King County Metro Transit says its ridership is close to pre-recession levels, that two-thirds of Seattle commuters don't drive many using the service; yet the transit agency sees financial trouble down the road. The transit agency says it faces a $75 million shortfall starting in 2014.
On Monday, Metro Transit General Manager Kevin Desmond said 70-percent of riders will feel the impact in one way or another if his agency cuts 65 routes and trims service levels on 86 others.
"They may need to walk further, they might have to take another transfer. Invariably their service is going to take longer. It's going to be less convenient to use,” said Desmond. “Other people who have a choice, who can drive, are going to say, 'I'm not going to try transit anymore. It doesn't work for me anymore. I'm going to start having to drive again."
That, according to Metro estimates, would put another 20,000 to 30,000 cars back on the streets.
Metro was able to avoid draconian cuts that hit other transit agencies in Pierce and Snohomish counties triggered by the recession, because it was able to convince the legislature to allow it to assess a $20 per car vehicle fee for two years. That runs out in June of 2014 if nothing happens to replace it.
Desmond said Metro's been working with the legislature for three years, but so far this year that effort has produced few results. Metro says it needs to get less funding from the economically volatile sales tax and more from more stable revenue sources. It's asked for a 1.5% local option vehicle renewal fee based on a cars value, a form of excise tax that voters pushed back on starting in the late 1990s.
Another approach involves a statewide transportation funding mechanism for roads as well as transit. Metro says a 35-percent - an eight cent a gallon - gas tax increase would go to fund local and county transportation projects including Metro. All this as the Washington State Department of Transportation grows increasingly worried about the gas tax as a funding mechanism in a world of hybrid cars and declining gas use because of better vehicle efficiency.
Then there's also a possible return to a $20 to $40 vehicle fee similar to what's due to expire next year.
"The bills that would help solve this did not make it through the cutoff in the legislature two or three weeks ago," said Desmond, who is hoping for something in a special session or the next legislative session starting in January of 2014.
For more on specific routes affected, you can read the report at King County Metro's website.