King County Metro Bus Driver Wages Grow out of Control

Background

Over the last ten years, King County Metro has twice increased the sales tax rate. In 2000, Metro officials were successful in asking voters to approve a 0.2 percent rate hike and another 0.1 percent in 2006. Metro officials said these two tax increases would expand county bus service by 1.28 million hours by 2016. So far, Metro officials have only delivered about 307,000 hours, a third of the bus service they promised voters.

While taxpayers and transit users have not received what they were promised, one group has benefited from the two tax increases, public bus drivers.

Key Findings

  1. Over the last ten years, King County Metro has twice sought and received increases in the sales tax rate but only delivered about one third of the bus service promised to voters.
  2. Over the same time period, salaries paid to Metro bus drivers grew 70%, from $79 million in 2000 to about $135 million in 2009.
  3. Average wages for Metro bus drivers grew more than twice the rate of inflation.
  4. Metro does not even require a high school degree to become a transit operator, yet there are now 243 who make over $75k per year and 20 who make over $100k per year.
  5. These high wage bus drivers cost taxpayers $1.6 million in 2000. By 2009, these high wage drivers cost taxpayers $20.7 million per year, an increase of nearly 1,200%.
  6. Voters were told the higher taxes would be used to deliver more bus service, not to increase wages for bus drivers.
  7. Metro officials should gain control of wages and deliver the service promised from the previous two tax increases before additional taxing authority is considered.

Read the full Policy Note here.