Here in King County, just as our ridership is surging, higher fuel costs and lower tax revenues from a faltering economy, are creating a growing deficit in our Metro budget. Our ability to maintain service levels for our existing riders and to respond to new customers who are discovering the ease, convenience, and cost-effectiveness of our transit system, is constrained.
I fundamentally believe that a robust transportation network that moves people between their homes and their jobs is critical to our long term economic prosperity, as is reducing congestion so that vital freight can get to and through our region. An accessible, reliable and affordable public transportation system is vital to our community. Moreover, reducing the number of cars on the road is essential to reducing carbon emissions and protecting our environment. Thus, we must do all we can to keep our buses running and maintain our existing transit service. We must also remain steadfast with the implementation of the service expansion we promised voters when we asked them to approve the Transit Now initiative.
Therefore, I am proposing a measure that will maintain current bus service levels and will limit our fare increase to 25 cents this year with another 25 cent increase in 2010.
This phased approach would minimize the impact on the young, the old and others who can least afford it. In addition, it will give businesses and institutions like the University of Washington and Children’s Hospital that purchase employee bus passes more time to plan for these expenses so that they can continue to provide this benefit to their employees and support regional mobility.
These fare increases, however, by themselves will not be enough to make up the financial shortfall over the next two years.
Rather than reducing services, I further propose that the shortfall be covered by the sale of some Metro capital assets such as the Bellevue Metro site and by cutting capital projects totaling approximately $65 million. In addition, I propose to spend operating and capital reserves of approximately $45 – $60 million. This is an appropriate time to use these “rainy day” funds given the unprecedented financial storm pounding Metro today.
These actions are painful, but they will allow Metro transit to remain fully funded through the end of 2010 while we continue our work of finding long term funding solutions.
We must begin now to solve the significant deficit at Metro that returns in 2011. This financial gap will be in the range of $30-$40 million in annual operating funds. Over the next two years, we must look across our region’s long-term critical economic, environmental, and infrastructure needs and explore new funding models to create an adaptable and efficient transportation network.
Whether it is transforming the State Route 99 or 520 corridors or serving increased density in our growing suburbs or promoting economic development in rural areas, we will have to rethink every aspect of the movement of people and goods throughout the region. We have a short window to examine our long term funding strategies.
Let us begin now!