SEATTLE - King County s bus system is scrambling to cut costs and increase revenues.
But a new report obtained exclusively by KING 5 raises questions about whether King County Metro has been a good steward of taxpayer money.
A detailed study by the Seattle-based think tank The Washington Policy Center says Metro hasn t delivered what it promised from two revenue-boosting sales taxes increases in the past decade.
The county promised a certain amount of service in exchange for higher taxes, said Mike Ennis, who conducted the study for the WPC.
The voters kept their end of the bargain and the county has not. They only provided about a third of the service they promised.
The most recent sales tax hike voters approved was Transit Now in 2006. The campaign promised to revolutionize King County s transit system with up to 700,000 more hours of bus service in the next 10 years.
Here we are three years later and they've only provided 120,000 of those hours, said Ennis. So, they're off significantly.
Metro s general manager Kevin Desmond doesn t argue the point.
It is accurate, with the 2000 increase and with Transit Now, we will not be able to add hours ... as promised, he said.
Desmond says that's because of an obstacle no one could have predicted the economy. He says the off-the-charts economic collapse is costing Metro more than $100 million in lost sales tax revenue each year.
There s no way we can both sustain current service and add service, he said.
Except for new rapid ride service on five routes, the new hours promised in the campaign are on hold.
But the Washington Policy Center says it s not fair to blame the economy for all of Metro s woes.
Turn the clock back to the year 2000, another time when Metro promised hundreds of thousands of hours of new service if voters approved a tax hike. Voters gave it a thumbs-up, but Washington Policy Center says Metro only delivered a third of the promised service. While service didn't increase much another expense did - salaries for bus drivers.
What we saw is their average salary went up 60 percent during that time period, said Ennis. That's twice the rate of inflation.
Drivers are the largest segment of Metro's payroll - 243 of them made more than $75,000 last year, including overtime.
KING 5 asked Desmond if Metro thought that was a reasonable operating expense.
Well, you re missing the point, Desmond replied. They're making that because they're getting paid overtime and payment of overtime is often much more efficient than hiring people.
But Metro's own review shows its drivers have about the highest and fastest growing salaries of any big transit system in the nation.
Washington Policy Center says Metro mismanaged payroll and operating expenses.
What taxpayers got, instead of getting more bus service, they just got a bunch of overpaid bus drivers, said Ennis.
King County Executive Dow Constantine declined to comment for this story. Yesterday he proposed a wage-freeze for county employees, including bus drivers. They are currently renegotiating their union contract with King County.