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Metro Transit: Strengthening Data, Communication, and Continuous Improvement Processes Could Help Reduce Project Delays

Metro Transit: Strengthening Data, Communication, and Continuous Improvement Processes Could Help Reduce Project Delays

July 18, 2023

The Department of Metro Transit (Metro Transit) completed most large capital projects between 2016 and 2022 later than planned. While Metro Transit has taken steps to improve its delivery of capital projects, it lacks reliable data and sufficient management processes to evaluate and improve its performance. We make recommendations to help Metro Transit effectively address the causes of schedule delays, more accurately estimate project timelines, and ensure internal processes support project teams and the implementation of high priority projects. These improvements will support Metro Transit in meeting ambitious strategic goals, like fully electrifying its bus fleet by 2035.

Watch the presentation (9:50)

Summary

Metro Transit delivers critical transportation services to every corner of King County. The King County Executive and King County Council have committed to fully electrifying the bus fleet by 2035, which will require significant capital investments with the need to sequence those investments to meet that timeline and avoid disruptions to service. Metro Transit is planning to more than double its capital spending in 2023–2024, with a significant amount of the increase going to electrification and projects to improve transit mobility like RapidRide.

King County’s 2023–24 budget includes $1.6 billion in investments for public transportation infrastructure over its six-year planning period, almost 25 percent of the $7 billion total.

The Department of Metro Transit (Metro Transit) completed most capital projects between 2016 and 2022 later than planned.1 Metro Transit leadership is aware of this issue and has implemented new initiatives to improve its capital planning and delivery processes since transitioning from a division to a department in 2019. We found these initiatives have helped Metro Transit leadership enhance oversight of projects, but gaps in continuous improvement practices, reliable data, and communication with staff hinders the effectiveness of the initiatives and Metro Transit’s ability to improve performance. We also found that Metro Transit lacks estimation standards and has not aligned project plans with internal staff capacity. Finally, Metro Transit has not yet completed tailoring its new processes to the variety of its capital projects and project managers have not found new processes to be effective at helping them solve problems, like causes of delays.

Metro Transit has steadily grown its capital program and increased spending. Nonetheless, since 2017, its spending has not kept pace with its forecasts, and Metro Transit has fallen short of its projected biennium spending on fixed asset capital projects by at least 33 percent. Metro Transit’s data shows this is because it completes projects later than planned. However, we found significant data limitations that limit Metro Transit’s ability to reliably monitor and assess its cost and schedule performance.

1 We reviewed 107 fixed asset projects active between January 2016 and April 2022 that had an estimated cost of completion over $1 million, and we found that all of Metro Transit’s data systems reported delays for most of these projects.

We make recommendations to Metro Transit to improve its processes to address the causes of schedule delays and work with project managers and staff to better understand its capacity to complete projects and improve estimation practices.

Audit team

Brian Crist, Elise Garvey, Zainab Nejati, Kayvon Zadeh, and Cindy Drake worked on this audit. If you have any questions or would like more information, please call the King County Auditor's Office at 206-477-1033 or contact us by email at KCAO@kingcounty.gov.

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