As-it-happened coverage: Metro Transit budget briefing downtown; cuts beyond next spring now pushed back to 2016

(WSB photo of Dively & Desmond, substituted for originally posted Twitter image)
10:02 AM: We’re at King County’s King Street Center, where Metro Transit general manager Kevin Desmond and the county’s budget boss Dwight Dively are briefing the media on what County Executive Dow Constantine will propose for Metro in his budget, due out next Monday. Since Metro is of special interest to our transportation-challenged peninsula, we’re here to report the toplines live.

First, from the news release handed out:

*Beyond the September 2014 (no West Seattle routes involved) and February 2015 (that plan announced two weeks ago includes, for West Seattle, deleting Route 22 and changing the 21, 116X, and 125) cuts, 80,000 hours in cuts (half the March number) are suggested for March 2016 – so much in play, they aren’t saying which routes that might affect.

Dively says they’re creating budget efficiencies through health-care costs, saving $3 million for transit over the next two years. Also, diesel prices have gone down. Sales tax, though, he describes as “volatile” – and the forecast they’re using now came out in August, and isn’t much different than what they had in March.

Desmond is recapping some of the steps Metro has taken in recent years and insisting “We have not stopped for a second trying to find ways to keep service on the road, to stretch our dollars further, whether from our expense budget … or capital budget … We don’t want to cut service. Our mission is to transport people every single day …”

Here’s what he says has changed, leading to savings that in turn mean fewer cuts:

*Buying 40 fewer buses, saving $40 million in capital budget
*Negotiated better prices on buses they are buying, saving $50 million (also capital program)
*Job injuries/worker comp claims/lawsuit claims – saving $13 million
*Vehicle maintenance “process improvement” – $2 million
*Reducing service means fewer drivers, $3 million less spending, 335 jobs lost at Metro over next 2 years
*Fuel conversion saving $1 million
*Paratransit costs, “most expensive product that Metro operates” (Access service), $7 million savings
*Full list in news release

So bottom line, 400,000 service hours to be cut, instead of once-forecast 550,000. But Desmond says they know that’ll still be painful. First 151,000 hours kick in September 21st.

10:15 AM: Now he gets to the Seattle transit-money ballot measure in November. “If the Seattle measure passes, the February service changes will automatically be deferred until June 2015 to allow Metro and the city time to enter into service contracts – all of the cuts would be deferred, not just the Seattle cuts.” He says they still look forward to adding service sometime. August ridership figures show a 3 percent increase, and, says Desmond: “At the same time we are reducing the system, what we really should be doing is growing.” He acknowledges overcrowded buses around the county, unreliable buses because of traffic – “We need to solve these problems and this budget doesn’t allow us to do that.” He says the system is 900,000 hours short of what might help fix that.

Now Q/A – what about the transit workers who rejected wage freezes, how does that figure into this? Desmond says the situation now goes to binding arbitration. If the transit workers had accepted the freezes, that would have saved $8 million – equal to 80,000 hours of service cuts. “We do not expect to get an arbitration decision until the second quarter of next year,” Desmond said. Otherwise, the budget currently incorporates the “basic cost-of-living increase” for those and other workers.

Next question, “How do you respond to those who say you’re using scare tactics to get people to approve a tax increase?” Desmond points to the fact “we’ve been talking about this for six years. … We’ve not been hiding this from anybody through that entire six-year period.” (Editor’s note: Here’s a 2008 mention on WSB.) He talks about committees and task forces that have been going through the system and how it works, “totally out in the open” over those years. “We were the only transit system in this state in 2011 … that convinced the state Legislature to give us another tool to keep service on the road.” Though they’ve figured out how to save 150,000 hours in cuts, he says 400,000 hours worth are still painful, and “six years of kicking the can down the road in terms of stopgap measures and one-time savings … we’ve got to put a stop to that. … We don’t want to continue to lurch back and forth with the public.” He says they’re still at risk of having to keep cutting if the economy has a downturn at this point.

Desmond says they’re hoping that they can get to the point where they can “look at making some improvements” in Seattle lines that are currently overcrowded. Should downtown businesses chip in with head taxes or in other ways? Desmond says he doesn’t want to “get into that” but that there are already ways that the business community is helping, including pre-paid fare products. Dively also points out that head taxes are a city-only tool – not available to counties, in our state – and it’s up to the city to figure out how it wants to raise money. Desmond, then, turns back a question meant to elicit a “why should Seattle voters approve the ballot measure?” answer. He just mentions that the area is growing and transit should be growing, not contracting.

10:29 AM: Desmond mentions SDOT’s new director Scott Kubly, saying that Kubly is “really excited” about finding ways to improve the right of way for buses so they don’t get stuck in traffic and therefore delayed as often.

We ask about fare increases – Desmond points out the one scheduled for March of next year, and beyond that, he says that it would likely be a dialogue with the county council since the executive is not proposing another fare increase before 2018. He mentions the oft-cited stat that Metro’s basic fare will have doubled since 2008, when next year’s increase kicks in (at the same time a new low-income fare takes effect). “We always have to be thinking hard and struggling to find the right pricepoint …” appealing to “discretionary” riders as well as those who have no alternative.

10:35 AM: Briefing over – full complement of regional media was here too. If you want to read the full news release, it’s here.

22 Replies to "As-it-happened coverage: Metro Transit budget briefing downtown; cuts beyond next spring now pushed back to 2016"

  • MikeK September 17, 2014 (1:38 pm)

    How many service hours would we gain if these two yahoos were eliminated?

    With the #22 going, I will have no service unless I drive to Westwood. And when will Westwood get tired of all the cars parking there and the drivers not shopping and put a stop to the unofficial “park and ride” lot.

    • WSB September 17, 2014 (1:46 pm)

      Someone has to run Metro, and someone has to oversee the county’s budget. If you have specific suggestions regarding their performance, they report to Dow Constantine – – Re: Westwood, is it having a parking crunch? Of all the complaints regarding Westwood/Roxhill/transit hub/etc. I don’t think I’ve heard that one lately, but either the community council or Transportation Coalition would certainly be interested to hear more.

  • Ray September 17, 2014 (1:56 pm)

    So, amazingly, instead of just running with the original estimates, yelling “the sky is falling”, and punishing users of the system with cuts, management all of a sudden decided to do an honest-to-god analysis of their situation and numbers, and lo and behold, realized there WERE efficiencies/other things that they could do to better manage the system without raising taxes!

    AMAZING!!!! U am Gobsmacked! This local Democratic government is made of wizards, I tell you. WIZARDS!!!!!

  • MikeK September 17, 2014 (2:43 pm)

    To WSB Yes, I realize someone has to run things, but why is it no one ever suggests these upper management types take pay cuts? I worked as a driver many years ago and believe me, I do not begrudge the current drivers for not taking pay cuts. It is not their fault things have gone south. It is bad management. Bus bulbs indeed. That was a good use of funds. And now I am going to be told to pay even more for my tabs and will still have rotten service. I have been a bus user for 40 years but now I have to drive, which I would really rather not do.

    As for Westwood parking, have you been there to park lately. More and more people are parking there and busing it. I wasn’t saying it WAS a problem, just wondering what will happen when eventually it BECOMES a problem. Then where will we park so we can take a bus? Westwood businesses will not put up with losing business if available parking for SHOPPERS goes away.

  • flimflam September 17, 2014 (5:28 pm)

    @ ray – wasn’t hard to see this coming either, really. sigh.

  • Les September 17, 2014 (5:36 pm)

    Why does a bus cost a million dollars? Maybe it is time to start building our busses and ferry boats in Mexico,Brazil,South Korea or China.

    • WSB September 17, 2014 (5:42 pm)

      Your question is interesting, and I’ll look around later to see if there is any procurement info on the county website – where buses are built, etc. But on the other hand – have you shopped for a car lately? Average price is $30,000!

  • Drives alone September 17, 2014 (5:43 pm)

    The transit union rejects an austere contract but wants Seattle to approve tax and car tab increases. I’m voting No!

  • wscommuter September 17, 2014 (6:12 pm)

    MikeK … to answer your question narrowly, if you cut the pay of people in management, they will look for another job. Then, the people who are willing to do this job for a reduced salary you want to pay them tend to be less-qualified and less competent, so things actually get worse.

    To answer your question more broadly, cutting the pay of two managers wouldn’t make any difference – at all – to service cuts. Take away $25,000 from each of them … and you save only $50,000 for a problem that is about needing millions more (while they leave for a better job).

    I respect the idea of being more frugal. I respect the idea of top-to-bottom savings and that every penny counts. But reading a stupid comment (and yes, when you call them names like “yahoos”, you are being stupid) and then propose a meaningless idea, your opinion doesn’t count for much in my book.

  • Dcn September 17, 2014 (6:36 pm)

    It was smart of non-city residents to reject the last ballot measure. The reason all cuts would be deferred if the new Seattle-only ballot measure is passed is because they can use Seattle ballot money to keep Seattle routes running, and their regular budget money to keep everything else running. Essentially, Seattle residents will be subsidizing all of the suburbs served by Metro.

  • joel September 17, 2014 (6:52 pm)

    we have NO money, Help, help, help…… let’s raise taxes or the sky will fall!!!! oh just kidding we really have money but not want to tighten the belt and do our jobs with the money we have. why do voters continue to fall for this stuff? housing prices up = higher taxes. unemployment under 5% = more spending. more spending = more tax money. they have more than enough money – just stop wasting it.

  • M September 17, 2014 (8:07 pm)


    You realize there is a problem with people parking at Westwood that aren’t shopping there and yet you freely admit to doing just that. You see how that isn’t part of the solution, right?

  • trevor September 17, 2014 (8:09 pm)

    I hope the property owners don’t raise their rent.
    I think Metro can make some cuts and be ok, but Metro is run on endless money. Maybe Mayor Murray can have a Seattle Division of Bus Service and save all routes.

  • Sluggo September 17, 2014 (8:20 pm)

    Dcn: There was no Seattle-only ballot measure or countywide deferral when Prop 1 failed, so county voters could not count on that. The Seattle money is tied specifically to certain routes and runs as agreed by the City Council and Metro, so only to compensate for “the cuts”. If Metro did yank additional hours from Seattle and gave them to the suburbs, that would be an additional “cut” and would have to be published, and many in the county would call it unfair — and the council would probably veto it. If Metro shifts Seattle hours to the Eastside, you can be sure that south King County and Shoreline will complain. The county’s position is that Metro should stick to its new performance metrics, which dictate that route changes should be based mostly on ridership and a small bit on geographical coverage.

  • T September 18, 2014 (11:32 am)

    Why are taxpayers even asked to pay for this?? The developers (and City Council) created the overcrowding in neighborhoods and streets. Let the developers pay for the infrastructure needed to move all these people in and out. The fact that they are cutting service and jamming neighborhoods at the same time is stunning. Tax the developers.

  • au September 18, 2014 (1:42 pm)

    I second what T says.

  • JW September 18, 2014 (1:52 pm)

    I third what T says….

  • Thomas M. September 18, 2014 (2:35 pm)

    Developer fees? That’s a California idea! Heresy! Blasphemy!

  • Thomas M. September 18, 2014 (2:51 pm)

    And again the Duh Factor weighs heavily on Metro. They want us to Park and Ride, just like people in other areas. But unlike other areas there is nowhere to PARK while we ride. West Seattle light rail fell apart for this same reason. When Westwood does crack down on parking squatters, what’s the solution?

  • anonyme September 18, 2014 (3:36 pm)

    I fourth what T says.

    Park & Ride only works if you own a car. If you don’t, and your only bus service (#22) is eliminated…wait, what am I paying taxes for again? Oh well, I’ll be paying fewer taxes once I’m out of a job anyway.

  • Thomas M. September 19, 2014 (8:26 am)

    Great if you can do without a car. I personally have to be in courthouses all over three counties and can not rely solely on the bus. All downtown appearances I go by bus if I can. I chose to live a half block from the C line. Not everyone can locate themselves on a bus line. As traffic gets more and more foo-ed up in Seattle, location on a main line will become more important.

  • wetone September 19, 2014 (12:06 pm)

    T, quit using any Common Sense, this is Seattle and those words have been thrown out from our governing officials doctrine for many years. It is laughable how in this case and many others they end up finding a solution to their problems after they use the scare tactic’s for increased funding (tax hikes). The problem were stuck with in W/S is no matter how good of bus service, traffic will continually get worse from the continuing population increase and road capacities that are not. The worse I-5 traffic gets the more we back up, pretty simple. Also add the longer trains coming soon holding east/west traffic up on the surface streets and don’t forget the new terminal 5 rebuild project, that could literally by itself be the biggest impact to this area, from the truck and train traffic caused to support that terminal. I don’t think you would ever see any city in the US think about a project like this due to huge cost, logistics, impact to surrounding area.

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