Metro buses delivered 115 million passenger trips in 2012, and ridership continues to grow. Unfortunately, a looming revenue shortfall could force Metro to reduce service by about 17 percent beginning in fall 2014. About seven out of 10 riders would have to walk farther to catch a bus, transfer more, lose their service during some times of day, or lose their service altogether. Even more would ride crowded buses — or be left at the curb as full buses pass them by.
Why does Metro have a budget gap?
Metro depends on sales tax revenue for about 60 percent of its operating funds, and has experienced a dramatic drop in revenue since the economic downturn began in 2008. Facing a $1.2 billion revenue shortfall for 2008-2015, Metro has taken many steps to preserve as much service as possible.
In 2011, the King County Council approved a temporary congestion reduction charge that is providing about $25 million annually until 2014.
Metro has also made its bus system more productive and efficient to get the highest value for the public's fare and tax dollars.
However, some of the actions to narrow the budget gap, such as tapping reserves, will be exhausted after 2013, and the congestion reduction charge expires in mid 2014. That means Metro will face a $60 million ongoing annual revenue shortfall to maintain existing service unless new funding for transit is approved. Metro needs another $15 million to replace aging buses that provide existing service, making the total funding shortfall $75 million.
King County and local governments, organizations and community members are working together with state leaders to find a long-term funding solution for transportation needs, including transit.
What has Metro done to reduce the gap
Since 2009, Metro has taken action in every part of the agency to strengthen existing budget management practices and adopt new cost-control and efficiency measures. These actions include:
- Deferred bus service expansion
Suspended remaining elements of the Transit Now program except RapidRide and already-approved service partnerships.
- Cut capital programs
Reprioritized the capital program and reduced the number of new buses that Metro was going to purchase to replace its aging fleet or to support deferred expansion.
- Made non-service-related cuts
Reduced costs not associated directly with bus service by more than 10 percent, including cutting more than 100 staff positions.
- Reduced labor costs
Reached labor agreements that reduced costs.
- Increased revenue through a property tax swap
As a result of a tax swap, 6.5 cents per $1,000 of property value is now allocated for transit. It is split into one cent for additional bus service on the SR-520 corridor, and 5.5 cents for other transit (including creation of the RapidRide F Line).
- Reduced operating reserves
Metro reduced by half the funds it holds to address emergency situations.
- Increased fares
Metro raised fares in 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 for a total increase of $1 in adult cash fares.
- Reduced fleet replacement reserves
Consistent with the 2009 performance audit, Metro pulled $100 million from its fleet replacement fund to support bus service during the following four years.
- Achieved efficiencies recommended in the performance audit
Metro achieved scheduling efficiencies that are saving about $10 million annually; eliminated 125 "back-up" operator positions to save about $1.45 million annually; improved the productivity of its Access paratransit program to save about $1.5 million per year; and expanded its Community Access Transportation program to save about $3.6 million annually.
- Reduced some bus service
Metro cut bus service by 75,000 hours in 2010-2011.
- Making the transit system more productive
Following its strategic plan and service guidelines and the directives of the County Council, Metro is revising bus service to become more productive while supporting social equity and meeting public transportation needs throughout King County.