February 13, 2012
We're transforming our system — and facing a new threat
People throughout King County came together last year around a new approach to making Metro a sustainable transit system: adopt temporary funding to give us two years of stability so we can make our system more productive and effective.
We're actively following through, planning service changes that will make smarter use of the public's tax and fare dollars to provide better service for more people.
The timing couldn't be better: Metro's ridership has grown over the past year. With the nation's recent drop in unemployment, we expect transit ridership — which closely follows employment trends — to continue climbing. Our system changes will put us in good position to get people to new jobs.
But just as we are transforming Metro to better meet our region's needs, a threat to federal funding for transit has emerged in Congress.
Here's what's happening locally and in Washington, D.C.
When the County Council adopted the Congestion Reduction Charge last summer, they also told us to use our groundbreaking strategic plan and service guidelines to improve the transit system. The guidelines emphasize productivity, serving people who depend heavily on transit, and meeting the county's most important public transportation needs.
On Jan. 30, the Council approved our first proposed service changes based on the guidelines. The changes approved for this June shift service hours from some of our least-used routes to more-heavily used routes to reduce crowding and get buses running on schedule, and add service to the underserved Auburn-Kent-Burien corridor. The Council made a couple of amendments to our proposal; one defers elimination of Route 42 until early 2013 so we can work with the local community to address their transit needs.
All service changes involve tradeoffs, and the Council faced some tough decisions as they considered this proposal. In the end, the action they took will enable us to serve many more people and boost service quality.
Now we've begun a second round of public outreach on proposals to restructure multiple routes in Seattle and nearby communities when we launch the RapidRide C and D lines this September. After conducting a first round of outreach last fall — and hearing from nearly 5,000 customers — we made lots of changes to our original ideas. I expect the proposals will continue to evolve as we hear from the public.
Our “Have a say” website has loads of information about the restructuring proposals, and our planning staff will be out sharing information and listening to community members all this month. Learn more
A threat to critical funding
In the midst of the progress we're making locally comes disheartening news from Washington, D.C.: The U.S. House Ways and Means Committee last week approved a measure that would eliminate dedicated funding for public transit that has been in place for nearly 30 years — since the Reagan Administration.
The measure would replace the Highway Trust Fund's Mass Transit Account with a new, general-fund transit account that would receive a one-time appropriation of $40 billion for 2013 through 2016. Transit would have to compete with several other programs for funding. Appropriations to the account after 2016 would be uncertain.
If Congress approves this measure, Metro's federal funding in the next four years could be reduced. Metro currently receives about $70 million a year in reliable funding from the federal government that are at risk. Reduced federal funding could undermine the $25 million a year we expect to receive from the Congestion Reduction Charge. Critical programs that support the state of good repair of our assets, such as our planned purchase of new trolley buses, could be at risk.
Metro and the County have taken numerous actions over the past few years to cut costs and increase available funds, bringing us financial stability this year and next. But after that we'll continue to face financial challenges because of our inadequate funding structure. Any reduction of federal support would be a setback today and could force us to make cuts before our region and state have had time to work out long-term transportation funding solutions.
I am joining with other transit leaders in the region and nation to make sure the public and elected leaders understand the potential impact of this legislative measure. Dedicated federal funding for transit is critically important to our region's public transportation system and economic prosperity.
Kevin Desmond, General Manager
King County Metro Transit
General Manager, King County Metro Transit
If you live in King County, Metro is your public transit system. I want you to know about our performance, the issues we face, and the innovations we are bringing your way.
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