Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Bad News on Bus Service Cuts All Over

By Ken Harvey, Community Transit

Previous blogs have talked about recent Community Transit public meetings held regarding service cuts and fare changes proposed for June 2010.

There were some persons at a few of those meetings who said we were the only transit agency actually cutting service now. I thought it was a remarkable statement worth investigating.

So the other day I went online and googled “transit service cuts”. Up popped the first 10 of about 3,490,000 results on transit service cuts covered in news articles, blogs and documents. And it was pretty clear there’s bad news all over.

San Francisco, Portland, Chicago, New York City, Oakland, Charlotte, LA. You name it. The list of transit agencies showed the same financial realities most of us have at home. Not enough income to continue the same level of outgo. http://www.tulsaworld.com/news/article.aspx?subjectid=334&articleid=20100301_11_A1_DamonH602640

Here’s my quick read of perhaps a dozen or more stories. Transit agencies all over are between a financial rock and a hard place, despairing on how internal cost-cutting hasn’t been enough and how service cuts and transit layoffs are hurting riders, employees, and the agencies’ mission.

Locally, Kitsap Transit proposed service cuts back in November 2008. And then had to implement two rounds of cuts in 2009, including dropping Sunday service. Worse yet, officials there aren’t sure they’ll have the money to restore Sunday service for another couple of years.

Two weeks ago, the Bellingham Herald had a story about Whatcom Transportation Authority’s tough situation. They are asking voters to vote to increase their local sales tax to help fund transit service. If that ballot effort fails, they have announced they will need to cut service by 14 percent in September. And they would need to make an even larger cut by the end of 2012. They characterize the second cut as a total reorganization of WTA service.

That’s very similar to what Pierce Transit faces. They just implemented a 6% service reduction for their February 2010 service change. They are also proposing a sales tax increase ballot measure to their board which would help them avoid a total transit system resizing. Pierce Transit staff are warning that without new revenue by 2012, they face a drastic cut in service of approximately 57%! http://seattletransitblog.com/2009/06/30/pierce-transit-service-cuts/

Consider the impact to riders and employees if their current bus routes are trimmed from 51 down to an affordable 23! They will have a very busy spring and early summer sharing their set of options with their board of directors and the public.

King County Metro is not immune either. They are one of the largest transit systems on the west coast. And they are facing the same realities. It appears they’ve been successful delaying cuts for now, but the pressures which led to their news release below haven’t gone away.

The story really is the same wherever you look across the nation.
One interesting source which gives a national perspective to the service funding problems facing transit systems is at the Transportation 4 America website. http://t4america.org/transitcuts/

Their map of service cuts is a little out-of-date because of the bad news popping up all over, but it does provide a sense of just how widespread this is.

A few more examples:
Just last week, San Francisco MUNI board members adopted a plan to cut service by 10% for June 2010. That comes on top of service cuts they made last year. http://articles.sfgate.com/2010-02-28/bay-area/17959949_1_transit-system-municipal-transportation-agency-municipal-railway

The nation’s largest transport system, New York’s Metropolitan Transit Authority, just announced a proposal that includes layoffs, fare, bridge and tunnel toll increases and a service cut package that will eliminate service on local and bus routes, reduce subway and commuter, and lay off more than 1,000 workers, from management to union coach operators. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/17/nyregion/17mta.html

Portland’s Tri-Met has just proposed a service cut and fare increase package that, if adopted, will take effect this September. Among other things, it would entirely eliminate four bus routes, curtail weekend service on some routes and eliminate low-ridership portions of some routes. www.oregonlive.com/.../hundreds_comment_on_trimet_mas.html

Its really sad and frustrating. Transit agencies are in the business of offering transportation options and serving people. So these service cuts really hurt. They hurt the people we love to serve. Those who choose to leave their cars behind to save money, time, frustration or clean the air. And those who depend upon us because they have no car.

Reduced service reflects reduced jobs and job opportunities. So service cuts also hurt our great employees, as well. These are the caring people who work in transit to serve those riders; from coach operators to transit IT staff, road supervisors to bus mechanics, from transit planners to dispatchers, from the staff who answer rider questions over the phone to those who communicate via the web, outreach activities and this blog. And of course, there are others, like those who make sure the bills and transit employees get paid.

That’s why every transit agency I’m aware of, has been working furiously to cut expenses wherever possible. Unfortunately, as you can see on the t4america.org map, it hasn’t been enough.

Please remember that Community Transit is here to serve you. We’re doing our best to weather this storm. We are working to keep the bulk of our service available to help our riders and employees weather theirs.

If the Community Transit Board approves the proposed June 2010 service change, we are also committed to restoring suspended services as soon as financially feasible. Because all storms eventually end.


  1. Ken said: "That’s why every transit agency I’m aware of, has been working furiously to cut expenses wherever possible.

    If that is true with CT, why hasn't Admin Staff, including executive directors, take mandatory furlough days like Metro and the State of WA? Why hasn't the CEO and Directors taken a pay cut like other companies have done, Metro included. (with a salary range up to $13k a MONTH, they can afford it! How can CT justify those wages in this economy?!) Why aren't some of the Directors and more Admin people being cut? Five years ago, there were only 5 directors. Now there are 14. How much money would that save in the operational budget?!

    Yes, its not looking good for transit agencies. But if the public knew that CT did EVERYTHING they could, they might not be so hostile towards the way they are handling the situation. All the public sees is their bus routes gone and the drivers who provide it in the unemployment line. Get out of your glass house CT!

  2. I agree that service cuts suck, but can't buy into the "I have no other option!" complaints people keep bringing forth.

    No option? Really? None of the 15,000 cars on I-5 daily are headed anywhere near your workplace? Make no mistake, CT's cuts will hurt. But make no other mistakes..it's NOT just CT who's pinched at the moment. Bike, walk, carpool, telecommute, drive to a route they keep and bus from there, move (plenty of vacancies around), try doing what your grandparents did during the depression...grin and bear it as best you can...

  3. And yes, seeing/hearing that CT is instituting furloughs, some kind of % cut across the board for salaried positions, or a freeze on raises would certainly soften the blow to those of us on the street.

    But I still maintain (having worked in the public sector for 20+ years now) that most people are okay with any decision provided it doesn't affect them. All of us could use some lessons in self-sacrifice; and I hope this major recession is it.

  4. Community Transit, "hello" from Atlanta, Georgia! Big or small, west or east, north or south, if we run buses or trains, the story's the same. There's not enough money to keep them running. And so we cut the overhead. Trim the staff. Tweak the service hours. Lengthen the frequencies. Recycle and re-use. Freeze the hiring. Furlough. Pay more for fewer benefits. No raises or COL for the next 3 years. And we're looking at 30% cuts in July. MARTA

  5. From reading the original service cut proposals, one of the things in there was that staff cutbacks had already happened (last year, I think) and that they had already frozen wages and deferred hiring in some vacant positions. So I think the reason it's not in there now is because it was done before to a large extent.

  6. Just wondering why has ct hired at least 5 new dispatchers in the last 5 months, with 4 hired since Jan.? They created 2 jobs that just count the number of bus in the yard, and no dispatch jobs are being cut, and a new supervisor was just hired.

  7. Blogger Response:
    This is in response to specific comments on my blog article above and to a stream of comments received over the past few weeks critical of Community Transit’s efforts to avoid proposed service cuts and layoffs.

    We invite readers to respond and express opinions, normally without response from the original blogger. That’s because we’re busy with other work. But occasionally, there are some opinions and rants which don’t square up with the facts.

    My blog article on “Bad News All Over” was intended to show that regardless of who you are or where you live this is a difficult time for all of us. It doesn’t matter whether you’re a bus rider with choices, a DART paratransit rider, a van or bus mechanic, or an office worker. The other intent was to show that many transit agencies are experiencing troubles in this recession.

    In the last few weeks, Community Transit CEO Joyce Eleanor met with the city councils of Granite Falls, Lynnwood, Mountlake Terrace and Snohomish regarding the proposed service and fare change. This was after she attended each of the five public comment meetings and several agency employee meetings.

    It took courage, commitment and real leadership for her to stand in front of the crowds, share the bad news and look into the faces of pain, anger and frustration expressed by those in attendance.

    Our CEO repeated to the city councils what she had explained to the public. We hate to propose cuts we know hurt riders. She also explained that to forestall those service cuts we began slashing discretionary spending and pursued aggressive cost-savings, early on.

    Community Transit’s early efforts to weather this storm included wage freezes for administrative staff and management. Our leadership team set the pace and gave up wage increases for the past two years. We have left most administrative staff vacancies unfilled for the second year in a row. That has increased the workload on everyone remaining. We had administrative staff who chose to take voluntary furloughs. They gave up their wages to help reduce the need for service cuts and hopefully lessen the potential need for layoffs of fellow workers later.

    We slashed spending. We borrowed from our bus replacement savings fund. We went after additional funding wherever available.

    We began discussions with our labor bargaining units (mostly composed of coach operators and maintenance employees) regarding how concessions on contract wage increases would help reduce layoffs for their fellow union brothers and sisters. Those discussions are still underway.

    Reducing our expenses helped us save more than $14 million over the past two years. Tapping into our capital reserves and receiving federal stimulus funds also helped our agency survive the first two years of this economic downturn. But we haven’t received stimulus funds this year and we can’t afford to use up all of our bus replacement money. We’re going to need it.

    So the reality is that now we know everything we have done hasn’t been enough.

    No one likes to have anything they value taken away. We get angry. We look for answers. We assess blame. And it’s always easy to speculate whether more could have been done and when.

    Hindsight and Monday-morning quarterbacking is always easy and safe, whether you’re an amateur or a professional. But the reality is that no one, whether economic expert, manager or bus rider knew how bad and long this recession might be. If we had, wouldn’t you and I have planned and done some things differently?

    We have great employees who make our excellent service possible. We have wonderful riders and passengers who enjoy and depend upon our friendly, quality service. So while critics are free to spend their time blaming and accusing, please don’t think less of Community Transit and our mission to serve.

  8. I've heard where they're considering keeping the #414 for a couple trips. I wonder why when there is a better, cheaper alternative: extend the #105 from Mariner to Ash Way? Then, the #414 folks can take Sound Transit to Ash Way and continue north from there on the #105. To get to Mountlake Terrace, Metro's #41 +347 or #358 + CT #130 will get them there. I've also wondered why not consolidate the #115 and #116, terminating in Mill Creek Town Center or maybe a bit past that. In a similar vein, combine the #270, 271, 275. Reduce frequencies on the lower ridership time periods of the #201/202. That route could terminate at Ash Way on the south as well. The points are: while probably not doable for June, ASAP simplify and save some money now that can be redirected towards other areas. There's inconvenience, but something is better than nothing. I hope that the CT connections to Sound Transit's #535 and similar replacements for CT service will be improved once the #441 is axed, though.

  9. I agree with many of Ken's points, and he is right in writing that the agency has some great employees. However, they also have some not-so-great employees as well as a fair number of disenchanted employees. This is partly because all reach the top of their wide salary ranges at CT at the same pace, similar to many/all other public entities (but not at private companies), which is a heavy incentive for lower productivity that in turn requires having more employees. Granting everyone not at the top a cost of living plus the same, additional "merit" increase each year, along with periodic market adjustments (until the 2010 administrative wage freeze) has generously exceeded inflation and state agency's raises for many years and pinches funds for non-personnel uses such as serving the public. Posters are correct that DIrectors' pay compares favorably to that of CEOs of transit agencies of the region, even with their pay freeze, and no doubt a few drivers are making six figures, too, but with overtime. It's valid to question the need for any major expense such as these (it should happen in ordinary times as well) and any expense that looks unnecessary-such as the recent poorly-timed fitness center and lunchroom remodels-when staff cutbacks are at hand. Yes, all agencies are feeling the pain, the most by those who have continued past practices, hadn't reserved beyond an ordinary recession, and whose cuts didn't keep up with that of the falling sales tax. Community Transit seems to be in the middle of the pack in this regard. Medium-term, leaders of public agencies would be wise to re-think their status quo policies that cost them dearly, as the well of public funds is running dry. In addition, they will find many worthy ideas if they seek out and welcome their non-supervisor and especially their drivers' ideas, instead of viewing them like many public officials view public comments, only as a necessary evil to get a motion passed and they'd rather not hear any. They'll also improve morale and productivity. Better transparency benefits everybody.

  10. I don't get it. Things are bad all over. Why do some people see everything in terms of "us versus them?" I'm sick of the "my boss doesn't do anything right!" complaints. Sounds like typical union stuff.

    I bet there are lots of union and non-union employees (and their families) over there at CT who appreciate their steady paychecks. Someone has to like having kept their jobs as long as they have. And they're probably sick of the ones who spend their time complaining and questioning everything their bosses do.

    If you don't like the way your company does business, leave and let one of us have the job.

  11. Wow. It's really sad to see how many transit agencies are facing the same thing. Kind of scary what that means for riders.

  12. I've got a friend who drives a bus. She loves what she does. And her riders love her. She says that she really likes working for CT. She took the job even though they had informed her when she applied that if things didn't get better, she might be laid off. She took the job anyway because it was better than what she was doing before and enjoys her riders. She hopes the economy turns around because she thinks its a good company.

  13. I am a driver who is on the layoff list. I love my job and I want to keep working. What I would like to know is how long the layoffs are going to last? I keep hearing from a couple of months up to 2 years. It would be helpful if CT would communicate more with thier employees so the ones who do get laid off can make plans. Also, when will the layoff notices be sent out? The 'not knowing' is affecting alot of morale.

  14. To the first poster: I'm guessing you're union, probably a driver, if you are singling out admin staff. It takes some nerve to ask them to take pay cuts during a year when you are getting a 3% raise. How many layoffs would be prevented if senior drivers faced the reality on the ground an agreed to skip a raise this year? Or isn't 52k a year base pay not enough to drive a bus?

  15. Anonymous said...
    "To the first poster: I'm guessing you're union, probably a driver, if you are singling out admin staff. It takes some nerve to ask them to take pay cuts during a year when you are getting a 3% raise. How many layoffs would be prevented if senior drivers faced the reality on the ground an agreed to skip a raise this year? Or isn't 52k a year base pay not enough to drive a bus?"

    I am the first poster and yes, I'm a driver who is now getting laid off. I'm assuming your in admin and KEEPING your job. I'm not singling out the worker bee admin staff but I am wondering why the cuts didn't start from the TOP where alot of management/directors could be cut. Does CT really need 14 directors each making well over $100k a year? Probably not.

    I also have been in admin in the private sector before and non-union and I know its really the worker bee assistants that do most of the work for less pay. And I do NOT make 52k a year and with my schedule, I don't get OT. You sound as if you think that driving a bus is easy, YOU TRY IT! BTW, I think the Union has discussed money concessions and its still in the works. Many drivers would GLADLY give up the 3% if it meant keeping a roof over their heads.

  16. In my opinion, it's the duty of anybody who pays sales taxes (in this case) to be be concerned and to ask the hard questions about how their money is being spent, particularly when people are losing their jobs. To do otherwise is usurping one's civic responsibility and handing out blank checks to people who may not be as careful with someone else's money as they are with their own. I believe you can determine a well-run public agency by how transparent it is-how much do they disclose, more would tell me that their decisions will stand up to the majority of scrutiny.

  17. Anonymous said...
    "In my opinion, it's the duty of anybody who pays sales taxes (in this case) to be be concerned and to ask the hard questions about how their money is being spent, particularly when people are losing their jobs. To do otherwise is usurping one's civic responsibility and handing out blank checks to people who may not be as careful with someone else's money as they are with their own. I believe you can determine a well-run public agency by how transparent it is-how much do they disclose, more would tell me that their decisions will stand up to the majority of scrutiny."

    I agree. CT is NOT being transparent, keeping drivers in the dark, not working with the Union for alternatives, etc.

    People seem to forget to that the drivers who are getting laid off also pay sales tax and have asked the hard questions and CT remains silent.

  18. That sounds so noble. But excuse me, I recognize the tune behind the words. Same ol' tired song. I know how unions work too. I used to be in a union. Got family in unions now.

    So let's see, how does the chorus go again?

    This is all about us! Management doesn't care about the customer, only we do. TOP HEAVY MANAGEMENT!! Cuts should start there. Why do we need all those stupid, useless departments anyway? We do all the real work. THEY JUST SIT AROUND TALKING AND MEETING AND DOING NOTHING EXCEPT MISMANAGE! They don't listen to us. They won't answer our hard questions. They won't run the company the way we tell them to. Things would be so much better if they would. They don't ask for our opinion. We should be the ones running the compnay. Cuts should start at the top. Cuts should happen everywhere but over here. They are soaking the public and get paid way too much, while we the true workers are starvin', cause they dont pay us what we deserve. They are dirty, no-good, evil, lyin', thievin' Hobbitses who've got our "precious"!

    Yeah, sounds like the same old Smeagol/Gollum tripe that I'm used to. And I'm not alone.

    Sheesh. You'd think people would appreciate having a job more than you guys seem to. I'd like to see how long I'd last at my company if I took every opportunity to publicly put down my boss!!

    Want layoffs to be equal? I seem to recall the way it works in my old union days was that when layoffs came, the rookies were the ones bumped out the door. Seems like the things you criticize management for are the same things you guys do. No? Show me. Then let your membership know you're going to bump the most senior union members this time around to protect the newest (least protected) members.

    And good luck with that.

  19. Man. I'm convinced.What a depressing post. How long is this tunnel? Seems like public transit is one of those things that the government should make sure is always there and always funded. Like roads. I mean, I pay taxes too and I want options to get around for when I don't want to drive.

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  21. This is a belated note to communicate my concern for the struggles of Community Transit.

    CT is such a great system, doing such great work, and now struggling in a time when transit services are so greatly needed.

    We, too, at Intercity Transit may be facing reductions. Possibly between 20 and 23% come
    early 2011 if additional funding is not found. This follows a 33% fare increase in January 2009.

    You know that story too well.