Story Summary

King County Metro Transit buses

King County Metro Transit has had a tough time during the recession, so tough that two years ago the agency asked for – and got – a temporary $20 license fee that was imposed on cars throughout the county to help keep public buses running. But that funding is coming to an end next year, and leaders said on Feb. 5 (2013) that they face a $75 million hole. Without a solution, the bus agency will have to slash routes, officials say.

Story Timeline
Previous Next
This story has 9 updates

SEATTLE — In April, King County voters will decide whether to approve a special $60 car-tab fee and 1/10th of a cent sales tax increase to improve roads and stave off a 17 percent cut in Metro bus service.  Watch the video report.


(Photo: KCPQ-TV/Seattle)

SEATTLE — The King County Council on Monday approved an across-the-board increase in transit fares, which will take effect in March 2015.

The increase will raise fares by 25 cents for all fare categories for Metro Transit bus service. Peak one-zone fares are $2.50 now, and peak-two-zone fares are $3.

Fares for Access paratransit service would be increased by 50 cents, the council said, in order to move toward the county’s policy goal of achieving parity between the Access fare and off-peak adult fare over time.

The legislation would also require the Transit Division to send the council a low-income fare program implementation plan. If a program implementation plan is adopted by the council, a low-income fare program for transit riders would be established using the existing ORCA (One Regional Card for All) system.

If an interlocal agreement is reached with the King County Transportation District for the distribution of voter-approved revenues, the fare would start in 2015 at $1.25 for eligible adults and the youth fare would remain at $1.25, with these fares rising to $1.50 in 2017. Absent the interlocal agreement, the low-income fare and youth fare would be set at $1.50 starting in 2015.

The eligibility threshold for the low-income fare would be 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Level, currently $22,980 for an individual. Adults in a family of four earning up to $47,100 would also be eligible.

The ordinance calls for the King County Executive Dow Constantine to transmit the Low-Income Fare Program Implementation Plan to the council by June 1, with the goal of council adoption later in the year.

In April, King County voters will cast ballots on whether to increase car-tab fees by $60 and raise the sales tax by one-tenth cent for roads and buses.

OLYMPIA — In his State of the State Address on Tuesday, Gov. Jay Inslee repeated his call for a 10-cent increase in the state gas tax for roads, bridges and transit.  It’s been stalled in the Legislature for more than a year and continues to face an uphill battle.

“Fundamentally, this is about safety, jobs, traffic relief and accountability,” Inslee said to a joint session of the Legislature.


Gov. Jay Inlsee gives his State of the State Address before the Legislature Jan. 14, 2014 (Photo: KCPQ-TV/Seattle)

The governor has wanted a transportation package ever since he won office.  And even though the $10 billion plan would fund projects big and small all over the state, Inslee hasn’t yet been able to make the sale.

Not helping his cause, for sure, are the big expensive problems with the SR 520 Bridge pontoons and the Bertha boring machine, which call into question WSDOT’s ability to manage mega projects.

But a new, unlikely challenge has emerged for Inslee’s transportation package hopes:  King County Executive Dow Constantine.

On Tuesday, Constantine, who’s frustrated that lawmakers have been deadlocked on the gas-tax plan, a plan that would help save key Metro bus routes from being cut, decided to break off on his own.  He’s now pushing a local taxing proposal for King County to save its buses and fix its roads.

“We cannot responsibly wait another year in the hope that the Legislature will act,” Constantine said.  “We must act now for the 400,000 passengers who take the bus every day, as well as for our city streets and county roads.”

But Constantine’s plan could put the state’s package in jeopardy.  That’s because a big state gas-tax increase, which will eventually come before voters, needs the heavy support of blue, tax-friendly King County.  Otherwise, it fails.

If Constantine gets to those same county voters first and has them pony up for the most pressing problems, including transit, then will they support a big tax increase that includes a lot of roads around the state that aren’t as big a priority to them?

Even state Senate Majority Leader Rodney Tom, D-Medina, is worried about King County going it alone, especially because that could put in jeopardy gas tax money that will help finish the biggest project of all — the 520 Bridge.

“Talk about gridlock,” said Tom.  “If they go at it alone and we can’t pass a roads package, [an unfinished 520] is going to become the poster child.  If I’m South Carolina, I hop up in a helicopter, I take a picture of it, and I say is this really a state you (Boeing) want to do business in?”

It seems that Inslee’s push for a gas tax package is getting harder, not easier, as time goes on.

SEATTLE — Voters in King County may be casting ballots in April on whether to pay more taxes to help fund Metro Transit services.

Metro says if they can’t get more funding, they‘ll have to cut 74 bus routes and reduce schedules on another 107. Riders aren’t happy about that possibility.

“I’m a little worried, because I rely on one specific route to take me to my student teaching,” said Laura Beaty. “If that route is cut, I don’t know how I would get to school.”

metro“I take the bus from Maple Leaf (neighborhood) down to the university every day. And a lot of times, it’s so crowded I can’t even get on the bus,” says Melanie Mayock. “To think of having less bus service … I won’t know how long I’m going to have to wait to get to work each day.”

King County officials say they know how important the transit service is. They’ve cut staff and streamlined services over the past few years in an attempt to save routes.

But now they say the only thing that can help them is money. It doesn’t look like it’s going to come from the Legislature.

“We are out of time,” King County Executive Dow Constantine said Tuesday. “We are out of time for a statewide bill that includes a local transportation solution.”

So Constantine and other local lawmakers want to take the issue to the voters. They announced a funding measure that they want to put on the April 22 ballot.

“The measure would provide an increase in the sales tax by one-tenth of a penny, and levy a flat $60 vehicle fee, which is $40 more than we’re paying now with the temporary $20 fee that will expire in June,” he said.

Riders would also see fares increase by 25 cents, starting in 2015. Together, those measures would add up to $130 million a year. County officials say that’s enough to save bus routes and help maintain roads and bridges in King County.

“I believe that when the voters understand this, they will say yes,” King County Council member Jane Hague said.

Bus riders Q13 FOX News spoke to were split on the issue.

“I think it’s not the most ideal tax source,” said Mayock. “But we have to do something, we can’t let these cuts go through.”

“I would absolutely bump that sales tax up,” Beaty said. “I think it’s worth paying the tax to support and fund something so many people rely on. I know I’m not the only person that relies on the Metro system here.“

There are about 400,000 people who ride Metro each day. If the measure passes, the average household in King County would have to pay about $11 a month.

SEATTLE — In a bid to increase Metro transit funding, King County Executive Dow Constantine and some council members on Tuesday proposed that a measure be placed on the April 22 election ballot that would require vehicle owners to pay a $60 annual fee and increase the sales tax in the county by one-tenth of 1 percent.

Without more money, they said, Metro may be forced to cut more than 70 bus routes starting later this year.

metroConstantine says county officials have gone to state lawmakers in Olympia every year for the past five years and asked legislators to pass a transportation package. He says they can’t wait any longer.

Tuesday, he and others said they were going to exercise their right to create a transportation benefit district.

Under state law, they could ask voters for more. But they say those two measures — $60 annual vehicle fee and increase in sales tax — would bring in about $130 million. That’s enough to save current bus routes and schedules, and to make necessary repairs to local streets and roads, he said.

“Our first choice remains a statewide (transportation funding) package that is fair and well-balanced. But we cannot responsibly wait another year in the hope the Legislature will act,” said Constantine.

Bus riders will also have to pay their fair share. Constantine is calling for bus fares to increase by 25 cents starting in 2015. That would be the fifth increase in the past five years.

SEATTLE — The clock is ticking for the Legislature to approve a multibillion-dollar transportation package before King County Metro Transit will have to slash bus routes. County Executive Dow Constantine is already shopping  a ‘Plan B,’ which involves raising local taxes, if state lawmakers continue to stall.

“We have to do something to save these buses,” he said Thursday.

metrobusesIf the impasse continues until the end of December, Constantine will present a plan to increase both the sales tax and the vehicle tax to help save Metro’s jeopardized routes.

“We’re not going to let 2014  go by without acting to save our buses,” Constantine said.  “We cannot responsibly cut the bus system.  That is cutting our economy.  That is cutting opportunity in this region.”

While Constantine prefers a state solution, he says the county does have the authority right now to go directly to voters for these tax increases.  The plan he’s considering would include two components:

  • Charge a vehicle fee of up to $80
  • Increase the sales tax up to .2%

A go-it-alone transit funding plan in King County wouldn’t be cheap, and even Constantine admits that the sales tax and the flat car fee are unpopular and tough during these tight times.

“You know, what’s more regressive is dramatically cutting your transit system,” he said, “tying up the rest of the transportation system in knots and denying people the ability to get to that job interview, to get to that job, to get back on the economic ladder and start being able to take care of their families.”

This Plan B approach is likely to be a hard sell with voters, even if it’s for the popular Metro bus system.

“They have over-promised and under-delivered,” said Bill Pishue, transportation analyst for the conservative Washington Policy Center.  “The public has been more than generous to Metro.  Since 2000, there’s been two sales tax increases.”

Pishue believes the agency should live within its existing budget.

“When is it ever enough?” he asked.

Even if the state does strike a deal soon on a transportation package, costs for local drivers will go up.  It will almost certainly include at least a 10-cent increase in the state’s gas tax and very likely an increase in the car tab tax.

FEDERAL WAY — Come next year, Metro bus services could be drastically different.

A $75 million budget shortfall could force King County Metro to cut 17% of its bus services starting in June.  The cuts would be phased in gradually over one year.

metrobusIt’s an unprecedented proposal during a time when bus ridership is booming. The cuts would mean 74 of Metro’s 214 routes would be eliminated and an additional 107 routes would be reduced or revised.

The first of nine meetings aimed to inform the public and to hear their concerns was held Wednesday night. Dozens showed up to the Federal Way Community Center to vent about the possible service cuts.

King County Metro says the budget problem started in 2008 during the recession because a lot of their money comes from sales tax and, when the recession hit, revenue decreased. Metro has looked at raising bus fares, but that’s just not enough at this point.  It is hoping the Legislature will step in because if there is no way to close the budget shortfall, the cuts are a sure thing.

One woman pointed out that these cuts will also affect those who do not ride the bus.

“Now you are going to have more cars on the roads, anyway, and commute time is going to increase,” bus rider Lydia Assefa-Dawson said.

“There has to be a way if you do have cuts, don’t do it as drastic as they are now,” bus rider Ken Shattock said.

“We are very concerned because there could be four routes canceled in Federal Way and we have a lot of low-income people who possibly won’t be able to work,” Federal Way City Councilwoman Susan Honda said.

“I think every part of the county will feel the cuts if these were implemented, every community will bear the brunt,” said Marti Minkoff, of King County Metro.

The next town meeting will be in West Seattle on Dec. 3 at Youngstown Cultural Arts Center from 6 p.m. to 8p.m. About 150 daily bus trips from West Seattle to downtown Seattle could be canceled under the proposed cuts.

Metro says there will be an announcement regarding the issue Thursday at 11 a.m. King County Executive Dow Constantine and top transportation officials will be there to share the latest.

SEATTLE — With the Legislature beginning to consider a transportation funding package in Olympia, King County Executive Dow Constantine again warned there would be deep cuts in Metro Transit service without more money.

metrobuses“The time for action is now, with the Legislature in special session, to avert cuts to bus service that would be without precedent in the 40-year history of Metro,” Constantine said. “It is unconscionable that King County should be compelled to cut bus service, due to lack of funding authority from the state.”

Temporary funding dedicated for Metro Transit expires next year, Constantine said, and Metro has exhausted its reserves and implemented many efficiencies and cost-savings.

Metro’s service guidelines identify the need for increasing service by 15 percent – but without funding in place after next year, Metro on Thursday released a proposal that details up to 17 percent in cuts to bus service. Another 150 daily bus trips between West Seattle and downtown Seattle – buses that ease construction congestion during the Alaskan Way Viaduct project – also are at risk of being canceled in June when state funding ends, Metro said.

“Buses are on the chopping block throughout King County, severing people’s lifelines for getting to work,” said King County Councilman Larry Phillips, chairman of the Transportation, Economy, and Environment Committee. “These drastic transit cuts move King County in the worst possible direction for mobility and a prosperous economy. Voters deserve to have a say about this, either by the state Legislature coming through on a transportation package in the current special session, or by King County finding other funding options.”

Metro said that the proposed cuts would revert Metro’s service to levels not seen since 1997 – even as ridership nears all-time highs. Ridership is up 40 percent on SR 520, and RapidRide growth continues. Traffic is down 25,000 vehicles a day on SR 99 while bus ridership from West Seattle is up nearly 10,000 riders – 42 percent – since 2009. Metro provides about 400,000 rides each day and is nearing the annual record of 119 million riders reached in 2008.

Metro must plan service changes and notify the public months in advance of potential implementation, and will launch a wide outreach effort to inform riders of any such changes. Three months of public meetings are planned prior to the King County Council’s consideration next spring of the proposed service cuts that would have to begin as soon as June, with more cuts to follow through 2014 and 2015.

The proposed cuts could mean a loss of an unprecedented 14 million rides annually, said Metro Transit General Manager Kevin Desmond.

The King County Council will consider finalizing the proposed cuts in spring, to be reviewed in light of updated financial forecasts available in March. Cuts in Alaskan Way Viaduct mitigation service would begin in June unless state funding becomes available; other cuts would follow beginning in September.

Route details

Proposed cuts of up to 600,000 hours of service, or about 17 percent of Metro’s current service, and 45,000 hours of Alaskan Way Viaduct construction mitigation service, are posted online.

74 of Metro’s 214 routes would be deleted: 4, 5EX, 7EX, 19, 21, 22, 25, 26, 27, 28, 30, 31, 37, 47, 48EX, 57, 61, 62, 66EX, 67, 68, 72, 82, 83, 84, 99, 110, 113, 139, 152, 154, 158, 159, 161, 167, 173, 178, 179, 190, 192, 200, 201, 202, 203, 205EX, 209, 210, 211EX, 213, 215, 217, 237, 238, 242, 243, 244EX, 250, 260, 265, 277, 280, 304, 306EX, and 308; and DART routes 901, 908, 909, 910, 913, 916, 919, 927, 930, and 935.

  • 107 routes would be reduced or revised. Examples of changes are fewer trips, service ending earlier at night, deletion of the tail-end of a route, and combination of routes. C Line, D Line, 1, 2, 3*, 5, 7, 8, 9EX, 11, 12, 13*, 14, 16*, 17EX, 18EX, 21EX, 24, 26EX*, 28EX*, 29, 32*, 33, 36, 40, 41, 43, 44, 49, 50*, 55, 56EX, 60, 64EX, 65, 70*, 71, 73*, 98**, 105, 106*, 107, 111, 114, 116EX, 118EX, 118, 119EX, 119, 120, 121, 122, 123, 124, 125, 128, 131, 132, 143EX, 148, 150, 156, 157*, 164, 168*, 177*, 180, 181*, 182, 186, 187, 193EX, 197, 204, 208, 212*, 214, 221, 226, 232, 234, 235*, 236, 240, 241, 245, 248, 249, 252, 255, 257, 269, 271, 311, 331, 342*, 346, 348, 355EX*, 358EX* (E Line), and 372EX; and DART routes 903, 907, 914, 915, 917, and 931. (*Routes have additional service, trips as a result of a revision; ** South Lake Union Streetcar)
  • 33 routes would not be changed, but would likely become more crowded as they absorb riders who lost their service. A Line, B line, 10, 15EX, 48, 74EX, 75, 76, 77, 101, 102, 140 (F Line), 153, 166, 169, 183, 216, 218, 219, 224, 246, 268, 301, 303EX, 309EX, 312EX, 316, 330, 345, 347, 373EX, 601EX, DART 906
  • ADA paratransit services – If the proposed 17 percent service reductions are imposed on the fixed route system, ADA paratransit service may also face reductions.

Public outreach, meetings

Metro plans public meetings and other informational opportunities throughout the county during the next three months. Riders with questions or comments can visit Metro’s service cuts page for more information. On social media channels, riders can use #KCMetroCuts to join the conversation.

  • Federal Way: Wednesday, Nov. 20, 6-8 p.m., Federal Way Community Center
  • West Seattle: Tuesday, Dec. 3, 6-8 p.m., Youngstown Cultural Arts Center
  • North Seattle: Thursday, Dec. 5, 6-8 p.m., North Seattle Community College
  • Downtown Seattle: Tuesday, Dec. 10, noon- 2 p.m., Union Station
  • Bellevue: Wednesday, Dec. 11, 6- 8 p.m., Bellevue City Hall
  • Kent: Monday, Dec. 16, 6-8 p.m., Kent Commons
  • Kirkland: Thursday, Jan. 16, 6- 8 p.m., Peter Kirk Community Center
  • Southeast Seattle: Thursday, Jan. 23, 6-8 p.m., South Shore K-8
  • North King County: Monday, Jan. 27, 6-8 p.m., Lake Forest Park City Hall

SEATTLE- The surveillance cameras on King County Metro Transit buses are there for a reason.

“It gives you a sense of security that if something happens to you, there’s going to be someone held accountable eventually,” said passenger Steven Ackley.

metrobusesAfter a violent passenger shot one bus driver and was then killed by police on another bus in August, we found out neither of those cameras were recording as they should have been.

“In the case of both of the cameras in the shooting incident it was the hard drives that failed,” said King County Metro Director Kevin Desmond.

We asked for records on all Metro bus surveillance systems and here’s what we found.  Right now 40%, or 525 buses in the fleet, have cameras.  Of those, 76 or 15% weren’t working when they were inspected.  Some had bad wiring or hard drives, some cameras and recorders were broken, others had no audio.

Here is the breakdown of what inspectors found:

  • 24 of the DVR’s were inoperable and needed replacement
  • 35 of the hard drives were inoperable and needed replacement
  • 36 of the cameras were inoperable and needed replacement
  • 72 of the systems were missing one or more of the mounting screws
  • 27 had audio capability missing or faulty

We asked the company that sold the systems to metro for comment after the shooting incident.  Apollo Video Technology in Bothell says they told the county to update the software every three years.  They also told us it had been six years, and updates had never been done.

“That’s not accurate,” said Desmond.  “After the incident we spoke to Apollo and we are in discussions with them now about where they see the proper maintenance of the different components.  We did not get any fast and hard advice from Apollo on when we should be repairing or replacing equipment.”

Desmond says the cameras will now be checked during a routine 6,000 mile maintenance review of each bus.  Ideally, he says he would like some sort of remote diagnostic review but said that would be expensive and would have to consider budget impacts.