Metro Regional Transit Task Force
The nationwide recession that began in 2008 and the continued weak economy struck a serious blow to most public agencies. King County Metro Transit was particularly hard hit because their revenues rely heavily on sales tax, which decreased dramatically during the recession. Although revenues had dropped steeply, Metro’s ridership was not declining. Metro faced two challenges: (1) the drop in revenues would mean a loss of 600,000 hours of bus service (roughly equivalent to all bus service in East King County), and (2) the existing policy for reducing transit service would have made the largest cuts in Seattle, where transit ridership is the greatest. In addition, as county officials looked further ahead, the Puget Sound Regional Council’s Vision 2040 plan forecasted dramatic population and employment growth in the next 30 years that will require major increases in the level of bus service.
In February 2010 the King County Council appointed the Regional Transit Task Force and charged it with developing a policy framework for the potential future growth and, if necessary, contraction of King County’s transit system. The 28-member task force included elected officials from across the county, and representatives of business, education, labor, social services and community groups. Some of the constituents were very happy with the existing policies for allocating transit services. Others were not. Cedar River Group was chosen as the task force’s facilitator.
Cedar River Group led the task force through a review of the policies for Metro’s allocation of services, along with data on funding, cost control, efficiency and performance measurement. We engaged the task force in an exercise of developing criteria for system growth and reduction, and held one-on-one discussions with members about their concerns. During task force meetings, several themes began to emerge. Building on these areas, which Cedar River Group flagged as “emerging consensus,” the task force worked through its differences and developed a set of recommendations to the County Council, with unanimous approval. The recommendations included: adopting new performance measures; continuing to find operating efficiencies; and creating a new policy direction for service allocation based on productivity, social equity and geographic value throughout the county.
The County Council adopted the task force’s report in late 2010. The Municipal League recognized the task force’s work with the 2011 James R. Ellis Regional Leadership Award. Metro based its next budget and strategic plan on the recommendations and followed through with the new service allocation policy. Several task force members testified before state legislators about the need for more funding options for local transit. The 2011 Legislature authorized local governments to take actions to increase funding for their transit needs, and began considering longer-term options. The County Council used the authority granted by the Legislature and adopted the local option. It provides sufficient funding to maintain the transit service level through 2014.