County Outlines Framework for Ditching Metro's 40/40/20 Rule

By Erica C. Barnett November 5, 2010

King County Executive Dow Constantine, along with county council transportation chair Larry Phillips, Kent Mayor Suzette Cook, and other representatives of the 28-member Regional Transportation Task Force, just laid out the task force's recommendations for replacing Metro's controversial "40/40/20" rule, which allocates new service by geographic area (40 percent to the Eastside, 40 percent to South King County, and just 20 percent to Seattle). The new rules would also replace Metro's less-known "60/20/20" rule, which dictates that when Metro makes cuts, 62 percent come from Seattle, 21 percent from South King County, and 17 percent from the Eastside).

The recommendations, developed in 13 meetings over several months, don't outline where new service will go (or, more importantly, where service will be cut), but they do provide a framework for deciding which service is most valuable to the system.

Facing an estimated $115 million annual funding gap over the next , the task force decided to "focus on providing service where it can be most productive" rather than dividing service geographically, Constantine said this morning. Calling 40/40/20 "a blunt instrument," Constantine said, "We must get beyond transit allocation based merely on historical accident … to best support prosperity and economic development ... at a time when our revenues for transit have collapsed."

Both Constantine and Phillips said the county planned to go to the state legislature "with one voice" to ask for new county taxing authority to put Metro on more stable short- and long-term financial footing. "We are going to have to fill the service void or we'll have very upset employers, with people not being able to get to and from work," Phillips said. "Someone once said, 'Nothing focuses your attention like a hanging in the morning.'"

If the county fails to get new revenue options from the state, Phillips said, it could be forced to cut as many as 600,000 service hours a year---the equivalent of all the bus service in East King County. "That's fairly daunting when you think about the importance of Metro in getting people to and from work," Phillips said. "The single most important thing King County can do to contribute to economic recovery is keep Metro running on a daily basis getting people to and from work."

Today's announcement was all about consensus. But once the task force is faced with allocating those cuts, it's anyone's guess whether that consensus will hold. As Kent Mayor and task force member Suzette Cook, noting that suburban cities have long felt "cheated" by Metro's service formula, noted, "the devil's in the details ... we will be watching."

Here's the short version of what the task force recommended; the full report is available on Metro's web site.

Recommendation 1: Metro should create and adopt a new set of performance measures by service type, and report at least annually on the agency’s performance on these measures. The performance measures should incorporate reporting on the key system design factors, and should include comparisons with Metro’s peer transit agencies.

Recommendation 2: King County and Metro management must control all of the agency’s operating expenses to provide a cost structure that is sustainable over time. Cost-control strategies should include continued implementation of the 2009 performance audit findings, exploration of alternative service delivery models, and potential reduction of overhead and internal service charges.

Recommendation 3 [This is the recommendation that throws out 40/20/20]: The policy guidance for making service reduction and service growth decisions should be based on the following priorities:

1) Emphasize productivity due to its linkage to economic development, land use, financial sustainability, and environmental sustainability

2) Ensure social equity

3) Provide geographic value throughout the county.

Recommendation 4: Create clear and transparent guidelines to be used for making service allocation decisions, based upon the recommended policy direction.

Recommendation 5: Use the following principles to provide direction for the development of service guidelines.

• Transparency, clarity and measurability

• Use of the system design factors

• Flexibility to address dynamic financial conditions

• Integration with the regional transportation system

• Development of performance thresholds as the basis for decision-making on network changes

Recommendation 6: King County, Metro, and a broad coalition of community and business interests should pursue state legislation to create additional revenue sources that would provide a long-term, more sustainable base of revenue support for transit services. To build support for that work, it is essential that King County adopt and implement the task force recommendations, including use of the service guidelines and performance measures, and continue efforts to reduce Metro’s operating costs.
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