City Metro’s Budget Crisis Worsens
posted by August 1 at 15:51 PMon
I’ve been too busy working on our upcoming endorsement issue to Slog much today, but I have to take a break from studying the scintillating races for state treasurer and secretary of state to take note of the latest news out of King County: Sales tax revenues, which help pay for Metro bus service, are falling tens of millions short of projections. The shortfall—an estimated $45 million this year and next—combined with a separate $22 million funding gap due to rising fuel costs, means the 25-cent fare increase the county council was set to approve on Monday won’t even come close to funding the shortfall. In lieu of raising fares now, the county council will spend a month coming up with a proposal to fill the gap between Metro revenues and costs. What does that mean to the average Metro rider? Higher fares, for sure—probably at least 50 cents higher, and potentially even more. The county is also considering deferring new capital investments—i.e., keeping old buses in service instead of replacing them—and, as a last resort, cutting service.
This problem isn’t going away. Even if sales tax revenues get back on track, fuel prices aren’t going down—certainly nowhere near the sub-$3 level the county assumed in its budget projections. And buses, unlike light rail, run on gas. (That includes Metro’s hybrid buses, which have proved much less efficient in practice—stopping and starting on Seattle’s crowded city streets—than in the county’s projections.) Buses also take more drivers to operate than fixed-rail systems—say, 20 drivers for 1,000 passengers, instead of one or two. It’s ironic, then, that at a time when Metro can’t keep the buses it has in operation (and can’t afford to buy any new ones) the solution King County Executive Ron Sims is proposing for our region’s transportation problems is… more buses. That’s not even short-sighted. It’s blind.