Financial Stability & Sustainability

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Finances Sales Tax forecast Service Cuts Service

Finances Info Sheet

How much of Metro’s funding comes from fares?

Metro’s bus farebox recovery rate was 29 percent in 2012. In other words, passenger fares covered 29 percent of the cost of providing Metro’s 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 rider fares four times, by a total of 80 percent, in recent years. The King County Council has approved additional fare changes that will take effect March 1, 2015. All fares for regular Metro service will go up by 25 cents. The fare for Access service will go up by 50 cents. A new reduced fare will be available for qualifying customers who have low incomes. Learn more about the fare change

To fully close Metro’s budget gap, fares would have to go up by a minimum of $2 per trip, so a one-way adult base fare would be $4.25.

How do Metro’s 2014 finances compare to 2008?

Sales tax collections in 2014 are now estimated to exceed the amount collected in 2008. The March 2014 sales tax forecast is below what was projected in 2008, before the recession.

Metro has added bus services since 2008 and inflation has affected Metro’s costs. The King County Council recently approved fare increases effective March 1, 2015 as well as a new reduced fare for qualified riders at or below 200 percent of the federal poverty level. With the inclusion of the low-income fare, the set of fare changes will generate about $3.6 million dollars less per year than it would otherwise. The low-income fare will also require additional administrative costs.

Sales Tax Forecast Info Sheet

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

The March 2014 sales tax revenue forecast by King County’s Office of Economic and Financial Analysis shows the economy strengthening in the near-term. Based on previous forecasts, Metro’s adopted 2013-2014 budget estimated 3.8 percent growth in sales tax collections in 2014. The March forecast predicts that sales tax revenue in 2014 will grow 6.5 percent from the 2013 level—2.7 percentage points higher than assumed in Metro’s budget.

Over the next eight years, Metro’s sales tax revenues are projected to range from a high of about $30 million to about $15 million more than assumed in Metro’s adopted 2013-2014 budget and financial plans.

Does the improved sales tax revenue mean that Metro can preserve current service without additional funding?

While the revised forecast will result in some saved bus service, it would not be enough to avoid major reductions. Metro would still have to cut 550,000 hours based on current sales tax forecasts instead of the 600,000 hours previously predicted. This translates into 72 routes (instead of 74) that would have to be deleted and 84 routes (instead of 107) that would have service reduced or revised.

How will Metro use the additional sales tax revenue?

Improved sales tax revenue will allow Metro to reduce the proposed package of service cuts. Transit planners are finalizing the revised list of reductions now following Metro’s Strategic Plan for Public Transportation and service guidelines.

The sales tax revenue forecast predicts that the additional amount Metro will receive over the next eight years could range from $30 million in 2015 to as little as $15 million in later years. In an effort to maintain a stable, reliable transit system, Metro takes a long-term approach to planning. The revised service cut proposal of 550,000 hours is based on the $15 million revenue growth that is sustainable in the long term.

In addition to enable Metro to add back service, the additional revenue will help support the new low-income fare program, and replenish our depleted capital and fleet replacement programs and our revenue stabilization reserve fund.

What routes will be taken off the list of reductions now that the sales tax picture has improved?

Transit planners are finalizing a revised list of reductions based on Metro’s strategic plan and service guidelines. Here is a current draft table of routes to be deleted, reduced/revised, and unchanged (PDF).

Why will Metro use some of the additional revenue to replenish its reserve fund?

Metro takes a long-term approach to its financing, with the goal of maintaining a stable level of service and minimizing bus cuts if unexpected economic fluctuations occur. Over the next several years, Metro’s sales tax revenues are projected to range from about $30 million to about $15 million more than assumed in Metro’s adopted 2013-2014 budget and financial plans.

The forecast assumes uninterrupted economic growth through 2022. Sales tax remains a funding source that can vary from year to year. Metro has experienced unforeseen events in the past that have changed its tax structure or resulted in revenue reductions:

  • Initiative 695 and the resulting state legislative action that removed one-third of Metro’s revenue
  • the Dot-Com recession that reduced Metro’s sales collections
  • the Great Recession that resulted in a loss of $1.2 billion in anticipated revenue for the years 2009 to 2015

Metro’s financial plan calls for maintaining a reserve fund that can be used to stabilize transit service levels as sales tax revenues fluctuate. Since the recession, Metro has used reserves as well as the temporary congestion reduction charge, fare increases and operational changes to preserve service. Metro proposes that the reserves be replenished in case of another downturn.

With the revised proposal for a reduced cut in service hours, Metro could maintain the resulting level of service should a mild economic downturn impact the region over the next several years.

Service Cuts Info Sheet

When will the revised service reduction plan be transmitted to the County Council?

If voters approve the transportation funding measure proposed by the King County Transportation District, there will be no need to submit a revised service reduction schedule to the County Council.

If voters do not approve the funding measure, the reductions proposal will move forward. The proposed revisions will be submitted following the vote so they can be considered by the Council in time for the first round of reductions in September 2014.

When will service cuts be made?

Metro recently completed a public outreach process to let people know about the proposed cuts and receive their feedback.

We plan to send a package of service changes to the County Council for consideration in spring 2014. The public will have an opportunity to provide comment to the council before service changes are adopted.

If approved by the council, the service changes would be phased in beginning in September 2014.

If the King County Transportation District’s April ballot measure is approved by voters, Metro’s proposal to reduce service by up to 600,000 hours would no longer be necessary and Metro would withdraw it.

How will service cuts affect people with disabilities and those who use Access paratransit?

If the proposed service reductions are imposed on the fixed-route system, Access service may also be reduced.

There may also be an increased demand on Access service. The proposed bus service cuts eliminate bus routes, increase spacing between bus stops, and reduce service frequency and span, likely resulting in more crowding on buses. For some bus riders with disabilities who don’t currently use Access, any one of these factors may make using the bus more difficult—causing eligible riders to shift to Access.


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 is Metro launching new RapidRide lines when regular service is in jeopardy?

Our five current RapidRide lines and the F Line, which will be launched in June, serve some of the highest ridership corridors in King County. RapidRide has received $121 million in federal, state, and local grants, which are covering 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 is planning to cut 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.

photo of crowded bus

Service cuts may cause remaining bus service to be more crowded.