King County exec wants 25-cent fare increase to offset Metro fuel costs

King County Executive Ron Sims wants a 25-cent fare increase on Metro Transit buses to help offset rising fuel costs and avoid cutting any service.

King County Executive Ron Sims wants a 25-cent fare increase on Metro Transit buses to help offset rising fuel costs and avoid cutting any service.

Sims announced his proposal last Thursday and noted that fuel costs for Metro have jump more than 60 percent this year.

“This worldwide fuel crisis comes at a time of historic ridership growth for Metro Transit and is the reason why residents are turning to transit in record numbers as their own budgets are squeezed,” Sims said. “But, the same rising fuel costs contributing to Metro’s popularity are making it more expensive to deliver service and maintain aggressive transit-growth plans.

Sims said the fare increase will allow Metro “to not slip backward at a time when these services are needed the most.”

Metro had budgeted $2.60 per gallon for diesel this year. Now, due to the spike in fuel costs, it anticipates paying an average of $3.86 per gallon in 2008, officials said. That cost difference will create a deficit of more than $14 million in 2008, despite a fare increase earlier this year to cushion the impact of rising operational costs.

Metro purchases about 12 million gallons of diesel fuel each year to power its fleet of more than 1,300 buses. Additional diesel fuel is used to operate the agency’s Access paratransit program.

“This is clearly no time to cut transit service,” said County Councilman Dow Constantine, chairman of the council’s Transportation Committee. “We look forward to hearing from the commuting public as we review” Sims’ proposal.

If approved by the council, one-zone peak transit fares would increase 25 cents beginning Oct. 1 to $2 for adults from the current $1.75 fare. One-zone non-peak would increase to $1.75 from the current $1.50.

Senior fares will remain at 50 cents and youth fares will stay at 75 cents.

Increases also are proposed for Access fares, vanpools and FlexPasses.

Sims said the proposal is intended to keep public transportation an affordable alternative, and to allow Metro to continue expanding service while paying record high fuel costs.

In addition to fare increases, Metro is asking the council to reconsider its prohibition of wrapped advertising on Metro buses, and is taking steps to develop a fuel-hedging program aimed at reducing fuel price volatility.

Metro officials say these proposed short-term actions are aimed at preserving existing service and delivering new service already on the way as part of Metro’s Transit Now program. The agency has made a commitment to expand its overall system by up to 20 percent by 2016 to help meet demand and projected population growth. In the past three years alone, ridership has grown by more than 18 percent.

The cost of fuel is impacting transit agencies all across the nation. In the Northwest, transit agencies such as Snohomish County’s Community Transit and Kitsap Transit in Kitsap County have recently adopted or proposed fare increases in the 25-cent to 75-cent range due to the rising cost of fuel. Metro officials said the proposed 25-cent increase in King County is low enough to maintain its system as an affordable alternative to driving.

The fare increases being proposed by Sims won’t solve the funding gap stemming from rising fuel prices. Looking to 2009 and beyond, Metro estimates fuel prices may temporarily stabilize and then grow at the rate of inflation. Based on that projection, Metro is looking at $36 million in increased operating costs through 2009, officials said.