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Cities can buy bus service to avoid cuts in Metro routes

King County Executive Dow Constantine has announced an enhanced program for cities to purchase transit service in order to avoid service reductions.

“This program provides a clear path for jurisdictions to obtain more local transit service, as a bridge to keep buses on the road until we can get permanent and sustainable revenue authority from the Legislature for the regional system,” said  Constantine in a county press release. “Until the Legislature acts, I cannot ask cities to accept cuts they are willing locally to prevent.”

With the Community Mobility Contracts, all cities in King County – or groups of cities – will have the option of purchasing additional transit service beyond existing countywide service levels. Each city would decide how to pay for those services. While the first round of cuts scheduled for September would have to be implemented, any new agreements with cities would help avert or moderate the second, third or fourth rounds scheduled for 2015.

King County currently provides limited contract transit services with several entities – including cities, businesses, and universities – with the county supplementing the costs. Under the plan announced May 12, cities would be responsible for paying for both operational and capital costs of any additional service purchased.

Constantine also called for a peer review of Metro's operating costs, and for a financial audit focused on Metro's policies for reserves and capital programs. Industry leaders from around the nation will be invited to examine Metro’s performance measures as compared to its peer agencies and make recommendations. An outside auditor would be retained to review Metro’s reserve policies and capital spending plans.

A previous audit provided recommendations that Metro used to cut costs and increase revenue, closing a gap of about $800 million, with ongoing savings every year of nearly $150 million. Metro made its operations more efficient, eliminated more than 100 mostly administrative positions, and doubled fares.

Constantine also announced formation of a new Customer Service Panel to recommend how to make the experience of riding Metro even better. The panel will include top customer service executives and leaders from both the private and public sector, and Constantiine's Director of Customer Service. Members of the panel will be asked to provide new ideas and identify best practices, including whether technology can be used more effectively to promote customer convenience and satisfaction.

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