Budget (Operating & Capital)

Overview

Metro’s budget provides for the delivery of public transportation services to the people of King County. These services include bus routes, dial-a-ride transit (DART), Access service for people with disabilities who cannot use regular bus service, and commuter vanpools. Metro buses delivered about 115 million passenger trips in 2012; all services combined provided about 120 million passenger trips.

The King County Council approved Metro’s 2013-2014 operating budget in November 2012. Metro’s total expected operating cost for the two-year period is approximately $1.4 billion. King County requires this to be balanced by an equal amount of revenue or other funding.

The County Council also appropriates funds for Metro’s capital expenses. Metro’s six-year capital budget for 2013-2018 is approximately $1.3 billion. For the 2013-2014 biennium, Metro’s planned capital expenditures of just under $500 million. 

In addition to the services listed above, Metro operates many of Sound Transit’s services under contract. Sound Transit reimburses King County for the operating costs, and these amounts are technically part of Metro’s budget. Some cost and revenue data for Sound Transit services is provided in this site, but generally it is not included in the discussion of Metro’s budget.

About the 2013-2014 budget

Metro depends on sales tax for a large portion of its operating revenue, and the Great Recession caused a steep drop in sales tax receipts. With projections showing that Metro faced a $1.2 billion revenue shortfall for 2009-2015, Metro and the County began in 2009 to take a broad range of actions to reduce costs, increase revenue and improve efficiency with the goal of preserving as much bus service as possible. Actions included cutting 100 staff positions, raising fares, digging deeply into emergency reserves and the capital program fund, and making numerous efficiency reforms that were recommended in a performance audit. After these and other actions substantially narrowed the budget gap, the County Council adopted a congestion reduction charge (CRC) to provide supplemental funding for two years.

As a result of these actions, Metro's 2013-2014 budget preserves Metro's current service levels and programs through most of the biennium. However, the CRC runs out in mid-2014, and available reserve funds will be used up during 2014. As a result, Metro faces an ongoing annual revenue shortfall of $75 million ($60 million for operations plus $15 million for buses). Unless new funding becomes available, Metro will be forced to cut service. The budget assumes that cuts would begin in fall 2014, followed by major reductions in 2015.

The 2013-2014 budget is based on Metro's Strategic Plan for Public Transportation, which lays out strategies Metro will follow to provide the highest quality products and services possible to build a sustainable public transportation system that helps our region thrive. The budget also reflects Metro's ongoing efforts to control costs and deliver the most value possible for the public's tax and fare dollars.

Highlights of the budget

  • Metro's efforts to control costs continue. New efficiency measures include creating a Loss Control Coordinator to reduce risk costs, converting some regular bus routes to lower-cost alternative services in areas with low ridership, and expanding the Community Access Transportation program as an alternative to higher-cost Access service. The budget also reflects efficiency measures adopted in the past several years that are yielding $20 million annually in ongoing savings.
  • The operating budget supports the operation of the four RapidRide lines started before the current budget period, plus the new RapidRide E and F lines that will be launched during this biennium. The capital program includes funds to purchase buses, make corridor improvements, and install real-time customer information systems for the E and F lines. More than 60 percent of the RapidRide capital funding comes from federal, state and local grants.
  • The budget funds development of new customer information products, including a new customer service phone system and a state-of-the-art “trip planner” on Metro's website. Data system improvements will support expanded use of real-time data to keep customers informed in a variety of ways. The budget also enables Metro to continue replacing older bus stop signs with a new design that includes destinations and easy-to-understand symbols.
  • To extend the benefits of the ORCA card to more customers, the budget supports outreach activities and steps to improve access to cards. The purchase of portable customer service terminals enables Metro employees to sell ORCA cards at senior and community centers, helping people who have difficulty getting cards. The budget also funds the purchase and installation of ORCA vending machines at several high-volume locations.
  • The capital budget provides for replacement of Metro's aging trolley-bus fleet. New trolleys will be on the road in the 2014-2015 timeframe. Expansion of the vanpool and paratransit fleets (for riders with disabilities) is also funded.

Metro's financial situation

Revenues from sales tax—a major source of Metro’s funding—fell during the financial downturn that began in 2008. Since 2009, we've cut costs, made operations more efficient, tapped reserve funds, found new sources of revenue, and raised fares four times in four years (a total 80 percent increase). These and other actions have saved or raised $798 million, preserving most bus service between 2009 and 2013. We're continually looking for ways to operate more efficiently.

In 2011, the County Council passed a two-year congestion reduction charge to help bridge Metro's funding gap and preserve service while the state legislature considers transportation funding options.

Throughout 2012, we used our new strategic plan and service guidelines to make the transit system more productive and effective. We restructured parts of the bus system and also reinvested service hours from low-performing routes into heavily used corridors to reduce crowding on buses and improve on-time performance. Because of these changes, we're serving more people within our available resources (for more information, see Section 4 of Metro's 2012 Service Guidelines Report).

To date, the legislature has not acted on new transportation funding. With both the congestion reduction charge and Alaskan Way Viaduct mitigation funding running out this June, Metro faces a shortfall of about $75 million per year beginning mid-2014. If no new funding becomes available, we must cut up to 600,000 hours of bus service beginning later this year. (The actual amount cut will depend on our financial situation when the cuts are approved.)

The budget planning process

As the first step in the County's budget planning process, all county departments prepare their own budgets. Metro is part of the Department of Transportation (DOT) and its budget is part of the DOT budget. To develop its budget, Metro uses forecasts from the King County Office of Economic and Financial Forecasting (OEFA) to forecast its expected revenues from sales tax receipts, diesel fuel, wages and benefits, and inflation. Projected ridership levels are used to plan fares. Based on these assumptions and established financial policies, Metro recommends the level of bus service it can provide. The Access and Vanpool programs are adjusted to reflect projected demand.

County departments then submit their proposed budgets to the King County Executive. The Executive reviews and may modify them before compiling them into the Executive's Proposed Budget for the entire King County government.

The Executive submits this proposed county budget to the Metropolitan King County Council in the fall. The Council takes public testimony and usually amends the budget before adopting it by the end of November.

The County is on a two-year budget schedule for most departments. The adopted biennial budget is reviewed and may be adjusted after the first year in a process known as the Mid-biennium Supplemental Budget.

History of Metro Funding

Metro's funding structure has changed over the years, affecting the level of services it has been able to provide.

1972

The Seattle Transit System and Metropolitan Transit Corporation merged to form Metro Transit. King County voters approved a 0.3 percent sales tax to fund Metro.

1976

Metro began collecting funds from the motor vehicle excise tax.

1980

Voters approved an increase in Metro’s sales tax to 0.6 percent.

1999

After voters passed Initiative 695, the state Legislature repealed the motor vehicle excise tax which had provided about one-third of Metro’s total revenue.

2000

The state Legislature gave King County $36 million in one-time "bridge" funding for Metro and allowed King County to ask voters to raise local transit sales tax levies to a maximum of 0.9 percent. Later that year, King County voters approved a 0.2 percent increase in the local sales tax to restore service cuts made after the repeal of the motor vehicle excise tax. Metro Transit then began collecting 0.8 percent sales tax in King County.

2001

The "dot.com bust" resulted in two years of declining sales tax receipts requiring Metro to scale back plans to increase bus service. Service would still increase over the next few years, but by a smaller amount.

2006

King County voters approved the Transit Now initiative, increasing local sales tax by 0.1 percent to the maximum allowable level of 0.9 percent for public transportation.

2008

The escalating economic downturn caused Metro Transit to lose more than 15 percent of its sales tax base in 2009, requiring Metro to take steps to reduce the size and cost of the system.

The operating budget is Metro's plan for funding a broad range of public transportation services. The major services are Metro's bus routes and dial-a-ride shuttles, which together provide about 380,000 passenger trips each weekday. Metro also offers door-to-door Access van service for people with disabilities who cannot use regular buses, runs the largest public vanpool program in the nation, and operates the Seattle Streetcar and Sound Transit's Regional Express bus and Link light rail services.

The capital budget provides for operations and maintenance bases, bus shelters and stops, buses and other vehicles.

Download the budget

This document is the portion of the County Executive's proposed 2013-2014 budget for the Department of Transportation, including Metro. It does not reflect relatively small changes that the King County Council made before adopting the budget.

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Updated: March 17, 2014