Victor Obeso Answers Your Burning Metro Questions

A big thanks to Victor Obeso, King County Metro Deputy General Manager, for being the first of our Renter Summit panelists to provide a response to questions we didn’t get to during the panel discussion.  We look forward to receiving similar responses from Councilmembers Sawant and Johnson, Speaker Chopp, and Senator Pedersen.  Below, we’ve included his response to the questions you submitted. 

Victor-Obeso

Deputy General Manager of Planning and Customer Services for King County Metro Transit

I enjoyed attending the Renter’s Summit held on September 24.  It is energizing for me to attend events like this where so many attendees care so deeply about public transit.  Many transit related questions were posed at the event, and I’m happy to provide the responses below.

(1) What can we do to increase late night transit?

Metro is considering a proposal to improve late night “Night Owl” bus service, which includes service in the Capitol Hill area. Metro conducted public outreach last spring and is currently in the second phase of outreach through the end of October gathering feedback on service concepts. Late night ridership is low compared to other times of day, so the investments in this time period that Metro is proposing are relatively modest, but would represent a significant step toward providing viable 24/7 service. Metro is working closely with Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) on late night transit and the City of Seattle is helping fund the proposed additional service.  You can find more details online.

(2) How can we make transit more accessible to kids and families?

Improving transit accessibility for kids and families includes making transit more available at all times of the day and week and making transit safer and more secure. Metro has increased frequency of service at all times of day through investments including those funded by the city of Seattle Proposition 1. These types of improvements make transit more accessible for families and all other people who travel outside of the standard work commute hours.

It is also notable that all new coaches are configured with low floors, which makes getting on and off the bus much easier with small children. Metro also continues to improve bus stops, with shelters, lighting, benches, and other amenities that make using transit easier for parents and more fun for kids.

For more information on how to travel with kids on Metro, click here. See questions 3 and 4 for more information.

(3) How are we incorporating safety for vulnerable populations in plans to expand transit?

The County Executive’s 2017-18 budget proposal for Metro takes major steps to improve safety and security and to better meet the needs of the diversity of Metro riders and employees. At Metro’s request, the budget proposes funds to add seven Metro Transit Police officers, one detective, and one transit resource officer, and also to conduct anti-bias and de-escalation training for all Metro Transit Police and other King County Sheriff’s Office officers.

The 2017-18 budget also includes funding to establish an effective and efficient system‐wide approach to identify and address employment equity and diversity concerns and incorporate diversity and inclusion principles throughout Metro. We want the workforce at Metro, at all levels, to reflect the diversity of the communities and customers we serve.

Finally, the budget requests to convert a term-limited position to an ongoing position to continue supporting Metro’s efforts in ensure compliance with Americans with Disability Act requirements of Metro’s programs, facilities, and fleet.

(4) How can we make Metro friendlier, less expensive and easier to use for families, especially single mothers with children?

All new Metro buses have a low-floor design, “kneeling” capabilities that allow the driver to lower the entry door several inches, a mobility ramp rather than the old style, relatively cumbersome wheelchair lift, and seating layouts that are more open, improving accessibility and ease of movement.

Capitol Hill has a large number of bus shelters that provide protection from the rain, are well lit, and improve accessibility to Metro routes. Metro also has a bus shelter mural program that improves the appearance of bus shelters and deters graffiti.

People with a household income of less than double the federal poverty level (FPL) qualify for ORCA LIFT – a reduced fare program that makes transit trips less expensive for qualifying residents within the Puget Sound region. About 35,000 people within the Puget Sound area already use ORCA LIFT, which was introduced in 2015.

(5) Can we make transit passes free or low cost for all people, especially workers and students?

If Metro was to make transit passes free, it would come at a great cost in service. Of the total revenue Metro receives from fare collection, about half of it is paid by the over 2,000 employers getting ORCA cards to over 350,000 employees throughout the region. Over 30 percent of Metro’s operating costs are covered by fares. Without fare revenue, Metro would have to reduce bus service by about one-third.

Metro’s fare program has a number of elements designed to make transit more affordable for low-income riders. For many years, Metro has had reduced fares for youth, seniors and riders with disabilities. In 2015 Metro, working in partnership with Seattle-King County Public Health, implemented the ORCA LIFT program to provide discounted fares for low-income adult riders (at or below 200 percent of the FPL). There are currently about 35,000 riders registered for the ORCA LIFT program, who made over 430,000 trips on Metro and 110,000 trips on Sound Transit bus, Link light rail, and Sounder services in August. Metro is also working with the City of Seattle to provide free ORCA cards to low-income Seattle Public Schools students.

Metro also provides an 80 percent discount on tickets sold to human services agencies to provide to their very low income clients. Metro sold about 1.4 million tickets through this program in 2015. The King County Council recently increased the annual subsidy cap by 25 percent, to $3.2 million, effective in 2016. The King County Council also acknowledges the importance of fare revenue and sets targets for Metro to use fares to recover a portion of the cost of delivering service.

(6) How much money are we spending on fare collecting and enforcement? Could we better use these funds for transit access and affordability?

It costs Metro approximately $10 million to collect $158 million, or costs roughly equal to six percent of the fares collected. The largest element of this cost is related to the ongoing collection of cash on the bus. The net revenues gained by collecting fare are used to fund over 30 percent of Metro’s service. Metro would need to cut bus service by about one third if fare revenue was removed. Additionally, fare enforcement on the six RapidRide lines currently costs a total of about $1.5M per year. Fare enforcement on RapidRide is required for provision of off-board fare payment, which is a central element of bus rapid transit. Fare enforcement has the added benefit of improving security for all riders, as reflected in several RapidRide line customer and bus operator surveys over the past several years.  Overall, RapidRide ridership on the A through F lines have attracted 67% more riders on these lines, over 25,000 riders per day, compared to the former regular Metro routes they replaced.  The fares paid by these added riders is part of the reason Metro has been financially able to sustain and add more service over the past several years. See also the prior responses describing some of the ways Metro provides access to and affordability of our services.

(7) How is King County Metro/Sound Transit working with the City of Seattle and WSDOT to get transit priority improvements on the street?

King County Metro has a long history of working with the City of Seattle and WSDOT to keep transit moving through the most congested parts of the county. This ranges from establishing the 3rd Avenue transit lanes and Business Access and Transit (BAT) lanes throughout Seattle, to the HOV lanes on our highways, in particular I-5, I-90, SR-99 and the West Seattle Bridge. However, Metro does recognize that with growing traffic congestion and allocation of increasing amounts of street space to improved pedestrian and bicycle safety, much more transit priority is needed.

With the development of the Metro Connects long range plan, Metro and the City of Seattle have a shared vision of prioritizing reliable, frequent transit across the City of Seattle, including adding as many as 7 new Rapid Ride lines in Seattle by 2025 with bus-only lanes on up to 50 percent of the lane miles, reducing travel time by a target average of 20 percent.

(8) How can we better involve women and minority owned contractors in transit development?

King County Metro has multiple efforts underway that are related to the County’s Equity and Social Justice Initiative.

King County’s Business Development and Contract Compliance (BDCC) is a section within the Finance and Business Operations Division. BDCC’s business development goal is to retain, expand, create and recruit businesses and BDCC manages programs aimed at increasing the participation of small and disadvantaged businesses in County programs and projects.

Towards these ends, BDCC manages specific Business Development initiatives and partnerships inspired by the County Executive and County Council, including the federal Disadvantaged Business Enterprise (DBE) program. The program purpose is to ensure that DBEs have an equal opportunity to participate in USDOT assisted contracts. This applies to King County projects that have an element of Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) funding, loans, or grants.

King County encourages participation by all firms wishing to participate in County contracting opportunities. Firms seeking to be certified as DBE should contact the Washington Office of Minority and Women’s Business Enterprises at 866-208-1064 or http://omwbe.wa.gov/contact-us/.

(9) Where does the money from zoned [RPZ] parking go?

To best answer this question, we recommend contacting Mike Estey, SDOT Parking Manager, at 206-684-8132 or via email at Mike.Estey@seattle.gov.

(10) Why are we not moving forward with a parking benefit district?

To best answer this question, we recommend contacting Mike Estey with SDOT at 206-684-8132 or via email at Mike.Estey@seattle.gov.

(11) There have been 2 bike fatalities this week. How can we accelerate the creation of protected bike lanes?

To best answer this question, we recommend contacting Jim Curtin with the SDOT safety program at 206-684-8874 or via email at Jim.Curtin@seattle.gov.

(12) How do we improve last-leg connections for those who don’t live directly near the main transit lines?

Nearly all Capitol Hill transit trips start and end with walking, so improving pedestrian connections that work for all ages and abilities is the most vital element of improving access to transit for last-leg or last-mile connections. Improving pedestrian connections to bus stops can include a variety of projects such as building sidewalk and bike infrastructure, providing wayfinding so people can easily find transit stops and stations, and ensuring that people have good information about the variety of transportation options available.

Also, nearly all Capitol Hill residents live less than one quarter mile (1,320 feet) from frequent Metro service that runs every 15 minutes or better most of the time, but we recognize that geographic and other barriers exist for some riders and we do work with SDOT to address those issues as completely as possible through improvements to sidewalk infrastructure. Metro Connects envisions expanded partnerships between Metro and cities throughout King County to improve connections and allow more people to easily access the transit system.

Thank you for advocating for better transit in your community and for asking important questions. If you have further inquiries or comments, please feel free to contact me at 206-477-5778 or via email at victor.obeso@kingcounty.gov