Financial Stability & Sustainability

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Service Cuts Service Finances Sales Tax forecast

Service Cuts

When will service cuts be made?

If the King County Council approves the proposed cuts, the reductions would happen in four phases over a 12-month period. The first cuts will be made this September, followed by reductions in February, June and September 2015.

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

The size of this reduction requires that Metro make the cuts over a period of four service changes. Our 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.

These priorities shaped our decisions about which routes will be cut during each service change. The September 2014 service change will include Priority 1 cuts. The February and June 2015 service changes will include mainly Priority 2 cuts, and the September 2015 service change will include Priority 3 and 4 cuts.

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

View/download a reduction phasing table (PDF)

What if new revenues become available in the next year and a half, like it did in March 2014? How will the changes be modified to reflect current funding?

Metro’s recommended service reduction package includes cuts that would be made in four phases: September 2014, February 2015, June 2015, and September 2015. If, following Council adoption of these proposals and the initial round of reductions, Metro’s revenues grow faster than anticipated and our finances allow it, we may propose—and the Council may elect—to reconsider parts of the service reduction package that have not yet been implemented. If additional revenue were identified early next year that could support higher service levels, the last round of proposed reductions (September 2015) could potentially be reduced.

What’s next in the decision-making process? Is it too late to save my route?

The King County Council is currently deciding on a final set of service cuts. During its consideration of Metro’s recommended cuts, the Council will provide opportunities for public testimony so members of the public can share their concerns and ideas directly with the Council before it makes a decision. Visit the County Council’s website for a schedule of public hearings and other ways to comment directly to the Council.

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

From November through early February, Metro hosted public meetings and provided other opportunities for members of the public to share their views on the reduction proposal.

  • 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 the initial service reduction proposal, including requests to spare particular routes. Given the magnitude of the proposed county-wide service 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, adversely affecting a different group of riders.

However, we were able to make limited adjustments to certain routes in the current 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 frequency of all service throughout the county, so that if more funding becomes available we could add trips back to the existing network?

Reducing the frequency of all service without making any routing changes would result in reliability and overcrowding issues 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?

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)

What will Metro do to reduce the impacts of these cuts on people who have low incomes, are seniors, or have disabilities?

These cuts represent nearly 16 percent of our current service, and their impacts on individual riders and on our region’s overall transportation system will be substantial. As part of its service reduction recommendation, Metro has included additional service hours that would be held in reserve so we can respond to conditions that may arise as the cuts are made. Conditions these hours might address include severe overcrowding, deviations from planning-level estimates once actual schedules are developed, and other unforeseen operational issues that would require immediate response.

Also, Metro currently offers alternative services such as vanpools, community access transportation through community-based providers, Access paratransit, and taxi scrip. These alternatives may meet the needs of some riders affected by the service cuts. However, while our Title VI impact analysis shows that people who have low incomes and belong to minority populations will not bear a disproportionate share of the impact of these cuts, there will be negative effects that we cannot prevent or address, given a 16 percent reduction of service at a time we should be growing service by 15 percent to address current overcrowding and reliability issues.

If the Alaskan Way Viaduct service slated to be cut in June was saved when state funding was extended through next year, why are some of these routes still on the list for cuts?

All service supported by the state Department of Transportation to ease traffic impacts from construction on the viaduct replacement project will be maintained through 2015. However, following our service guidelines for how to cut service to meet our available resources, we have recommended cuts in September 2015 to some of the lower-performing routes previously slated for reduction or deletion in June 2014. In other words, some of the cuts will still be made, but later and for a different reason.

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 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.

Finances Documents available

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

The good measure is 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?

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?

In fact, Metro has raised fares five times in eight years to keep service afloat. When next year’s fare increase takes effect, off-peak fares will have seen a 100-percent increase since 2007.

Metro’s bus farebox recovery rate was 29 percent in 2012. In other words, 29 percent of our bus operating revenue came from the fares passengers paid. According to the Federal Transit Administration, we had the 13th-highest farebox recovery rate among 30 of the largest U.S. bus agencies in 2012. Our rate falls above the average rate of 28 percent for those 30 agencies.

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 Learn more (PDF)

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?

The most recent sales tax revenue forecast predicts that the additional amount Metro will receive over the next eight years will slowly decline. Inflation will also impact our costs. For these reasons we need to take a longer-term approach to our finances and not count on money we may never have. The revised service cut proposal of 550,000 hours is based on revenue growth that is sustainable in the long term. The additional revenue will also be needed to help support the new low-income fare program and to replenish our depleted capital and fleet replacement programs and revenue stabilization reserve fund.

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.

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.

photo of crowded bus

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