Savings through changes in staffing and maintenance recommended
StoryProposals ranging from enhanced tracking of vehicle maintenance to improved staffing of transit operators and transit security and are among the recommendations in a performance audit of Metro Transit conducted by the King County Auditor’s Office and presented today to a Metropolitan King County Council committee.
“This audit gives us a range of options and policy choices for closing the Metro funding deficit,” said Councilmember Reagan Dunn, chair of the Government Accountability and Oversight Committee. “I will discuss these findings with my colleagues and the Executive to see if there is a plan to minimize cuts to our regional bus system. I’m very hopeful we can come up with a plan that will result in minimal service reductions.”
“The auditors did a great job identifying opportunities for savings that can be used to keep as much transit service on the street as possible,” said Councilmember Larry Phillips, sponsor of the transit audit. “Many of the audit recommendations come with tradeoffs that need careful evaluation, but the audit gives us the framework for making these important policy decisions.”
In presenting the second and final part of the Transit Performance Audit, Kymber Waltmunson, principal management auditor with the Auditor’s Office, said an additional $3.7 million per year in savings could be realized through itemized cost savings and revenue enhancements that can be achieved within the terms of the current labor contract with bus operators and vehicle maintenance staff. She said additional bargaining to permit part-time bus operators to work on weekends could save another $2.5 million per year.
In reviewing the maintenance of bus vehicles, Waltmunson noted that Transit set standards that are above federal requirements, and suggested they could be modified on a pilot basis to measure any impact on vehicle reliability. Those changes, if found feasible through the pilot program, could lead to additional savings if implemented systemwide.
“I am pleased that the Metro audit echoes my calls for more strategic planning and improved data. As we face this economic downturn and growth in the region we need the best information we can get to make Metro as efficient as possible,” said Council Chair Dow Constantine. “I am also happy to see that the audit called out the need for better emergency communication with riders.”
Although Transit has taken some steps to evaluate communications technology for costs and benefits, the audit says more work still needs to be done. The report recommends that Transit implement key improvements to its emergency communication tools, such as Web site enhancements and route-specific text messages to riders.
The audit identifies opportunities to increase revenues by up to $54 million a year through consideration of a range of fare options for both regular bus service and Access/Paratransit service for the disabled. Waltmunson said examples include eliminating fare zones or discounts for riding during off-peak times and lowering fare discounts, which she said are higher than those offered by peer transit agencies. The audit recommends pegging discounted fares to a percentage of the base fare, rather than setting them separately.
Kevin Desmond, General Manager of Metro Transit, said the agency is in the midst of working toward implementing the majority of the recommendations, while acknowledging that many of the decisions such as fare increases and labor policies are choices that the Council and Executive will need to make. Desmond said the majority of the recommendations focus on planning and analysis within the agency, and that he looks forward to working with the Council to find the resources to implement them.
The Council called for the Transit Performance Audit last fall when a sharp drop in the sales tax revenues that support bus service led to the current projection of a $213 million revenue shortfall over the next two years. The Auditor on Sept. 1 identified potential savings of up to $23 million to $31 million a year by scheduling buses more efficiently and replacing electric trolleys with hybrid fuel coaches in a future bus purchase. An interim report presented to the GAO Committee in May revealed a one-time reserve of as much as $105 million more than needed in a fund for replacement of Metro buses.
Read the Auditor's report and recommendations
View the PowerPoint presentation presented to the Committee