Slipping sales tax, more ridership in proposed Capital Metro budget


Agency officials have cut back budget projections after sales tax growth slowed in the past half a year.

Even so, Cap Metro plans to offer more bus and rail service, and foresees a rise in ridership this year.

Capital Metro recently took public comment on its proposed 2017-18 budget, with a vote planned for Sept. 29.

Here are five things to know about the transit agency’s proposed spending and operating plan:

1. Sales taxes are cooling: Capital Metro’s sales tax revenue has grown much more slowly over the past six months than during a several-year run of 5 percent to 9 percent increases. So agency officials are projecting a 2.5 percent revenue bump in the coming 12 months, to about $236 million.

2. More ridership finally? Boardings, after sharp drops three years in a row, were flat this year at about 30.4 million. But officials expect that to change: Capital Metro is adding about 3 percent more service in the coming year, primarily in its MetroRapid and MetroRail programs, and projects a ridership jump to 31.7 million.

ALSO READ: Agency fights ride slump with system overhaul

3. Rail improvements coming: The agency estimates it will spend a $151.5 million on longer term needs, about half of it on MetroRail and its freight rail operation. An additional $15.1 million will go for new buses and vans. The agency now has about 540 buses and vans and 10 rail cars.

4. Savings are shrinking: The agency’s “fund balance” — its savings account — is predicted to plunge from an estimated $159.6 million at the end of this month, when the fiscal year ends, to $76.1 million a year later. Much of that is due to the spending on rail improvements and other capital costs.

5. Ticket prices aren’t changing: Fares, now set at $1.25 for a regular bus ride and $3.50 to ride MetroRail or express buses, won’t go up next year. Fares cover just 11 percent of the cost of providing bus and rail service. The sales tax rate — which has been at its legal 1 percent ceiling since 1995 and provides about 70 percent of the Capital Metro’s revenue — won’t change either.

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