Can You Cut $500 Million Without Stranding a County of Bus Riders? Kurt Triplett Offers His Plan for Metro

Metro's about $213 million in the hole for the next two years, and $500 million over the next four, so something's gotta give. Last week, suburban councilmembers proposed that it be the Ride-free zone, among other things. Today, Exec Kurt Triplett offered his 9-point budget plan.

Under Triplett's plan, Metro would defer service increases, with the exception of the forthcoming RapidRide routes and the planned increase in service to mitigate the Viaduct closure. Metro would purchase about 200 fewer buses than planned, and perform a system-wide audit, looking for efficiencies in maintenance and routes. This could mean service trimmed from every route, though Triplett said he refuses to take the strategy of just suspending the low-volume routes. "There are people whose only lifeline is these [midday and weekend] buses," he said. "The most productive bus route is the one you take." Any cuts would be treated as suspensions rather than eliminations, he says, so they wouldn't be subject to the 40/40/20 formula (allocating only 20% of new service to Seattle, and 40% each to East and South King County) when they're restored.

To pay for this, Triplett re-proposes shifting ferry money to buses, and also proposes tapping Metro's operating reserves and fleet replacement reserves. The reduced routes would also mean layoffs; for every 100,000 hours cut, Metro would have to eliminate 70-80 driver jobs. Finally, Triplett would bump fares up an additional 50 cents. The first fare increase is already scheduled for 2010; Triplett proposes moving 2012's planned 25 cent increase up to 2011. This would put Metro's base fare at $2.25--which is 75 cents less than proposed by the Council's suburban foursome.

This extra, say, $50 a month may sound like a lot for low-income riders--who I'd guess are a lot less likely to get passes from their employers--but Metro chief Kevin Desmond says that Metro's normal policy is to increase its subsidies for its lowest-income riders in proportion to fare increases, though he and Triplett conceded that, given the budget situation, that policy might be something that the Council looks at. "Riders should also contribute to the solution," says Triplett.

Ultimately, as Triplett conceded, the decision rests with the Council, 4/9 of which seems pretty focused on getting at least a few million out of Seattle for the ride-free zone. (In an occurrence about as regular as a Halley's Comet sighting, a Seattle Transit Blog writer and Reagan Dunn agree that Seattle's underpaying.) And Councilmember Julia Patterson just sent out a response criticizing Triplett's proposal to tap the operational reserve, saying "Given the number of severe weather systems we've experienced in the last few years, I believe it is too risky to cut this reserve in half, while keeping middle management and administrative positions intact." In six weeks, Triplett will formally propose his plan, and the wrangling will begin in earnest.

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