WA: Metro, Sound Transit May 'Take Relationship to the Next Level'

June 13--Sound Transit and King County Metro will write a report by September about how to integrate their services and reap an "efficiency dividend," County Executive Dow Constantine announced Thursday.

He is currently the chairman of Sound Transit's governing board, "so I can credibly say it's a good time to take the relationship to the next level," he said. The report would include strategies to deal with Metro cuts and route changes next year, and the launch of light-rail service to the University of Washington in 2016.

The order comes in a season of turmoil for Metro. Voters rejected sales-tax and car-tab increases in April for buses and roads, and on Monday, Constantine vetoed a plan to defer 389,000 hours of 2015 bus cuts that Constantine has proposed because of budget shortfalls.

Joint planning could include these issues:

--Redesigning the Mercer Island Transit Center so that in 2023, Eastside buses drop passengers there, so they transfer to trains heading downtown.

--Shortening bus lines to feed Northgate and Roosevelt light-rail stops in 2021. That's been the strategy; it is not a new proposal.

--Tough choices in the airport-area suburbs, where RapidRide A Line from Federal Way now shuttles riders to the Tukwila International Boulevard and SeaTac/Airport train stations. Constantine said he assumes the A Line will be shortened as light rail extends south to Angle Lake Station and beyond. There will be people who want bus stops closer than one to two miles apart, so there is a question of whether Metro would provide overlapping transit.

--Improved service, including a website where people could plan trips easily using both systems.

Constantine stressed that agency cultures should change to boost total transit use, and not necessarily do what's best for one agency. That might mean Metro forgoes riders to feed trains, he said. To some extent, light rail's 31,000 weekday ridership already drains some demand Metro used to serve, yet Metro nonetheless is carrying 400,000 passengers per weekday.

The two agencies together are funded by the $1.80 in sales-tax revenue they collect for every $100 spent, along with federal grants and smaller local taxes.

Sound Transit will collect $672 million in local taxes in a three-county urban area this year, mostly for construction, while Metro budgeted $483 million. Costs have occasionally spurred calls to consolidate the area's multiple transit agencies.

Constantine doesn't favor a merger, nor the kind of superagency that's been proposed to the state Legislature in the past. He said there's value in local control of local transit.

Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or mlindblom@seattletimes.com.

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