King County Metro general manager Kevin Desmond said today that with the failure of Proposition 1, Metro will do everything it can to reduce the impact of planned service cuts, but that riders shouldn't expect any miracles.
He also sounded skeptical about a proposal to fund Metro routes that serve Seattle with a property tax on Seattle homeowners, noting that Metro is a regional agency that serves commuters who travel between cities as well as within Seattle, and "there are no walls between cities. We even have bridges over lakes. ... Just thinking from the perspective of one city or another—that's not the way a regional transit system works."
However, Desmond wouldn't take the bait when asked to take a position on the proposal, saying, "We only learned about it yesterday. We've got to digest it. I don't think I want to comment further."
And he defended Metro against claims that were made in the media (particularly by the Seattle Times editorial board) in the runup to the vote—particularly the implication that Metro is a bloated agency that pays its drivers too much and needs to cut more of the proverbial fat.
"We've been tightening our belts for the past five years," Desmond told reporters at a press conference this afternoon. "We're not going to stop trying to find savings"—possibly by doing things like charging for park and rides and negotiating concessions from the drivers' union, whose contract is currently in mediation—"but at the end of the day, we've got to send out bus service."
He pointed out that Metro is eighth among transit agencies in cost per hour ($136), but called that number "an artifact," noting that King County's system serves not just a major city but includes the downtown transit tunnel and trolley lines, both of which cost more than conventional on-street buses to operate and maintain but which improve ridership and reduce emissions, respectively.
"Our cost per mile is 99 cents. The average in the U.S. is 98 cents. I'd say we're doing pretty good by cost per mile," Desmond said.
The service cuts Metro is proposing to the King County Council would reduce service by 550,000 hours, starting with less-productive service like nighttime routes and low-use midday routes. Starting in September of this year, Metro's proposing to cut service by 16 percent, with 72 routes slated for elimination and 84 scheduled for reductions.
The county will have four hearings in May to hear public feedback on the cuts.