Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Live Blogging the Seattle City Council Transpo Committee Meeting on Metro Funding

TCC staff are here in attendance, and speaking, at the Seattle City Council Transportation Committee's special meeting on Metro Transit funding shortfall.

First up: Kevin Desmond, Metro Transit's General Manager.

Desmond is presenting the Executive Kurt Triplett's plan for addressing the funding shortfall.

This is the key slide from Desmond's presentation.

There are about a dozen or so folks here, organized by the Asian Counselling and Referral Service, holding up signs to show support for preserving the 42 bus. The 42 is the route that most duplicates the alignment of the new light rail line on Martin Luther King Jr. Ave (the 48 also serves the MLK Jr. corridor). In the face of these numbers, it's going to be difficult to retain service already served by a combination of speedy light rail and frequent local service on the 48 route.

One of the big criticisms of Metro is that it's a highly inefficient operation and they need to get their act together. Desmond notes that the final Performance Report will be published in September and will identify an array of issues from planning and scheduling to technology issues, to financial efficiencies to fare strategies and whether the trolley bus system is sustainable in the long run. Metro is likely to start implementing audit recommendations almost immediately.

Desmond reports on 3 key objectives that guided plan: (1) long-term sustainabality; (2) preservation of as much current service as possible; and (3) positioning the system for a strong rebound if/when the economy recovers.

Action items in Triplett plan (details here): (1) Defer bus service expansion; (2) substantial cuts to the capital program; (3) Non-service related cuts; (4) Property tax swap to raise some new revenue; (5) Tap operating reserves to minimize cuts; (6) 25 cent fare increase in 2011; (7) Use up fleet replacement reserves; (8) implement performance audit recommendations; and (9) 9% across the board service cuts.

Rapid Ride service will be preserved, albeit with some implementation delays, but most of the rest of Transit Now plans will be suspended until the economy recovers and/or new revenue is raised.

A key audit efficiency is likely to focus on a reform of the scheduling process. Not sure what that means.

The 9% reduction means a suspension of 310,000 hours by the end of 2011 and as many as 585,00 by the end of 2013. Some of those cuts be administrative and scheduling efficiencies. Desmond is clear that route productivity is not the determining factor and that the cuts will be proportionate. Productivity within the route will, however, be examined to seek out scheduling efficiencies.

In response to a question from Councilmember McIver, Desmond is clear that serving light rail in SE Seattle will remain a priority. In other words, there will be no disproportionate cuts impacting the light rail corridor in SE Seattle.

Cuts will be suspensions not the cuts that would be restored according to the 40/40/20 policy.

Desmond makes an important point. Some of the "lifeline" routes are served by only one or two buses, so you can't just cut frequency a bit or here or there like you can with Routes like the 7 or 358. You either have that bus on the road or not. So, cutting service 9% on these routes will mean, for example, terminating service at 7pm or cutting Sunday service. Cuts on the higher frequency routes will come from fine tuning schedules.

Next up: Kurt Triplett
Triplett mainly making himself available for questions since Desmond presented his plan. However, he does make the point that Metro will do all that it can to remain nimble and be ready to respond to new funding possibilities or an uptick in sales tax revenue if/when the economy recovers.

Rob Johnson, Transportation Choices Coalition
Rob is pointing out that this is a national problem. According to a recent American Public Transportation Association survey of transit systems around the country, more than 80% of transit systems across the country have seen flat or declining revenues from local, regional and state funding sources. Of those systems, 89% have raised fares, cut service or both. Among those systems reducing service, 65% have reduced off-peak service while nearly half (48%) have reduced geographic coverage. Systems around the state, Pierce, Intercity in Thurston, Kitsap, Spokane, C-Tran in Clark County and others are facing big service cuts in the next couple years.

Rob also points out that it will be impossible for us to achieve the City of Seattle's or the state's greenhouse gas reduction goals without a massive increase in transit service. So, environmentally, we can not afford massive cuts.

Rob wraps up by urging all the interests around the table and other interested parties to work together find more revenue tools for transit from Olympia.

Jon Scholes, Downtown Seattle Association
Jon speaks to the value of transit for downtown commerce. He makes some pretty strong hits on the 40/40/20 policy which, as he notes, is not a policy utilized in any other county policy area, not human services, not other transportation services. Finally, Jon points out the need for another revenue source for transit and offers MVET or increased weight fees as options. Of course, any new source will require legislative approval. That's the rub.

Comments/Questions from Council Members and Members of the Public
McIver points out that if Seattle is going to absorb a substantial amount of growth under GMA, we need transportation resources to serve that growth.

Transportation scalawag, Paul W. Locke, urges re-opening labor contracts as the answer to the problem.

Michael Taylor-Judd: supports idea of seeking more revenue but is opposed to proportionately of cuts. Focus on cuts on the least productive routes, he says.

Chuck Blair: urges capping wages at $100k and a more entrepreneurial approach to transit services, whatever that means.

A representative of the Vashon/Maury Island Community Council is here to talk about passenger-only ferry service and busses to meet the ferries. She also urges more revenue.

Paul W. Bechtel from Amalgamated Transit Union warns against cutting maintenance hours too much. He warns that cutting maintenance too much will lead to a loss of reliability that will scare away riders. He urges cuts instead on the amount of night and weekend service.

A resident of SE Seattle is testifying against cuts in the number of bus stops and service cuts in SE Seattle. She calls for cuts instead on the SLU Streetcar service.

A Metro operator is now making a quite moving speech about maintaining service and how cuts will hit the poor and disabled the most - the people who most need the service. He also notes the impacts on air quality from fewer buses and more cars on the road.

Kurt Triplett is responding to some of the previous criticisms of the proportionate cuts by explaining that he was trying to preserve as much service for as many of the types of riders who depend on transit service - the transit dependent and the commuter. He urges both kinds of riders to see their common interests in having more revenue coming into the system and more service provided.

A woman representing the Asian/Pacific-Islander communities is now speaking. She argues that the cuts are in fact affecting the vulnerable and people of color disproportionately. She points out the reallocation of service hours for SLU Streetcar. She also urges preservation of full 42 service, as well as all other SE Seattle routes.

More speakers are coming up to urge full preservation of the 42, 48, 7, 106 and 107 routes through the Rainier Valley.

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