King County Metro Transit has found enough savings to limit its cuts to 400,000 bus service hours per year instead of the 550,000 hours predicted earlier, General Manager Kevin Desmond said in a news conference this morning.
That bit of good news raises the possibility that if Seattle voters approve new transit taxes this fall, the city might gain transit, rather than merely hold the line against cuts. But Desmond said that if Metro were to serve all the “latent demand” in the county, including overcrowded routes, it would need a 15 percent service increase.
Desmond said some factors helping Metro’s bottom line include lower costs for new electric trolley buses; lower injury and workers comp spending; a pending 335-employee reduction triggered by the 400,000-hour cut; and reduced need for new buses overall, due to efficient scheduling.
A possible political angle for Proposition 1 supporters will be the chance to whip up voter enthusiasm in Seattle by promising some service improvements, rather than campaigning for higher taxes to sustain the status quo. Opponents will argue that economic recovery is solving Metro’s problems, so the agency shouldn’t raise taxes.
County Budget Director Dwight Dively said Metro hopes to accumulate $280 million in cash reserves by 2018. Theoretically that money could soften the blow by preserving more existing routes. But Dively said it’s better to have a cushion, so that Metro won’t be forced to cut the number of buses or raise taxes in the event of minor economic slumps.
An earlier version of this story can be found here.
A wildcard in these figures is the contract dispute between King County and Amalgamated Transit Union Local 587, which rejected a proposal last week to freeze wages two of the next three years. The wage issue, as well as benefits, safety, break times and other contract matters, will now go to arbitration, with no decision expected until spring 2015. Desmond said that if Local 587 had accepted the offer, another 80,000 service hours could be preserved. His net 400,000-hour figure presumes that an arbitrator awards ATU workers yearly raises similar to what other Metro employees are scheduled to receive, of roughly 2 percent a year.