King County Metro will likely run out of federal coronavirus funding by the end of the year, General Manager Rob Gannon told the Metropolitan King County Council on Tuesday.
Gannon and other transit executives are now hoping for more federal help.
Emergency funding included in the federal CARES Act was a boon for transit systems across the country, but is quickly being dwarfed by projected long-term losses in ridership and tax revenue. “What [that funding] will not do is solve our challenges in the future years,” Gannon said.
Metro and other agencies across the country are now asking congressional leaders to include more money for transit systems in the next federal relief package.
Metro will receive about $244 million from the federal CARES Act, distributed through reimbursements for coronavirus-related costs like staffing and cleaning. That will offset much of the $240 million to $265 million Metro expects to lose this year in fares and sales tax revenue. Metro is now attempting to craft a budget for 2021-2022.
“Our financial recovery will be a monumental challenge,” Gannon said.
Over three years from 2020 through 2022, sales tax revenues for Metro will be down about $397 million, on top of losses in funding for other county services, Dwight Dively, director of King County’s Office of Performance, Strategy and Budget, told the County Council in another recent meeting.
Metro spends about $1 billion a year on operations, including services it provides for Seattle and Sound Transit.
“We’re going to be looking at a very serious financial problem for Metro,” Dively said.
Ridership on Metro buses has fallen by more than 70% as officials have urged people to stay home except for essential trips. Metro has cut some routes and trips, and stopped collecting fares to reduce interactions between passengers and drivers.
Drivers, meanwhile, have grappled with their new role as first responders expected to report to work unless they have symptoms of COVID-19 or are at high risk. A Metro driver, 59-year-old Samina Hameed, died last month of complications from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
The union representing Metro employees has called for stronger protections and hazard pay. Metro on Monday said face coverings will be required on buses, although riders without face coverings will not be turned away.
Eventually, Metro is likely to unveil cost-cutting measures such as service reductions, but details are still in the works.
“While we hope the system will rebound to a full level of ridership at some point, that is both difficult to predict and very likely not to be achieved in the next six to 18 months,” Gannon said.