SEATTLE - The King County Department of Transportation says Metro is facing a funding shortfall, and transit officials plan to release a report Monday morning showing routes at risk for cuts and revisions.
Transportation officials say Metro's largest source of funding is sales tax revenue, and since late 2007 the weak economy has caused ongoing revenue shortfalls.
“What we have found is that overreliance on sales tax is not a good thing,” said Kevin Desmond, Metro’s general manager. “We either have to eventually reduce the system or we need the revenue back that we lost from the recession.”
With a projected $75 million annual budget gap beginning in 2014 and without a stable source of revenue, Metro estimates 17 percent of bus service will face cuts and revisions. If new funding does not become available, Metro's assumes that deep service cuts will begin in fall 2014 and continue in 2015.
A report outlining routes at risk of cancellation or reductions will be delivered to the King County Council on Monday. While Metro declined to detail any of the changes prior to Monday, a spokesman said routes with low ridership and night service could be most at risk. But no matter what, the changes would put stress on almost the entire system, leading to slower routes and crowded buses.
“If a bus that I use regularly all of a sudden gets eliminated, that’s a problem,” said Nadia Tarnawsky, who does not own a car and relies heavily on Metro Transit. “We’re humans, we’ll adapt, we’ll find a way to do what we need to do, but it will be pretty uncomfortable.”
A $20 car tab fee, approved by the King County Council in 2011, has been keeping Metro afloat, but that funding source disappears next year.
King County officials hope state lawmakers will open up some new revenue streams to help fund transit and road maintenance.
Some have suggested giving cities and counties more authority to raise their sales tax with a public vote, or hike car-tab fees by up to $40 without a public vote.
Another possible option is a motor vehicle excise tax, which would require drivers to pay the government a percentage of their car’s value - possibly anywhere from 0.7 to 1.5 percent - every year.
Some lawmakers do not like that idea.
“A lot of vehicle owners are worried that they’re going to pay more when they’re driving their car to pay for somebody to be on a bus,” said Rep. Ed Orcutt, the ranking Republican on the House Transportation Committee.
But other transportation experts fear crowded buses could push more people to drive, leading to more congestion on Puget Sound roads.
Metro operates 217 routes and is the ninth largest transit system in the country. The agency has a fleet of 1,400 buses that carried 115 million passengers in 2012.