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Metropolitan King County Council

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Metropolitan King County Council
516 Third Ave., Rm. 1200
Seattle, WA 98104
Phone: 206-296-1000
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Nov. 16, 2009

King County Council adopts tax-neutral financing that maintains Metro bus service despite steep decline in revenues

Reprioritizing of property tax, new efficiencies and a 2011 fare increase will help keep faith with voters on Bus Rapid Transit service promised under “Transit Now”

Riders will enjoy existing levels of bus service next year despite the recessionary drop in the sales tax revenues that support Metro, as a result of actions today by the Metropolitan King County Council to reprioritize property tax revenues and set a small fare increase for 2011.

The county budget set for Council adoption next week also includes a number of operational efficiencies identified by the Council earlier this year. Taken together, the actions today and next week will enable Metro to avoid the threatened cut of 310,000 hours of bus service over the next two years, keep its commitment to implement Rapid-Ride bus rapid transit lines promised under the voter-approved “Transit Now” initiative for five busy transportation corridors, and add a sixth line from Burien to Renton.

“We found a creative solution to keep people on the move,” said Council Vice Chair Jane Hague. “Bus ridership has reached record levels and we made it a priority to save this service in spite of a difficult budget situation.”

“Metro Transit is the only transportation option available for many residents of my district,” said Council Budget Chair Larry Gossett. “It was vital that the regional public transit system continue to step up instead of cut back. Our plan ensures that riders will not see a drop in service next year.”

“To support our economic recovery, we are committed to no new taxes while also maintaining the bus service our citizens depend on to get to work, medical appointments and activities,” said Councilmember Kathy Lambert. “This is a good demonstration of how many small efficiencies, reprioritization and program changes can add up to keeping bus hours available to citizens.”

“With the recession taking more people out of their cars and onto public transit, the Council knows that now is not the time to cut bus service,” said Councilmember Julia Patterson. “The state Legislature gave us an option that not only keeps transit running at no additional cost to taxpayers, but ensures that we are keeping faith with voters in busy transit corridors who expect the arrival of the Bus Rapid Transit service they supported with ‘Transit Now.’”

Under new authority granted by the state Legislature for the support of public transit, the Council today approved a tax-neutral property tax levy of 6.5 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation to fund transit service. The Council also approved a proposal from Metro Transit for a 25-cent fare increase to be implemented in January 2011 for all riders except youth passengers.

Property owners will see no net change in their property tax under today’s action because the Board of the King County Ferry District voted last week to sharply reduce the Ferry District’s assessment to approximately one-third of a cent per $1,000 of assessed valuation, down from the original rate of 5.5 cents per $1,000 set in 2007. The lower levy rate, combined with the use of reserve funds, is sufficient to continue funding of King County Water Taxi service for the two existing routes serving West Seattle and Vashon Island from downtown Seattle.

“Bus service is a lifeline for getting people to work and home to see their families, which is why when the Executive announced his plan to cut transit service by 9 percent next year, I called for a tax-neutral solution to avoid service cuts and for a regional transit summit to establish a long-term solution,” said Councilmember Larry Phillips. “I am pleased that the Transit Performance Audit I sponsored in last year’s budget gave us practical solutions for closing the budget shortfall in 2010 and beyond, and for starting a regional conversation about our transit future.”

“This is a real coup for taxpayers,” said Councilmember Reagan Dunn, chair of the Council’s Government Accountability and Oversight Committee. “We rolled up our sleeves and made Metro more efficient. Taxpayers don’t have to pay more and commuters still have their buses. It’s definitely a win for everyone.”

“Government must do what families across the region are doing during this trying economic time - prioritize and live within our means,” said Councilmember Pete von Reichbauer. “This will ensure that bus service, which is the backbone of our public transportation system, continues to be is a cost-saving option for residents in our region.”

Combined with a reprioritization of one cent per $1,000 collected under the property tax levy for the county’s Automated Fingerprint Identification System, the package generates $85 million for transit over the next four years, enough to preserve 110,000 hours of bus service annually.

Another 200,000 hours of annual bus service will be preserved when the Council adopts the 2010 King County Budget a week from now. The budget calls for implementation of cost-saving efficiencies first identified in September in the Council-directed Transit Performance Audit, including:

• More efficient scheduling of buses and operators, in part by reducing the amount of time buses lay over at the end of each trip.

• Scheduling bus routes based on the system as a whole, rather than the current practice of scheduling routes within one of Metro’s seven regional transit bases, which will help reduce the “deadheading” that occurs when buses return empty to their home bus base at the end of each operator’s shift.

• Increased training and use of Metro’s scheduling software to identify more opportunities where one bus and operator could more efficiently handle routes.

• Use of $40 million over the next two years from Metro’s Fleet Replacement Fund, which the Council audit revealed holds excess reserves of $105 million.

• Deferral of proposed capital projects, and adjustment of the cleaning schedules for buses and the maintenance schedules for transit shelters and Park and Rides.

• Cutting 43 positions that are not related to bus service, 39 of which are unfilled.

• Authorization for Metro to sell advertising “bus wraps” that include a 15-inch wide strip along the windows, so that riders can retain an unobstructed view out of the bus.

Voters approved the “Transit Now’ initiative in 2006 to expand transit service in King County by up to 20 percent over 10 years to keep pace with regional growth and demand. RapidRide is Metro’s new, streamlined bus service that will provide frequent, all-day service in the following five corridors:

• A Line—Tukwila to Federal Way on Pacific Highway S (State Route 99) (scheduled to launch in 2010),
• B Line—Bellevue to Redmond on NE Eighth Street and 156th Avenue NE via Crossroads and Overlake (2011),
• C Line—West Seattle to downtown Seattle using Fauntleroy Way SW, California Avenue SW, and State Route 99 (2011),
• D Line—Ballard to Uptown and downtown Seattle along 15th Avenue NW (possible alternate routing along 24th Avenue NW) (2012), and
• E Line—Aurora Avenue N (State Route 99) between Shoreline and downtown Seattle (2013).

By today’s action, the County Council authorized a sixth RapidRide line:

• F Line – Burien to Renton by way of connections in Tukwila to Link light rail and Sounder commuter rail (2013).

Everything about RapidRide—the buses, the stops, the way it operates—is being designed to keep people moving quickly throughout the day in these heavily used transit corridors. Buses will arrive frequently—at least every 10 minutes during the busiest morning and evening travel hours. RapidRide buses will be designed to let people get on and off quickly, and the stops will be placed where the most riders gather. At the busiest stops, Metro will build stations with distinctive shelters, seating areas, and customer information. Electronic signs at the stations will provide real-time information about when the next bus will arrive.

A sharp drop in the sales tax revenues that support bus service led to the recent projection of a $213 million revenue shortfall for Metro Transit over the next two years. The Executive Proposed Budget recommended a 9 percent across-the-board cut to transit service in 2010, the equivalent of 310,000 annual service hours.