Facing unprecedented revenue losses as a result of the COVID pandemic, King County Metro has notified 200 part-time transit operators that they will be laid off as of Aug. 7. Per the labor agreement, employees are laid off in order of lowest seniority and the employees who received layoff notices were driving routes part-time for Metro for the past year or less.
Service and workforce reductions are a result of an unfortunate financial reality. King County’s most recent economic forecast estimates that from 2020-2022 Metro will collect $465 million less in sales tax revenue and $130 million to $150 million less in fare revenue. Reductions already experienced and projected from farebox, sales tax, and transportation benefit district funding mean Metro faces a $2.2 billion revenue loss for 2020-2028.
As defined in the labor contract, employees are laid off based on order of lowest seniority and these layoffs are not reflections of performance. To assist the part-time drivers affected by layoffs, King County is providing career support and identifying other work placement opportunities within King County. Employees also will be offered direct access to a temporary program that is in development to support COVID response efforts elsewhere in King County. Also, affected employees are placed on a two-year recall list for the transit operator position.
Metro has operated a reduced service network since March in response to COVID-19. As of June 22, about 85% of pre-COVID transit service is operating. Recent average weekday ridership is estimated to be about 36% compared to 2019. The amount of service hours we provide is directly related to the number of operators we need. Fewer services hours means fewer drivers are needed.
Future service adjustments and reductions are also planned for September as Metro responds to ridership levels and continues to provide a reliable regional network, particularly for those who most rely public transportation. To reduce the number of potential layoffs, King County recently made a voluntary separation program available to retirement-eligible employees.
Despite the challenges facing our county and beyond, Metro is committed to keeping our region moving forward and emerging with a stronger and more robust transit system that provides safe, equitable, and sustainable mobility.
Will there be more transit operator layoffs in the future? Current plans for layoffs are driven by financial realities that include lower revenue from sales taxes, fares, and agency partners. Based on current workforce projections, additional layoffs are possible, however our goals moving forward remain to address financial challenges without laying off employees to the extent possible. Factors affecting future rounds of layoffs include how much further attrition occurs within the workforce, including how many employees choose the voluntary separation program. More information will be known in the coming months.
How does the percentage of workers laid off compare to the total driver workforce and the part-time workforce? Metro has approximately 3,143 part- and full-time transit operators. The 200 part-time drivers identified for layoffs represent 6% of the total transit operator workforce and 25% of the 786 current part-time transit operator workforce.
How many retirement eligible operators have signed up for the voluntary separation program? Metro is accepting applications through July 31 and will have a tally available after that.
How much is the pay for transit operators who are placed in the forthcoming temporary COVID-response program and for how long? Employees potentially would earn their part-time transit operator wages and work half-time, and the duration of positions may vary but could last through the end of 2020. The average part-time driver hourly wage is $29.82 and ranges from $24.08 to $34.40 per hour.
Will revenue collected by the proposed Seattle ballot measure prevent reduction in staffing? Due to budget constraints, Metro is making staff reductions at this time and is planning to reduce transit service in September in anticipation that the current revenue collections in the Seattle Transit Benefit District will expire. If a ballot measure is passed by voters, revenue could be collected beginning in 2021 and Seattle has identified that it plans to contract for Metro service at that time.