Report: Metro bus operating costs too high, strategy outdated
King County Metro Transit is hindered by high operating expenses and an outmoded service strategy, asserts a Municipal League of King County report issued today.
Seattle Times transportation reporter
High expenses and an outmoded service strategy are hindering King County Metro Transit, asserts a report issued today.
The findings are meant to provoke public debate, as County Council members try to pull Metro from a deep budget hole to prevent cuts in future bus rapid-transit service they promised to voters.
The review, by the Municipal League of King County, calls for a "back-to-basics" approach to fit the weak economy. "As a community, we cannot afford to accept declining service, excessive costs and political definitions of equity," the report says.
Metro provides 400,000 rides per weekday, a 7 percent from last year, and the report says "customer satisfaction is generally high."
The agency also has a "well-earned reputation for being an innovative leader in the transit industry" by providing hybrid buses, bike racks, van pools, and employer-sponsored passes, the Muni League says.
But operating costs last year averaged $4.10 per trip, or 38 percent above the national average, as of 2005, the report said. Factors include Seattle's high living costs, automatic pay boosts in union contracts, articulated buses, park-and-ride lots, and a downtown tunnel.
The report ominously warns that Metro's "high cost model is being transferred to service partners": Metro is contracted to run Sound Transit buses and light rail, and Seattle streetcars. Metro spends more than some cities because the bus schedules are more commute-oriented, replied Jim Jacobson, deputy general manager. Buses go out empty to reach key spots, using part-time drivers, to provide peak service on long suburban runs. Metro says it's cheaper than average, and similar to Portland, in cost per passenger mile. Taxpayers subsidize the system through a sales tax of 9 cents per $10 purchase. Metro will boost fares in 2009 and 2010, to partly close a funding gap of $90 million annually.
The report urged Metro to scrap its policy that extends 40 percent of new service to the Eastside, 40 percent to the south county and 20 percent to Seattle and Shoreline. The policy was meant to assure suburban taxpayers ample service, but Muni League chairman Brad Meacham calls it "pretty outdated." Buses should be deployed based on where people travel, the report says.
County Councilman Bob Ferguson, D-Seattle, lauded the Muni League for raising the issue, which he called the "third rail of policy in King County." He said the report complements an upcoming council audit of Metro, due in summer. "We can't get by as we always have," he said.
Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company
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