King County has a 'Plan B' in case state won't pass transportation package

Tentative agreement with Metro workers also announced today could preserve some bus service

King County Executive Dow Constantine announced today that the County, while preferring the state legislature take action to pass a transportation package, would take measures on its own to forestall potentially dramatic cuts to Metro bus service. That means they would, before the end of the year present local legislation to fund transit.

Constantine was joined today by the president of the Amalgamated Transit Union Local 587 to announce tentative agreement on a new three-year contract that, if ratified, could preserve some bus service.

In a press release the county explained the actions and options:

Transportation benefit district

As part of a statewide transportation package, King County has requested authority from the state to ask its voters to fund transit service and roads in cities and the unincorporated areas through an increase in the motor vehicle excise tax. Referred to as the "local option", the revenues raised through such a measure would allow Metro to avoid devastating cuts to bus service. It would also provide funding for cities and the unincorporated areas of King County to preserve and maintain their roads and make related transportation improvements.

With the expiration of temporary transit funding, it is critical for King County to obtain this "local option" and to seek voter approval in 2014. If a transportation package does not provide for this outcome, existing state law does allow the Metropolitan King County Council to enact an ordinance creating a transportation benefit district with specific revenue authorities, including sales taxes and a flat annual vehicle fee.

“A statewide transportation package that is fair and balanced is still our first choice, but in the absence of action by the state, an imperfect local option becomes necessary so that voters can have the chance to save bus service and maintain roads,” said Executive Constantine.

“Time is running out. The people of this region deserve the right to vote on whether or not to accept drastic transit cuts,” said Councilmember Phillips, chair of the Council’s Transportation, Economy, and Environment Committee. “Putting this decision in front of voters in time to save their transit system, with or without state legislative action, is the right thing to do.”

Revenues authorized by voters under a transportation benefit district would be distributed to Metro Transit for bus service, and to funding roads and transportation needs in cities and unincorporated King County.

Regional transportation advocates joined the elected leaders today to reiterate their support for a balanced statewide transportation package as a first choice for funding.

Tentative labor agreement

Executive Constantine was joined by Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 587 President Paul Bachtel to announce tentative agreement on a new three-year contract with bus operators, mechanics and other Metro workers that could preserve jobs and produce millions of dollars in savings for Metro Transit, subject to member ratification.

“Local 587 recognizes Metro is in the midst of an unprecedented funding crisis,” said President Paul Bachtel. “This is an agreement we feel we can take to our membership – one that reflects our shared desire to keep our operators on the job and buses on the road for our customers.”

“This is a significant agreement that reflects a shared commitment for preserving bus service and the union’s desire to be part of the solution,” said Executive Constantine. “This agreement was reached following five months of good-faith bargaining, and I appreciate the hard work of negotiators on both sides.”

The tentative agreement calls for a one-year wage freeze followed by a 2 percent fixed-rate wage increase in each of the remaining two years of the contract – a wage structure that may serve as a model for other County labor contracts.

The tentative wage agreement would save Metro between $8.4 million and $12.7 million over the life of the contract, or about 40,000 of the 600,000 hours of bus service that would have to be cut in the absence of stable funding. Wage highlights of the tentative contract include:

A wage freeze in 2014 the first year of the contract, which covers Nov. 1, 2013 through Oct. 31, 2014,

A 2 percent wage increase in the second and third years of the contract,

An additional 1.67 percent wage increase in the third year of the contract, contingent on Metro’s ability to avoid a deep service loss. Most other county employees will receive the 1.67 percent COLA adjustment in 2014.

The tentative agreement also contains additional elements that will help contain agency costs. Local 587 has approximately 3,800 members who operate and maintain a fleet of 1,400 buses, Sound Transit’s Link Light Rail, and the South Lake Union Streetcar. The union will schedule a membership vote, likely sometime in December.

Stable transit, road funding needed 

The cuts that would be required in the absence of funding are unprecedented in Metro’s 40-year history, and would roll back service to 1997 levels, despite the fact the county has grown 22 percent with 360,00 more people. At a time when that population growth would call for increasing service by 15 percent, under Metro’s service guidelines, Metro faces cuts of up to 17 percent.

The Legislature granted King County temporary funding authority for transit two years ago, pending action on a comprehensive statewide transportation package. Those two years will expire in 2014, along with fund reserves, compelling Metro to outline a proposal to cancel 74 bus routes and reduce and revise another 107 routes to reduce costs starting next year.

Metro Transit held off making service cuts for five years by creating more than $800 million in reforms and efficiencies, along with the temporary Congestion Reduction Charge. Metro needs an estimated $75 million in annual revenue to keep existing service on the road and purchase replacement buses.

Another 150 daily bus trips between West Seattle and downtown Seattle – buses that ease construction congestion during the Alaskan Way Viaduct project – also are at risk of being canceled in June when state funding ends.

Metro last month carried 412,000 average weekday rides, its second-highest ever. The agency is nearing the annual record of 119 million riders last seen in 2008.

Three months of public meetings are now underway in advance of County Council consideration next spring of the proposed service cuts.

The county Road Services Division has 40 percent fewer workers than in 2009 as a consequence of the lack of stable funding. As a result, the roads system is deteriorating, service levels are reduced, and fewer roads will be able to be plowed and kept open for travel and restoration of utilities this year should a region-wide storm strike.

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