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KCDOT News Center

King County Metro Transit

General Manager:  Kevin Desmond
Employees:  4,400 full and part-time
2007 operating expenditures:  $503 million

Kevin Desmond
Kevin Desmond

About the Division

King County Metro Transit offers bus, vanpool, and paratransit services that provided a combined total of more than 113 million passenger trips in 2007. One of the 10 largest transit agencies in the nation, Metro operated 222 bus routes throughout the county with an annual total of 43 million miles traveled.

Metro is recognized as a leader in reducing pollution with its use of clean-burning fuels, electric trolleys, and hybrid buses. The agency also provides extensive commute trip reduction services to 500 major employers in King County, and sells transit and commuter van passes to more than 2,000 employers to help them encourage their employees to use public transportation. With voter support, Metro is in the early stages of a 10-year transit expansion plan. It includes new bus service in growing communities, more service on heavily used routes, service partnerships with major employers and cities, new bus rapid transit service, and expanded rideshare and paratransit programs.

Metro operates a total fleet of more than 1,300 buses, including diesel coaches, electric trolleys and hybrid diesel-electric coaches. It is also operates service on behalf of other transportation agencies in the county. In addition to operating Sound Transit regional express buses and Seattle’s South Lake Union Streetcar, Metro will also operate Sound Transit light rail service when it’s introduced in 2009.

2007 in review

Accommodating a rapid increase in ridership was one of the biggest tasks for Metro Transit in 2007. The agency recorded a 7.1 percent increase in annual transit ridership between 2006 and 2007, with more than 110 million bus boardings. The addition of vanpool and paratransit ridership pushed the total over 113 million. Metro focused on providing restructured and Metro Transit Police are on duty 24/7 throughout the system. new services to best meet the growing demand, and laid the foundation for future improvements in service and operations. Vanpool growth was record setting in 2007. The Transit division operated more than 1,000 vanpools – a new record for Metro, which has the largest and oldest public commuter van program in the nation. Overall, vanpool participation rose by 18 percent in 2007 compared to the previous year, and vanshare use increased by 39 percent.

To meet increased demand, Metro rolled out the first Transit Now improvements, funded by a voter-approved sales tax increase. The February 2007 service change included additional service hours on ten existing bus routes. More new hours were added at the June and September service changes. Metro also launched the first service partnership funded through Transit Now with Children’s Hospital and Regional Medical Center of Seattle. The partnership added 63 new trips on existing Metro routes 25 and 75.

In August 2007, Metro worked to increase the use of transit options during the closure of Interstate 5. This was done in partnership with the Washington State Department of Transportation, Sound Transit, and the city of Seattle, and is being used as a model as the region faces lengthy construction periods for major highway renovation and bridge replacement projects.

And during this very busy time, Metro worked with Sound Transit to reopen the Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel in September 2007 for bus service. During the two-year closure, the tunnel was retrofitted for joint operation of buses and light rail. Prior to reopening, transit staff logged more than 3,600 hours training more than 1,500 bus drivers on operations in the renovated tunnel. The division also began hiring and training staff to operate the Sound Transit’s Link light rail service, which is schedule to begin operation in 2009.

In December 2007, Metro staff began service on the South Lake Union Streetcar, which is operated by Metro through a contract with the city of Seattle. The streetcar links the rapidly developing South Lake Union area with the downtown retail center.

With the spike in ridership, Metro also set new records in customer service with more than 7.3 million visits to the Metro Online website, and an additional 5.2 million separate visits to regional online Trip Planner.

On the capital project side, Metro completed the new Transit Control Center facility. Staff at the center maintain 24/7 radio contact with all bus drivers on the road, supervisors in the field, emergency police and fire agencies throughout King County, and other groups that support the operations of Metro’s fleet. The new building was built using the newest communications technology and will be able to house a new radio system coming online in the next few years. It also began to finish off construction of the new Redmond Transit Center, which opened early in 2008.

The Vehicle Maintenance section finalized conversion of 59 dual-powered Breda trolley buses to total electric. The conversion saved the division about $54 million and extended the life of the buses for another ten years.

Transit Now is delivering new service across King County.
Transit Now is delivering new service across King County.

Looking ahead

King County’s need for transit service is growing along with its population and economy. Between now and 2017, the county is expected to add 250,000 new jobs and welcome more than 150,000 new residents. Higher gas prices and the addition of more bus service made possible by Transit Now are expected to increase ridership on Metro over the next several years. It is critically important that Metro continue to plan for and deliver increased transit service, and accommodate higher ridership by improving performance and the customers’ experience with public transportation. Strategies must also be developed to address Metro’s own rising fuel costs and fluctuating revenues in these uncertain economic times.

Metro is looking at many options to expand its service, increase efficiency, and improve linkage between all the different transportation modes in the Puget Sound region. In 2008, Metro will begin implementing several new partnerships that will leverage Transit Now funding to pay for additional targeted transit service. Local jurisdictions and private business are sharing the costs for enhanced bus service serving their employees and communities. The division is using Transit Now funds to increase bus service for rapidly developing communities such as North Bend, Snoqualmie, Carnation, Maple Valley, Black Diamond, and the Kent East Hill. And, Metro continues to develop five RapidRide routes that are planned to begin in 2010. The RapidRide corridors include Pacific Highway South, Bellevue-Redmond, West Seattle, Ballard, and Aurora Avenue.

Staff will be planning for a major restructuring of bus service in 2009 coming to neighborhoods in Southeast Seattle, Skyway/West Hill, Tukwila, and SeaTac. Link light rail will begin serving many of these neighborhoods in the summer of 2009, and Metro is planning for RapidRide bus rapid transit service along Pacific Highway South in 2010. In order to maximize bus service and avoid duplicating the new express lines, the entire network in these neighborhoods needs to be evaluated for rider convenience and operational efficiency.

Better use of technology will be an important component for customer satisfaction as transit customers across the region begin to transition from the current fare media to new electronic “smart card” transit passes, and new on-board systems are able to offer more customer information. Planning has begun to redesign transit websites to be more customer friendly and interactive.

Increasing the use of transit is also helping King County combat global warming and support livable, healthy communities. Metro’s use of green vehicles – such as electric trolley and hybrid diesel-electric buses – and cleaner-burning fuels add to the environmental advantage of combining many riders in a single vehicle.

Metro’s wide range of transportation alternatives, including vanpools, carpools, and Access paratransit — and its support of choices such as shared cars, biking and walking — make transit a powerful tool to help reduce pollution and support active, healthy lifestyles.

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