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Reduction in service needed to save money and Metro

With Metro Transit facing a cumulative deficit of more than a billion dollars over the next five years, the Regional Transit Task Force report presented earlier this week made recommendations on how bus service might be restructured.

The task force’s unanimous recommendations include replacing the 40-40-20 policy of distributing transit hours with a regional approach and stabilizing Metro’s budget by controlling costs and pursuing stable funding.

“Preserving transit is the most important action King County can take to help recover our economy and get people to jobs,” said King County Councilmember Larry Phillips, sponsor of the legislation creating the task force. “The Regional Transit Task Force brought diverse stakeholders together so the region can respond with one voice to the pending transit service crisis and shape a system that meets current and future needs.”

Metro expects to cut more than 600,000 hours of bus service within the next four years, the equivalent of cutting all bus service on the east side of King County or one out of every five buses.

According to the Puget Sound Regional Council’s Vision 2040, King County is expected to see a 42 percent increase in population and a 57 percent increase in jobs by 2040, with most of this growth occurring in the county’s 12 largest cities. The plan calls for an aggressive strategy to expand transit services to support that growth. Yet Metro staff calculates that $74 million would be needed annually by 2015 just to retain 2011 transit service levels.

Phillips sponsored a comprehensive audit of Metro in 2008, which uncovered $100 million in one-time savings and tens of millions in annual savings. King County officials have responded to Metro’s budget crisis by implementing the audit findings, cutting Metro’s capital program and reducing staff, raising fares, tapping into reserves, cutting bus service by 75,000 hours, and implementing schedule efficiencies estimated to save 125,000 hours.

The 28-member Regional Transit Task Force represented a broad diversity of interests and perspectives, including transit riders, employers and major institutions, labor, social services, environmentalists, transit experts and elected officials. The Task Force met from March through October 2010 and used a consensus-based decision-making approach.

The task force’s key recommendations are:

• Adopt performance measures and control operating costs.

• Make service reduction and growth decisions by clear and transparent guidelines that prioritize productivity, ensure social equity and provide geographic value throughout the county.

• Pursue state legislation to create long-term, more sustainable revenue for transit services.

Phillips has introduced a motion accepting the task force’s recommendation report and directing the executive to use it to guide the development of a new policy framework for Metro.

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