Even though King County Metro Transit won’t start cutting routes until Sept. 27, the new austerity at Metro is already causing some riders to miss the bus.
Metro is shorthanded because the agency hasn’t hired part-time bus operators since spring, in anticipation of the fall elimination of 28 routes and changes to 19 routes, equaling 161,000 service hours annually.
The agency has shed 50 jobs through attrition and is about halfway to dropping 100 of its 2,700 operator positions, said spokesman Jeff Switzer. So for the near future, operators who retire, quit or are fired will not be replaced.
On any given day, Metro is failing to cover between 1 and 30 of its 12,000 bus runs, despite supervisors’ efforts to fill the gaps with substitute drivers and on-call drivers, Switzer said. For instance, runs have been missed on Route 56, a peak-only line serving Alki, the Admiral District, and downtown.
Paul Bachtel, president of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 587, said Metro is taking the right approach, to reduce jobs through normal attrition, instead of hiring employees who could be laid off a few months later.
The cuts follow voters’ rejection April 22 of tax increases for roads and transit. Metro had managed to avoid the drastic recession-era cuts taken by most other big transit agencies, but says it finally must confront a structural shortfall of $75 million a year, despite spending its reserve funds, skipping a cost-of-living raise in 2011, and raising fares.
The September cuts apply mostly to low-use or redundant bus lines, but deeper cuts are likely in 2015 unless governments or voters find a solution.