Phillips and Desmond don’t like being reminded of Metro’s past promises
King County Councilmember Larry Phillips and King County Metro General Manager Kevin Desmond claim that my independent analysis of Metro’s recent service cuts is “wrong,” and that I’m “rewriting history” and “playing loose with the facts,” but they fail to cite a single example of where I got the facts wrong.
The reason for their failure is simple. All Washington Policy Center (WPC) research is based on facts and documentation that comes from Metro itself.
Phillips and Desmond agree that they cut routes and that Metro officials need to be better managers of the money they receive. As they put it, Metro has sought to “become more productive” by “pruning routes” (that is, cutting services) and to use “new efficiency guidelines.”
Councilmember Phillips and Manager Desmond have also made false claims by stating WPC has an “anti-transit agenda.” Actually, WPC supports the following policy recommendations:
- Metro should keep their promise by delivering the 1.2 million hours of new bus service after voters approved tax increases in 2000 and 2006;
- Keeping the downtown Seattle free-ride zone, a 40-year service Councilmember Phillips and other county leaders recently cancelled;
- Intelligently using contracting out and market competition to lower costs and improve quality for transit riders;
- Expanding use of Metro’s popular van pool program to move commuters efficiently and conveniently around the region.
For more ideas for improving public transit see Chapter 10 of our Policy Guide to Washington State, 4th edition.
Here’s our bottom line: Public transit is a vital piece of our transportation network and an essential service that County government provides the public. We just want King County officials to keep their promises.
In another instance of false claims, Councilmember Phillips and Metro Manager Desmond disagree with my finding that Metro received the car tab money they wanted in 2011, “then cut many routes anyway, so we will likely experience similar cuts whether they get new funding or not.”
Yet, as explicitly stated by Phillips, Desmond, and WPC, Metro officials did cut routes and are threatening to cut services again if they don’t receive more money. That’s where the similarities end.
Metro officials released a document titled “what will happen if the congestion reduction charge is not approved?” Metro officials mislead the public into thinking that their specific route would be saved if Metro got more money. Voters approved the tax increase, yet Metro still “pruned” many routes, including the following:
- 15, 17, 18, 23, 35, 38, 39, 46, 51, 53, 54, 56, 79, 81, 85, 129, 133, 134, 149, 162, 175, 196, 219, 251, 912, and 925.
Many others got restructured and reduced.
Lastly, Councilmember Phillips and Manager Desmond blame voter approval of Initiative 695 in 1999 as the reason they say they don’t have enough money to provide promised bus service. Since 2000, tax revenues have increased by 56%, higher than inflation. The tax increases Metro has received follows:
- 2000 - a permanent .2% rate increase in the sales tax
- 2006 – a further permanent .1% rate increase in the sales tax
- 2010 – a permanent 6.5¢ per $100,000 tax on home values
- 2012 – a two-year imposition of a car tab fee
Metro’s failure to adjust to a state policy change that was made nearly 14 years ago reflects poor agency management more than a lack of revenue.
Phillips and Desmond say that the first tax increase was to offset higher expected revenue from tax estimates that turned out to be wrong. Yet in 2000, Metro planned to buy 200 buses and add 575,000 service hours with the first sales tax increase. That’s more than a replacement for expected higher revenues.
With new money coming in, Metro officials pursued a policy of increasing operating costs rather than seeking money-saving efficiencies. Metro’s operating costs have skyrocketed 80% since 2000, after voters passed I-695.
In an effort to deflect uncomfortable criticism, Metro officials say the Municipal League has put “every dollar of Metro spending under the microscope,” but they fail to mention the review’s findings. The Municpal League found that “Metro has a relatively high cost structure and its cost per boarding and cost per vehicle mile continue to rise” and that “it is critical that Metro rigorously control operating expenses.”
Metro officials made promises to voters two years ago and they are attempting to do the same again to secure a new tax increase. This has become a predictable pattern: issue threats about cutting services and ask the public for more money.
Public officials often say they are in favor of accountability, and then complain loudly when an informed, independent analysis seeks to actually hold them accountable. All of WPC’s research findings come from official information provided by Metro officials themselves, but they apparently don’t like being reminded of their past promises to the public.