Metro bus system: cuts to service hours well below predictions

When King County leaders put the Prop. 1 tax measure on the ballot to further fund the Metro bus system this past spring, they went into full-pessimism mode, warning of draconian cuts. That’s a standard tactic when government is trying to convince voters to raise taxes, but it’s rarely effective.

It certainly wasn’t with Prop. 1, which lost handily. Prop. 1’s opponents pointed out some truths about Metro’s budget that showed that Prop. 1 was essentially a tax increase to fund the status quo. Even with revenues rising significantly and ridership flat, Metro’s costs consistently outstripped its revenues. That’s not a system voters wanted to invest in without reforms.

At the time, some Prop. 1 critics pointed out how Metro’s sales tax revenue was recovering nicely and expected to jump considerably. They argued that with rising revenues, Metro could work to bring down some of its expenses and reduce the number of bus hours it would have to cut if Prop. 1 failed.

Fast-forward to today and it turns out that, no, Metro does not have to cut as many hours as it predicted before the Prop. 1 vote. Rising tax revenues, more efficient bus usage, and lower diesel costs are all helping to cushion the cuts.

“It’s amazing that after a few months of budget-scrubbing, the agency can find $123 million in savings within its two-year, $1.4 billion operating budget. Metro, for example, decided it could save $40 million by finally following through on a 2009 performance audit recommendation regarding bus purchases,” the Seattle Times wrote.

Metro achieved this with relative ease. The agency hasn’t even touched the labor costs that are the real driver of its out-of-control cost increases in recent years.

“Reform before revenue” is a mantra used by legislative Republicans in Olympia, but it can work at all levels of government. King County taxpayers have not been stingy with Metro. The agency can find efficiencies – when it has to.
-Rob McKenna

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Rob McKenna
Rob served two terms as Washington’s Attorney General, from 2005 to 2013. He successfully argued three cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and negotiated three of the largest consumer financial protection settlements in national history, all involving mortgage lending and servicing. He is a recognized leader in the development of consumer protections on the internet, in data protection and privacy regulation.