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Mercer Island bus routes face elimination when Metro Transit’s temporary funding expires

King County Metro released this map showing the routes affected by a budget shortfall. - Contributed photo
King County Metro released this map showing the routes affected by a budget shortfall.
— image credit: Contributed photo

Sixty-five Metro Transit bus routes are at risk of being canceled, and service reduced on another 86 routes, if state lawmakers allow temporary two-year funding for the agency to expire without authorizing a permanent and sustainable source of revenue. Mercer Island bus routes including the 201, 203, 205EX, 211EX, 213 and 216 are on the list of routes to be eliminated, while the 204 could be reduced or revised.

That message – showing cuts to up to 17 percent of Metro’s service that will cascade through the agency’s 217-route system – is included in Metro’s 2012 Service Guidelines Report, sent today to the King County Council.

The report measures and analyzes transit service based on measures of productivity, geographic value, social equity and ridership. Included is a look at where investments are needed to reduce overcrowding, keep buses on time and meet growing demand.

The report also offers the first glimpse at which Metro routes are at risk for canceling or reducing if the state Legislature doesn’t authorize funding to fill Metro’s projected $75 million annual budget gap. The county temporarily averted these kinds of cuts by enacting a temporary two-year Congestion Reduction Charge, but that $20-per-vehicle charge expires next year.

Metro also made extensive financial reforms and raised fares to keep buses on the road. Metro’s financial reserves, which also helped provide a one-time financial stop gap, will be depleted and not available on an ongoing basis to sustain service.

“Our analysis shows that we should be adding service to meet growing demand, but the sad reality is that – without ongoing and sufficient funding – potentially one-third of our routes are on the chopping block, and another 40 percent of our routes face reductions and revisions,” said Metro Transit general manager Kevin Desmond. “The result would be even more crowded buses, riders left at the curb, or people climbing back into their cars – something that would worsen the region’s traffic congestion and hurt the economic engine of the state.”

Metro’s report details the performance of the transit system’s 217 routes and shows at-risk routes.

Routes at risk for deletion (65 routes): 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.

Routes at risk for reductions and revisions (86 routes): 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.

Routes potentially unchanged (66 routes): 13, 15EX, 17EX, 18EX, 32, 33**, 40, 44, 48S, 49, 50, 55**, 56**, 62, 64EX, 74EX, 75, 101, 102, 105, 111, 120, 124, 128, 131**, 132**, 140, 143EX, 150, 153, 155, 158, 164, 166, 167, 168, 169, 178, 180, 183, 212, 217, 218, 240, 242, 252, 301, 303EX, 306EX, 316, 330, 342, 345, 346, 347, 348, 358EX, A Line, B Line, C Line, D Line, 773, 775, 915DART, 916DART, 917DART (** Routes not reduced because Metro expects productivity to be above the bottom 25 percent threshold due to changes since spring 2012).

This list of routes shows the potential for cuts and revisions, however considerable additional analysis would follow during the coming year. As work continues, the public will receive additional information and opportunities to give input, both online and in face-to-face forums starting this fall.

Metro Transit reforms and revenues

Metro’s largest source of funding is sales-tax revenue, and since 2008 the weak economy has caused ongoing revenue shortfalls for Metro.

The Congestion Reduction Charge provides an estimated $50 million over two years, through mid-2014. When the temporary funding expires, Metro’s annual $75 million budget shortfall includes $60 million for operations and $15 million for replacement bus purchases. Metro is the ninth largest transit system in the country with a fleet of 1,400 buses that carried 115 million passengers last year – Metro’s second highest ridership ever.

In addition to the temporary Congestion Reduction Charge, Metro and the county made sweeping reforms, reductions and additional revenue from 2009-2013 to stave off major transit cuts. These changes totaled $726 million. Actions included:

Wage freezes: Working with Metro employees on wages and rising healthcare costs.

Spent operating reserves: Metro halved its reserve funds used for emergencies.

Bus schedule efficiencies: Removed approximately 120,000 annual hours of operator break time and bus route “layover” effectively reducing service costs without removing any passenger trips. To date, Metro is saving an estimated $20 million annually and has increased annual revenues by $35 million so far by implementing recommendations from a 2009 performance audit.

Cut capital programs: Re-prioritized the capital program and reduced the number of new buses that Metro was going to purchase to replace its aging fleet or to support deferred expansion.

Cut staff: Reduced costs not associated directly with bus service by more than 10 percent, including the elimination of more than 100 staff positions.

Reduced fleet replacement reserves: Consistent with a 2009 performance audit, Metro pulled $100 million from its fleet replacement fund to support bus service during the following four years.

Increased fares: Metro raised fares in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 for a total increase of $1 per trip in adult cash fares – an 80 percent increase.

Deferred bus service expansion: Suspended remaining elements of the Transit Now program except RapidRide and already-approved service partnerships.

Reduced bus service: Metro cut low productivity bus service by 75,000 hours in 2010-2011.

“These one-time and ongoing reforms and temporary funding have kept buses on the road and shielded our customers from painful service cuts,” Desmond said. “Throughout the recession Metro bucked industry trends and kept most of our service on the road to serve the people who depend on and benefit from public transit. However, as we did two years ago, we are again facing major cuts expected to have far-reaching effects.”

If new funding does not become available, Metro’s 2013-2014 budget assumes that deep service cuts will begin in fall 2014 and continue in 2015.

The state Legislature is considering funding solutions for transportation needs statewide, including transit. King County has joined with the Sound Cities Association and the City of Seattle and others to ask the Legislature for local transportation funding tools.

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