Metro's budget provides for the delivery of public transportation services to the people of King County. Metro provides a wide range of services, including 179 bus routes plus six RapidRide lines, Demand Area Response Transit (DART), and operation of the City of Seattle's streetcar system (South Lake Union and, coming soon, First Hill).
In addition to those fixed-route services, Metro offers accessible services for people with disabilities, commuter vanpools, and alternative services in communities where regular bus routes aren't the best solution for local transportation needs.
Metro also operates Sound Transit's Link light rail and most of its Regional Express bus service in King County under contract, and is reimbursed for the operating costs and relevant capital costs.
Every two years, Metro works with the County Executive's office to develop a two-year budget. The Executive then submits a proposed county budget, including Metro's, to the King County Council. The Council considers the proposal and may make changes before adopting a final budget. The Council adopted Metro's 2015-2016 budget in November 2014.
The adopted 2015-2016 budget is approximately $1.4 billion. The following are some of the key services and programs it funds:
Service to a growing number of customers.. Metro's ridership has been growing since 2010, reaching an all-time high in 2014. Buses, DART, and the Seattle Streetcar delivered about 120.9 million passenger trips in 2014—approximately 400,000 trips every weekday. Combined with Metro's other services, about 126 million passenger trips were taken last year.
Although service cuts were necessary in September 2014 because of the lingering impact of the Great Recession, the adopted 2015-2016 budget requires no further service reductions this biennium—and a service contract with the City of Seattle and recent financial improvements will enable Metro to increase service. (See "Recent developments" below.)
Expansion of alternative services. The budget added $12 million for Metro's alternative services program, which works with communities where regular bus service isn't available or isn't the best fit. The program works with local communities to develop innovative public transportation services tailored to their needs. These might include shuttles operated through a Metro/community partnership, flexible ridesharing that uses an app to connect people, or a local transportation center that offers a variety of resources for getting around. Options like these can fill service gaps, better match local needs, and be more cost-effective than fixed-route bus service.
Launch of the new ORCA LIFT reduced fare program for people with lower incomes. This new fare makes bus service more affordable for riders who qualify for an ORCA LIFT card (household income no more than 200 percent of the federal poverty level). The budget supports Metro's innovative partnership with Public Health—Seattle & King County. Public Health and a network of human service organizations verify applicants' eligibility at about 40 outreach sites throughout the county.
Emphasis on safety. The budget funds the continuation of a pedestrian awareness program, a pilot program to test the effectiveness of turn-warning devices on vehicles, a program to improve the reliability of on-board camera systems, and annual refresher training for bus operators—an increase from the previous training interval of every three years.
Maintaining facilities in a state of good repair. Maintenance of Metro's bus bases, other support facilities, and customer facilities like bus shelters, transit centers and park-and-rides is critical to the delivery of quality service. Because Metro's capital infrastructure is aging, the need for investment continues to grow.
Replacement of aged buses and trolleys. The largest element of the capital program is the replacement of vehicles that have exceeded their useful lives. During the biennium Metro will be bringing new fleets of 40- and 60-foot trolley buses into service and replacing a significant portion of the 60-foot bus fleet. While the trolley contract was signed several years ago, the actual expenditure will occur during the biennium. Metro's goal is to operate a fleet that is 100 percent hybrid or electric by 2018.
New technology to support operations and services, including improvements in customer communications. This is one of many areas where Metro is partnering with Sound Transit to provide cost-effective, integrated services.
Continued efforts to manage costs and become more efficient. Metro adopted numerous efficiency and cost-cutting measures in recent years to offset a steep drop in Metro's revenues caused by the 2008 recession. Metro incorporated additional efficiency and cost-saving measures into the 2015-2016 budget (see sidebar).
Several significant changes have occurred since the 2015-2016 budget was adopted. The changes include:
In February 2015, the City of Seattle entered into a Community Mobility Contract with King County. Using funding from the Proposition 1 measure approved by Seattle voters in November 2014, the city is purchasing approximately 220,000 additional hours of Metro transit service annually through 2020. Seattle will reimburse Metro for the costs of this additional service.
A number of financial improvements occurred in the first months of 2015. Updated forecasts showed higher sales tax revenue and lower diesel fuel prices than budgeted for 2015-2016. Metro's actual expenditures were under budget in 2014, resulting in savings that can be carried over to the current biennium. Metro entered into a partnership with the City of Seattle, through the Community Mobility Contract, to make investments to improve service in suburban routes that also serve Seattle. The Legislature approved a state mobility grant for Metro. Funds from these and other sources will enable Metro to make needed service investments to reduce crowding and improve reliability in the 2015-2016 biennium—earlier than assumed in Metro's six-year financial plan.
The Washington State Legislature is expected to approve funding to extend the Alaskan Way Viaduct construction mitigation bus service Metro is providing on SR 99. The adopted budget assumed that these services would be discontinued in June 2015, when the current contract was to expire. The new funding will allow these 45,000 annual service hours to continue, and will be reflected in a budget update after the grant is approved by the Legislature.
Cost-cutting and efficiency measures in the 2015-2016 budget
The following are examples of Metro's many actions to control costs:
Fewer replacement buses - Scheduling efficiencies enabled Metro to purchase 40 fewer replacement buses than had been planned earlier. Estimated savings: $40 million.
Favorable bus pricing - Metro negotiated bus and trolley purchase prices that were lower than earlier projections. Estimated savings: $50 million.
Claims and workers' comp costs - Through improved risk management, safety training for bus drivers, and more effective efforts to get injured employees back to work, Metro is cutting liability claims and workers' compensation costs. Estimated savings: $8 million.
Access service - Metro has created opportunities for people with disabilities to use lower-cost alternatives, such as Metro-supported community shuttles, and also raised the Access fare. Lower fuel costs will also reduce Access costs. Estimated savings: $7 million.
Health care benefits - The County has worked with its employees and unions to reduce growth in health care costs. The County contribution to health care is capped at a 4 percent annual increase through 2016—significantly lower than in previous years. Estimated savings: $3 million.
Bus base automation - This project eliminates redundant data entry. Estimated savings: $1 million.
Lean - Metro's Vehicle Maintenance group is using Lean techniques to improve vehicle repair and parts inventory management practices. Estimated savings: $1 million.