keeping and expanding their existing service, over paying a little more in transit fares,” said Councilmember Larry Phillips, chair of the Council’s annual budget committee and co-sponsor of the fare ordinance. “Along with efficiencies we found in Metro’s budget, this small fare increase will allow us to maintain existing transit service and continue adding promised ‘Transit Now’ service. We are committed to our work of providing quality, affordable transit service that allows people to get where they need to go – especially to and from work – without a car.”

“Staggering the Executive’s proposed 50-cent fare increase makes it easier for riders to absorb, especially in this economy,” said Councilmember Bob Ferguson, who commutes by bus and sponsored the amendment to spread the fare increase over two years. “By finding efficiencies in Metro’s budget, we can take it a quarter at a time and ease the impact on riders.”

The Executive proposed a 50 cent fare increase as part of his 2009 budget proposal on Oct. 13. The fare ordinance adopted today calls for fares for adults and those using the Access van service to increase 25-cents on February 1, 2009. A second 25-cent increase in adult fares will be implemented on January 1, 2010, with that increase also applied to fares for seniors and persons with disabilities. The youth fare remains unchanged at 75 cents.

Fares Current Beginning

2/1/2009 Beginning

Adult Off–Peak $1.50 $1.75 $2.00
Adult One-Zone Peak $1.75 $2.00 $2.25
Adult Two-Zone Peak $2.25 $2.50 $2.75
Access van 75¢ $1.00 $1.00
Senior/Disabled 50¢ 50¢ 75¢

The first half of the fare increase is expected to generate $9 million in revenue for Metro over the last 11 months of 2009. Enactment of the adult and senior fare increases in 2010 will generate $13 million a year, for cumulative new annual fare revenues of $22 million a year from 2010 onwards.

The Council is able to delay the second half of the Executive’s proposed fare increase by one year by taking a deep and broad look at how Metro delivers bus service. As part of final adoption of the 2009 King County Budget scheduled for next week, the Council has identified $43.7 million in cost-savings and efficiencies that will:

· Reduce Metro’s annual operating expenses by five percent of its roughly $600 million annual budget, or $30.9 million. Much of this saving can be realized by locking in diesel fuel supplies at prices that are much lower now than they were last summer when oil was spiraling out of sight.

· Scale back or defer entirely $12.8 million in Metro capital projects, including:

· Deferring small improvements at Metro bus bases to exterior signage, storage areas, and generators.

· Delaying the replacement or upgrade of lighting at Park-and-Ride lots where the existing equipment is still working.

· Canceling non-critical enhancements to the overhead trolley wire network.

The Council is also conducting a longer-term performance audit of Metro to focus the agency on its core mission of delivering transit service and to more clearly understand where efficiencies may be found for the 2010-2011 biennium.

“I’m particularly pleased that the staggered fares have not impacted the ability of school districts to provide student transit,” said Councilmember Jane Hague.

“This effort to bring fare box recovery to our target rate will help our Transit Division weather the volatility of fuel prices, as well as ensure continued service on existing routes,” said Councilmember Kathy Lambert. “Many people depend on buses for their transportation, and we need to ensure reliability of service. We even plan to expand our service hours. Public transit in King County is still an excellent alternative transportation deal all around.”

“Keeping buses on the streets is our number one priority, but Metro is affected by the changes in fuel costs the same way that the public is,” said Council Chair Julia Patterson. “This fare increase will ensure that we can continue to provide high quality service at a time of record ridership.”

Since the voter approval of Initiative 695 in 1999 that repealed the Motor Vehicle Excise Tax, the primary source of funding for public transit in Washington state has been the local sales tax, with fares paying for about 25 percent of the cost of bus service. A sharp spike in diesel fuel prices last summer combined with turmoil in the world financial markets led to an unexpectedly sharp drop of $40 million in local sales tax revenues for Metro Transit for the 2008-2009 biennium, leading to a projected $70 million annual shortfall in Metro’s budget announced on August 1. While diesel fuel prices have since subsided, sales tax projections have continued to fall, so that the Metro shortfall now stands at about $90 million per year.

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