By socking away less money into a bus-replacement fund, King County Metro Transit might be able to preserve some 250,000 hours of annual bus service, instead of cutting it next year. So says Metropolitan King County Councilmember Dave Upthegrove of Des Moines, who plans to introduce an amendment to that effect Monday morning — when the council would otherwise vote to approve a round of February 2015 reductions.
The cuts scheduled this weekend, which include eliminating 28 relatively low-use routes, would stay in effect.
“I don’t think we need to cut one bus route more,” Upthegrove said late Friday afternoon.
His rationale comes from a special, county-requested peer review of Metro by the American Public Transit Association. The review came in the wake of a ballot defeat, criticism from skeptics, and pressure from Councilmenber Rod Dembowski to look harder at transit budgets. The APTA panel’s report suggests a King County policy — to accumulate a vehicle-replacement reserve equal to 30 percent of the depreciated value of the 1,300-bus fleet — sets the number too high, and that 20 percent would be fine.
Upthegrove said he had staff crunch the numbers and found such a change would save $25 million the first year, and $5 million each year after that.
The risk, he acknowledges, is a greater chance of route cuts in another recession. Budget Director Dwight Dively, Metro General Manager Kevin Desmond and County Executive Dow Constantine have all been adamant about building some margin into Metro’s budget, as a hedge against downturns. Some other reserves within Metro would still grow.
Upthegrove said that even if his plan were to prevail, new revenue sources are needed soon, perhaps a progressive car-tab tax based on vehicle value. Critics of Metro have pointed to a sales-tax windfall, roughly $30 million this year beyond early estimates, to argue that spending cuts plus economic growth can solve the transit agency’s problems — while Desmond says what the agency really needs is to increase service hours to serve the fast-growing county of 2 million people.