King County Executive is by far the most critical position up for election this year from a transit standpoint. The Executive is not only the ultimate authority over Metro, but he or she also appoints representatives to the Sound Transit Board.
Below is my attempt to digest some of the transportation-related positions taken by the four major Democratic King County Executive candidates (Dow Constantine, Larry Phillips, Fred Jarrett, and Ross Hunter) recently, as reported at Publicola, by the P-I’s “Strange Bedfellows“, the Seattle Times endorsement interview, and on the candidates’ own websites.The other front-runner, Susan Hutchison, has fairly vague positions that don’t really fit in the framework below, and I’ve dealt with her ideas in another post.
The first conclusion you reach after viewing all this material is that the four positions are very, very similar. From this, it’s clear what the next Executive is going to push for with only small areas of uncertainty.
Metro Budget Crisis
- Efficiency: Everyone is in favor of finding greater operational efficiencies within Metro. Phillips has the most specific plan relying on the audit due in September, as well as “entrepreneurial” initiatives such as seeking more advertising and sponsorship. Constantine and Hunter talk a lot about controlling labor costs, with Hunter putting more emphasis on wringing concessions from the unions.
- Fares: Everyone has said they support higher fares to help close the gap, although no candidate has proposed a specific amount. Phillips’ plan contains no immediate fare increase.
- Revenue: Everyone is in favor of transferring at least some ferry district taxing authority to Metro. The only difference is that Constantine wants to preserve existing ferry service and is open to expansion; Jarrett would freeze growth and “scrutinize” what exists; and Hunter and Phillips would halt it entirely. No one is willing to raise taxes immediately; Hunter, however, was a driving force behind getting more authority for Metro in the legislature last session.
- Cuts: All envision immediate cuts to “unproductive” routes, except Phillips, who reaches a bit deeper into the Fleet Replacement Surplus (thus shortening the life of this surplus).
- 20/40/40: No one has anything nice to say about Metro’s 20/40/40. That’s not a statement that one subarea or another deserves more resources. In fact, each candidate makes the point that all parts of the county are developing dense, walkable corridors that deserve good transit service. However, it’s difficult to see how applying a productivity-based metric could impact Seattle service worse than current King County policy.
[I would] tie increased availability of transit to demonstrated ability zone for and to permit additional transit-oriented development inside our urban growth boundary. This creates an incentive for more density.
Jarrett has made similar comments. This plan implies that most Metro cuts would fall on cul-de-sac neighborhoods, with the emphasis on maintaining service in high-ridership corridors. These corridors are the most productive for Metro.
Eastside Commuter Rail
Constantine has been the most explicit (and, I believe, honest) about the fact that the BNSF Eastside commuter rail corridor is never going to happen. The other candidates have said nicer things about the DMUs in the past.
Light Rail/Sound Transit
In this election year, everyone has nice things to say about Light Rail, with everyone claiming they’ll be the one to make sure East Link is built. There are fewer concrete plans, but Phillips and Constantine have the longest track record of supporting Sound Transit. Jarrett’s relationship with East Link in the Senate was more complicated, to say the least. Hutchison endorsed the Rice/Stanton governance reform proposal, which would replace regional transit agencies with a single super-agency with responsibility for both roads and transit.
Hunter also flirts with some agency merging in his policy paper:
I will focus on reducing overhead costs in both Sound Transit and Metro, and will consider selective merging of the agencies to reduce overhead while retaining control of route distribution in King County.
Hunter also had the best quote from the Times interview, about Bellevue’s Bel-Red corridor plan: “we need, like, fifty of those.”
Seattle Transit Blog will be publishing its executive endorsement in about a week, assuming we can reach an agreement. Right now, it’s not looking good.