Financial Stability & Sustainability

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Service Cuts Service Finances Sales Tax forecast

Service Cuts

When will service cuts be made?

The King County Council has approved 161,000 hours of service cuts for September 2014.

The Council also directed Metro to cut another 188,000 hours in February 2015, but did not finalize the list of specific routes to be deleted or changed. The Council established an ad-hoc committee that will look at revenue forecasts and other data and either confirm or adjust the slate of changes Metro recommended for February.

The Council will consider the remaining 201,000 hours of service cuts recommended for June and September of 2015 as part of the county’s 2015-16 biennial budget process.

How did Metro decide what route changes to include in each service change?

Metro’s service guidelines set priorities for making cuts or changes. Our guidelines for cutting service are:

  • Priority 1: Cut the lowest-performing service.
  • Priority 2: Restructure a network to be more efficient.
  • Priority 3: Cut the next-lowest-performing service.
  • Priority 4: Cut the lowest-performing service in areas with service that is below their target service levels.

See our Cut Guidelines page for more details on what each of these priorities means.

The September 2014 service change will include Priority 1 cuts. Priority 2, 3, and 4 cuts will be considered for the service changes in February, June, and September 2015.

The phasing of these reductions will also reflect our goals of distributing service cuts equitably among routes that serve the Seattle core and those that do not, and making sure that the impacts of the cuts on people with low incomes and communities of color are not disproportionate to those on the general population.

What if new revenues become available in the next year and a half? How will service be modified to reflect current funding?

The service changes Metro recommended for June and September 2015 have not yet been approved. Reductions for these service changes will be determined as part of the Council’s existing process for adoption of the 2015-16 biennial budget—which will reflect current forecasts and revenues, assessments of risk, and direction on how we manage new revenue.

How did public feedback shape Metro’s recommendation to the Executive and Council?

From November 2013 through early February 2014, Metro hosted public meetings and provided other opportunities for members of the public to share their views on our proposal to reduce service by up to 600,000 hours.

  • We posted an unprecedented amount of detail about the proposed service changes on our website, including then-applicable information about the expected loss of our Alaskan Way Viaduct mitigation service contract with the state Department of Transportation.
  • Our strategies for informing and hearing from the public included numerous public meetings across the county; information tables and visits by our outreach van at many locations; online and print surveys; electronic notifications; and email and regular-mail correspondence.
  • More than 15,000 people participated in some form of outreach and provided us with feedback.

We received extensive comments from the public about the effects of our initial service reduction proposal, including requests to spare particular routes. Given the magnitude of the cuts needed to close the budget gap, Metro had very limited flexibility to make changes in response to public input without shifting impacts from one community to another. Sparing one route or group of riders would just mean making cuts somewhere else, hurting a different group of riders.

However, we were able to make limited adjustments to certain routes in the 550,000-hour reduction recommendation based on public feedback and our Service Guidelines. Based on public feedback, we were also able to make some modifications that reduced negative effects on riders without shifting the burden somewhere else.

One such modification was to keep Route 245 service through the Bellevue College campus. Other examples of modifications we made to the initial proposal in response to public feedback include keeping service to the Upper Rainier Beach area on Route 7 during peak periods and continuing to serve the Tukwila Park-and-Ride with Route 193 Express to maintain better connections between southwest King County and First Hill.

Why not just reduce the frequency of all routes, and add trips back when more funding becomes available?

Metro strives to provide an efficient transit network in all of the areas we serve. That network needs to evolve to meet the changing needs of our riders and their communities, job centers, and other destinations. So instead of “protecting” our network from one point in time, we use our service guidelines to match today’s service to available funding in the way that best fits our riders’ current needs—and we’ll do the same in the future when our funding situation changes.

Also, reducing the frequency of all service without making any routing changes would result in reliability and overcrowding problems that would make the network unusable to most riders.

If a route is deleted as part of these service cuts, will it ever come back?

Per our service guidelines, probably not. Metro uses its service guidelines to develop plans and proposals to reduce, add, or change service. Our priorities for adding service are in this order:

  1. Reduce overcrowding
  2. Improve on-time performance
  3. Approach target service levels—Metro sets a target level for each corridor, based on the number of homes, jobs, and colleges nearby; the number of riders in areas that have many minority or low-income residents; connections to major destinations; and the number of riders using the service.
  4. Improve service on routes with high performance (based on rides per service hour and passenger miles per bus mile)

However, through Community Mobility Contracts, a city or organization willing to invest in transit service has the opportunity to restore specific service that has been cut.

Service

How can my bus be “low performing?” It always seems crowded!

Even if your bus route is crowded when you ride it, it may not be crowded at other times of day, or along other parts of the route that you don’t use. This is especially true for peak-period-only routes that go in only one direction. They may be full while they pick up riders from their start to finish, but empty when they return to base or go back to start service again.

We measure each bus route’s performance in two ways:

  • Rides per service hour (how many rides the bus provides for every hour it’s away from its base).
  • Passenger miles per bus mile (total miles traveled by all passengers for every mile the bus travels).

Learn more on our Planning pages — under the Service Guidelines tab, see "Managing performance of individual bus routes."

Why are some buses crowded and others empty?

Metro buses have become more crowded as ridership has grown. Ridership grew 2.3 percent in 2012, and the percentage of trips with more riders than seats increased to 9.1 percent in 2012 from 5.5 percent in 2011. Close to half of these trips (4 percent) had 20 percent more riders than seats. Ridership continued to grow in 2013, to 118.6 million passenger boardings, a 2.8 percent increase from 2012.

Metro’s 2013 service guidelines analysis of the transit system found that Metro should be delivering an additional 15,000 annual hours of service to reduce overcrowding. According to the guidelines, 27 of Metro’s 214 routes need additional trips to reduce overcrowding.

Even though a bus may be crowded at times, it may be empty or carry few riders at other times for these reasons:

  • To meet demand and operate efficiently, Metro employs part-time drivers and puts more buses on the road during peak periods, when rider demand is the highest, and pulls them off the road after the peaks are over. A bus would be empty when it has completed its peak service and is returning to the base
  • A bus might have only a few riders near the beginning and end of the line.
  • While Metro service guidelines place the highest priority on productivity, they also give high priority to serving key activity centers across the county and to assuring mobility for low-income and minority communities where many people rely on transit. Service that meets those priorities may have buses that are less full than others but are still meeting needs that the guidelines have defined as very important.

Why did Metro launch new RapidRide lines when regular service was in jeopardy?

Our six RapidRide lines serve some of the highest-ridership corridors in King County. RapidRide has received $121 million in federal, state, and local grants, which covered about 60 percent of the program’s capital costs such as buses and station improvements. Our five-year projection indicates that RapidRide lines will deliver more than 15.5 million combined trips annually, making them among the most highly used bus routes in King County.

Why is Seattle expanding streetcar service while Metro cutting bus service?

The City of Seattle is building its new Seattle Streetcar line with funding from the Sound Transit 2 measure passed by voters in 2008. This new line, the existing South Lake Union line, and planning for the future Center City Connector in downtown Seattle are managed by the city, not King County.

Metro Transit operates the Seattle Streetcar under contract with the City of Seattle, but does not pay to expand the service.

Finances Documents available

How do Metro’s costs compare to those of other transit agencies?

Let’s look at what it costs to move a passenger one mile. Metro’s cost per passenger mile in 2012 was 99 cents. The industry average was 98 cents. The cost to operate our service for an hour was $136, placing Metro eighth out of 30 comparable agencies. This cost includes operating the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel and our zero-emission electric trolleys, two assets that our riders love and that make us unique among transit agencies. Subtract the cost of these assets, and Metro’s performance in this category was about average. And, while operating costs have gone up in the past five years, they have on average mirrored the rate of inflation—and been well below those of other comparable agencies.

Metro is also unique in another way: it is the only transit agency among its peers that covers such a wide regional area made up of both cities and rural areas.

How much of Metro’s funding comes from fares?

Our bus farebox recovery rate was 29 percent in 2012—meaning that passenger fares covered 29 percent of the cost of providing Metro bus service.

According to the Federal Transit Administration’s National Transit Database, Metro’s farebox recovery rate ranked 13th among our peers, 30 of the largest bus agencies in the U.S. Our rate is above the peer average of 28 percent. Among those same peer agencies, Metro ranked 10th in number of passenger boardings.

Some transit agencies provide heavy and light rail service in addition to bus service. Metro does not. Rail services typically have higher farebox recovery rates, so when agencies include rail in their farebox recovery calculations the rate is generally higher than for bus service alone.

Why can’t Metro close its funding gap by raising fares to cover all costs?

Metro has raised fares five times in eight years to keep service afloat. When the 2015 fare increase takes effect, off-peak fares will have seen a 100-percent increase since 2007.

Sales Tax Forecast

What is the latest forecast of sales tax revenue for Metro?

The July 2014 sales tax revenue forecast by King County’s Office of Economic and Financial Analysis shows the economy strengthening in the near-term—but its predicted revenues for the next biennium are about $2 million lower than those forecast in March 2014.

Sales tax projections fluctuate over time, but Metro’s principles remain the same. In an effort to maintain a stable, reliable transit system, we take a long-term approach to our finances, and we base our budget on funding we can count on.

How will Metro use the additional sales tax revenue currently being forecast?

Sales tax projections will be considered as part of the county’s 2015-2016 budget process. Any adjustments in revenue assumptions would be made with an eye toward service preservation. Any additional revenues would also help support our new low-income fare program and replenish our depleted capital and fleet replacement programs and reserve fund.

Metro saved about $10 million in health care costs in the first five years of King County’s Healthy Incentives program (2007‑2011).

Learn more (USA Today)