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Monday, November 23, 2009

Unlike Portland, Seattle Saves its Bus Lines

Posted by Sarah Mirk on Mon, Nov 23, 2009 at 2:58 PM

While TriMet axed four bus lines in September and starting this month will implement frequent service reductions to patch a $3.5 million budget whole, Seattle's King County transit system has decided to avoid cutting "core bus service" by raising revenue in new ways.

Earlier this year, King County Metro faced a $215 million budget gap and was planning to cut across the board from its 225 bus routes. But today the transit agency's directors announced that they would not cut bus service, instead making cuts elsewhere and raising some money in new ways.

According to the Seattle Times article, the agency will be making up the difference in its budget by:

• Boosting adult fares by 25 cents at the start of 2011, on top of the 25-cent increase on Jan. 1, 2010.

• Allowing advertising wraps on buses. The budget shows only $140,000 income by wrapping 20 to 30 buses the first two years, but income is expected to grow, said County Council analyst John Resha.

• Leaving 39 positions unfilled and dropping four others, including park-and-ride maintenance, customer-service personnel and police.

• Spending $40 million in the next two years out of a $105 million excess that auditors located in the bus-replacement fund.

• Developing a more centralized trip-schedule system, instead of doing it separately from seven bus bases. This is supposed to reduce "deadheading," where buses often travel empty at the end of a run.

• Adding a property tax next year of $6.50 per $100,000 of assessed value to go toward bus service. County officials say the move won't raise the burden on taxpayers because a like amount of property tax is being reduced by canceling foot-ferry projects and by trimming a fingerprint-identification fund.

This last policy probably wouldn't fly in Oregon, where property taxes are strictly limited and subjected to statewide voters, but it's heartening to see our sister-city getting creative to save its bus system rather than axing transit. Portland's bus system in September hosted 200,700 trips a day: more than trips on bike and light rail combined.

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