Riders wait for Metro Transit's service changes

Another year of reduced sales-tax revenue has forced King County Metro Transit to try to close the gap between its operating costs and its actual budget. 

The Strategic Plan for Public Transportation 2011-2021, developed by the Metro Transit Division and the Regional Transit Task Force, states that sales-tax revenue for Metro Transit has fallen by approximately $130 million since 2008. 

It also points out that many routes are overcrowded and consistently late.

To fill the financial gap and create better performing service, Metro is proposing several changes — including route reductions, route deletions and route reinvestments — to streamline the current system. 

Changes are scheduled to come in several waves over the next year, with the first wave slated for June 2012. Metro proposed these changes at a Dec. 7 Metropolitan King County Council meeting, in the hopes that the council will vote the proposals into effect by the end of January.

The suggested June changes would eliminate 40,000 service hours from routes that Metro said perform in the bottom 25 percent and reinvest those hours into more heavily used routes. 

Vincent Obeso, manager of service development for King County Metro, said that the proposed changes “reinvest” hours from routes that attract very few riders.

“Our estimate for the number of riders who use the routes that will be reduced or cut is less than 4,700 daily riders,” Obeso said. “Our estimate for the number of riders who use the routes that will receive reinvested hours is over 137,000 daily riders. 

“In a nutshell, this is a clear demonstration of the emphasis on service improvements to routes that most people use each day to commute, shop, work, play or to just get from here to there in their daily lives,” he said.

What to cut where?

The routes that are proposed for cancellation are the 38, 42, 79, 129, 162, 175, 196, 219, 600, 912 and 925. These routes serve areas in Beacon Hill, Pioneer Square, Lake City, Kent, Federal Way, Newcastle, Factoria, Enumclaw and Tukwila. 

Additional service reductions are proposed to Routes 25, 99, 119, 139 and 935, decreasing the frequency that buses on these routes run.

Hours from these deleted or reduced routes would be incorporated into weekday routes that serve the Queen Anne, Rainier Beach, Northgate, Ballard, Renton, Federal Way, Issaquah and University District areas. 

David Hull, supervisor for service planning at Metro, said that while Metro acknowledges the changes will affect certain individuals, the changes will benefit many others, making them a necessary step for Metro to take.

“Hours will be reinvested to reduce overcrowding, improve on-time performance and improve service levels on corridors deemed underserved,” Hull said. “We see the faces and we hear the voices of those that are impacted, but we also know that there are many more faces and voices that are benefitted that we don’t hear as often.”

Hull explained that a route is deemed to be in the bottom 25 percent based on a productivity score that compares that route with other routes serving similar markets. 

He said that routes are deemed eligible for reinvestment if they typically have passengers standing for more than 20 minutes, or if the weekday route operates more than five minutes late 20 percent of the time overall, or 35 percent of the time during the afternoon peak period.

Obeso added that on the routes that are being proposed for reduction or cancellation, a vast majority of the riders have an alternative route to use, though it would be less convenient than their current one.

Inconvenient cuts

But both riders who use these routes and those who don’t are not pleased with the proposal. Seattle commuter Don Glickstein said that Metro has not properly analyzed each route it is proposing to cut, especially Route 600. 

He said that Route 600 came from an agreement between Group Health and Metro Transit to fill empty buses leaving the South Base, which are headed to routes that begin downtown with Group Health employees.

“Route 600 does have low ridership, about 100 to 120 people per day,” he said. “In the morning, these buses complete their commuter runs in Downtown Seattle and then deadhead back to South Base with an empty bus; in the afternoon, they leave South Base empty. So between downtown and South Base, Metro runs empty, unprofitable, unproductive buses.

“That’s where Group Health and Metro agreed that allowing people who work in that area by South Base to fill those otherwise-empty buses, would help both employers and Metro,” Glickstein said.

Glickstein added that employees from several businesses, not just Group Health, use this route, providing Metro with revenue it would not otherwise have. He also said that the alternative route Metro suggested is said to be 0.2 to 0.3 miles from South Base, when it is really 1.2 to 1.3 miles away.

Jocelyn Liu, a Metro rider for 16 years, commutes from North Seattle. In the past, she has also commuted from Central and South Seattle. Liu said that she is worried about other riders in these areas.

“There are more people using wheelchairs and walkers and carrying grocery bags in the South End,” she said. “I am concerned about the people who are truly dependent on public transportation in these areas — those with low incomes, those with disabilities, senior and others.

“I’ve been able to deal with Metro changes over the years. I’m able-bodied, and I can walk the four or five blocks to alternate routes. But what is just inconvenient for me has major impacts on others,” she added.

Liu noted that route deletions and reductions in these areas can mean being late for work to people who need to make additional transfers, or being charged extra for child care for people who weren’t able to get to their day-care center before it closed.

“I’m asking the [King County] Council and others to reevaluate these proposed changes to ensure that you’re implementing the social-equity guidelines meaningfully,” Liu said.

Still more changes ahead

But with the economic downturn and fall in revenue, Metro Transit is proposing these changes and many others in order to continue operating. King County Councilmember Larry Phillips reminded everyone that the June changes are only the tip of the iceberg for Metro.

“We are focusing on the June 2012 changes right now, but I also want to alert people that a very large September 2012 service change is also in the planning stages,” Phillips said. “We’ll be taking a look at some of those proposals in the spring of 2012.”

Metro is also looking at additional changes in October 2012, as well. Those changes will be addressed after the council votes on the June proposal in January.


For more information or to comment to the Metropolitan King County Council or Metro, visit metro.kingcounty.gov/have-a-say/get-in-the-know/projects/reinvestments/june2012.

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