Seattle’s Transit Future

by Seattle Mayor MIKE MCGINN

While working in the community, and running for office, I heard from Seattle residents that they wanted better transit. And not just better buses, but rail transit where it made sense. That’s why as part of my campaign I made a commitment to the public: Within two years I would give voters the chance to vote on rail expansion in Seattle.

The measure now in front of the City Council reflects that commitment. From the very first day after the election we started laying the groundwork. And now we have an historic opportunity to begin controlling our own transit destiny.

Here’s how we got here. First, we launched a Transit Master Plan process. Seattle’s old Transit Master Plan still included a monorail. It was time for an update. We pulled together a broad stakeholder committee, retained top-notch planners, and began the process of identifying the next best transit investments for Seattle. We asked the public what they wanted. 57% of respondents to an online survey told us they wanted more rail.

We worked diligently with Council for full funding to complete the Transit Master Plan, to appoint citizen advisors, and to demonstrate that this plan was to be guided by the best transit principles. Our commitment then and now was to rigorously identify the best transit investments, whether rail or improved bus service. The Transit Master Plan process, while not yet complete, clearly identifies the top corridors for new investment, and that new rapid streetcars are an effective way to connect neighborhoods such as Ballard, Fremont, and the U-District to downtown.

But a good plan is not enough — we also need to fund it. Working with Council President Richard Conlin and Councilmember Tom Rasmussen we launched a Citizens Transportation Advisory Committee to identify how to fund Seattle’s transportation needs. They too gathered public input. Their surveys and focus groups found that not only did the public support more transit, but that they were willing to pay for it. The committee’s recommendation was unambiguous: Invest in catching up on deferred maintenance, and make a significant investment in catching up on deferred transit. Their proposal, if enacted as recommended, would give us the type of permanent funding source that would allow us to complete the detailed planning needed for rail transit, and make a significant down payment on real capital investments.

The table is now set for the Council to act, and now is the time to be bold for rail.

(More after the jump…)

Here’s why. Transit, along with education and next generation infrastructure like broadband is one of the keys to being competitive in a global economy. It connects our residents to jobs and opportunity. It moves us away from a high cost model of relying on gas and oil. Transit puts money in people’s pockets and keeps money in our local economy instead of being shipped off overseas. Portland’s transportation policies, including their rail lines, have created a “green dividend” of $2.6 billion each year that gets reinvested in their community. Transit will create the types of communities in which next generation businesses and creative leaders want to participate.

We can’t count on the state or the region to prioritize the neighborhood to neighborhood connections in our city that the Transit Master Plan shows is possible. King County Metro is being starved by the state legislature by being given inadequate financing authority. We can’t count on an infusion of cash from Sound Transit. Northgate will be the last light rail station we build in Seattle for decades.

I understand that the City Council is worried about the length of time necessary to finance capital investments in rail. But I think the public is more worried that if we sit on our hands and delay building transit, we’ll watch Portland, Vancouver, Los Angeles and other cities make the investment in transit infrastructure and leave us behind. Now, more than ever, we have to be bold enough to try and take control of our own destiny in a highly competitive global economy.

It’s not as if the state or the City Council are strangers to long-term financing for capital projects. We routinely use long-term financing for our City Light and our public utilities projects. It’s how you build infrastructure. Just last year the City Council approved a 2.5% parking tax to finance initial costs of the Mercer West project and the Elliot Bay Seawall and additional long-term financing for these projects will be required. Five years ago they approved a long-term financing source so that we could undertake the Spokane Street Viaduct the Mercer East project, and the City’s bridge rehabilitation and seismic upgrade projects. The question is, are we the type of city that will only finance road infrastructure but won’t do that for transit?

As a long-time community member, as an advocate, as a candidate, and now as mayor I have heard the same thing from the public — this city deserves rail transit. And the public is prepared to invest in it. That’s why, for the past year and a half, we’ve worked with transportation experts, businesses, the public, and the Council to show Seattle how we can realize our transit future. And I’m confident that if the Council gives the public a chance, they’ll embrace that future.

Comments

  1. Mike says

    Honorable Mayor McGinn: I applaud your efforts build transit infrastructure (both rail and bus) in quicker time-frames than what ST is capable of doing. We’re coming up on 20 years now since Metro and the RTP got the ball rolling. For that we have a line to the airport and one just starting to the U-District in 5+ years.
    Paying for it is always the problem. How do you strike the balance between what ST is doing, it’s tax burden on Seattle, with King Co. and it’s tax burden on Seattle with your own tax and bonding requests. It seems like this three wheeled vehicle is designed and operated from three different driver compartments – all wanting to go their own way.
    ST3 is problematic for Seattle. What major projects would Seattle propose that fulfill the regional nature of ST, and fulfill sub-area equity?
    Also, bonding and Federal support is really dicey these days. ST’s TIP call for over 3 bil. in fed support through ST2, of which only half is spent or reasonable locked up. That’s on top of a 25% local revenue shortfall. Just look at all the projects and service that have been postponed in the TIP, or just cancelled.
    In addition to all those other west coast cities that are embracing transit of all kinds, add Salt Lake City to your list of poster children. They started after us, as well as Denver, Phoenix, and Dallas.
    http://www.thetransportpolitic.com/2011/08/07/two-light-rail-extensions-for-salt-lake-with-more-on-the-way/

    • says

      The Transit Master Plan process included consultation with both ST and Metro. The goal is to develop a plan that can guide investments in new transit in Seattle by showing us the corridors that need it the most. Those corridors can be served by projects built by ST, Metro, and/or the City of Seattle. The long-range high capacity transit vision map includes several corridors that ST (via their light rail) and Metro (via RapidRide) will serve. The plan is intended to show how these different corridors can be linked, and later studies will show us exactly which modes to use on a given corridor. For example, we know from the TMP work done so far that rail looks pretty good on the Ballard-Fremont-SLU-downtown corridor, as well as U-District to SLU via Eastlake.

      We also know that even if ST3 comes to the ballot, it will be decades before Seattle gets more rail once the Link to Northgate and the I-90/Rainier station on the East Link are finished. If we have a VLF source that is robust enough to allow us to build rail, however, we can get some of these corridors connected much sooner than that.

      Robert Cruickshank
      Office of Mayor Mike McGinn

      • Steve says

        Hey, are you the same Robert Cruickshank who runs (ran?) the CA high speed rail blog? Did you move back to Seattle?

      • Steve says

        Welcome back! I hope you’re able to help us get some low-speed, high-frequency urban rail, if not HSR.

      • G-Man (Type E) says

        Welcome back, I’m happy to see McGinn is bringing in people who can make the case articulately. I do wonder however about the continued reliance on taxing autos to pay for transit. In addition to the animosity it creates, I am concerned about its ability to produce sufficient revenue over a long period. You say, “If we have a VLF source that is robust enough to allow us to build rail, however, we can get some of these corridors connected much sooner than that.” But, if the goal of funding a significant expansion in transit is to allow people to live and move through the city without needing cars, then won’t the VLF decline as a revenue source when transit succeeds at that goal? I cringe at the perverse incentives created that mean to get more transit funding we would need to incentivize more vehicle registrations. Shouldn’t we be looking for a revenue stream that can continue to provide capital for expansion and operations regardless of what happens to vehicle ownership rates? Several possibilities exist. I recently read an article that spotlighted Hong Kong and the use of property fees. I understand we have to work within what is possible right now, and I support the effort, but thinking long term, what is the mayor’s position on more stable funding sources? Is there any hope with the current state leadership?

      • Mike Orr says

        “Deferred transit”, I like that.

        Link’s north corridor (Northgate-Lynnwood) is part of ST2, and while it’s not fully funded yet it hasn’t been abandoned either. It was scheduled for 2023, but even if it slips to 2030 that’s still less than two decades. Depending on the corridor chosen, it may have stations at 145th & I-5, 130th/135th & Aurora, and/or 145th/155th & Aurora. Some of these are inside the city, and the others are a short distance outside. I hope the Aurora alignment is chosen, because there are major opportunities for TOD along Aurora without incurring opposition from single-family homeowner NIMBYs.

    • alexjonlin says

      There are many intra-Seattle grade-separated rail projects that would be important for the region as a whole. If ST3 gives billions to other subareas for important rail projects there, billions would be reserved for Seattle and they could go to, say, a 45th St subway or something like that, along with streetcar projects across the city.

  2. Mark Dublin says

    Two questions, Mr. Mayor:

    1. What plans do you have to coordinate the campaign for your proposed tax increase, and your own proposed transit projects, with those of the King County Council, Sound Transit, and other regional government agencies concerned with public transit?

    2. While the rail system you propose is being planned and built, will you be personally willing to meet with Seattle business interests and city council members to reserve lanes for transit only through Downtown Seattle and other commercial centers?

    Please fill us in on those points, with specifics.

    Many thanks, Mark Dublin

    • says

      Mayor McGinn is out of town this week (though he did take the time to compose this op-ed) so I’ll try to give you answers as best I can.

      1. Our office has been in regular contact with members of the King County Council and the Executive’s Office about this proposal. And we and SDOT have worked with ST and Metro in development of the Transit Master Plan.

      2. I know the mayor and other staff in the office have regularly met with members of the Seattle business community, and the Council, on this topic and specifically on questions of how to improve transit downtown. I would expect those meetings to continue.

      Robert Cruickshank
      Office of Mayor Mike McGinn

  3. Mark Dublin says

    And while we’re on the subjects of rail and major plans:

    The last presentation by the Seattle Waterfront project indicated in no uncertain terms that the late Councilman George Benson’s Waterfront Streetcar Line would have no place in the project. Plan and elevation renderings showed no reserved transit lanes at all.

    Would you be willing to take an active part in assuring that the Waterfront project makes public transit a major design element, with the Waterfront Streetcar as an integral part?

    Again, thanks. Mark Dublin

    • Gary says

      I second this question about the Waterfront Street Car.

      The tracks and stations and cars are all in place, all we need is the maintenance barn. And with good planning we could use the one being built for the 1st Hill Sound Transit line.

      • Ben Schiendelman says

        Some of the tracks have already been removed, and WSDOT’s viaduct construction plans will remove the rest.

      • Gary says

        ah Ben, I just walked this track and the only thing I’ve seen that has been done is a bit of asphalt was dumped between the tracks down near Yesler. Nothing that a day with a jackhammer wouldn’t fix.

      • Chris Stefan says

        Not according to the report commissioned by the stadium authorities. They do say the track in that location would need to be replaced though. Still it isn’t all that much track. Hardly a reason to say the line can’t be brought back.

      • seattletunnelcat says

        I had heard that MOHAI was going to pursue the Streetcar for an exhibit as part of the new SLU location

      • Kyle S. says

        Plain and simple, the Waterfront Streetcar did not serve a downtown alignment. It served the waterfront, which is at times separated from downtown by a 100-foot bluff.

      • Andrew says

        I recall riding the old streetcars as a boy, and i encountered quite a few tourists who came to Seattle specifically to see the hystorical streetcars. Making sure the streetcars start running again makes sense to me. They boost the tourism industry as well as providing convenient transportation along the waterfront.

      • Mike says

        I heard Seattle was going to donate one to the sculpture park, cut in half with chain saws, and call it art. SAM’s giddy at the thought.

      • TLjr says

        If the streetcars must be rendered into art, plant them in the ground at the Sculpture Park, half buried, angled up, just like at the Cadillac Ranch.

    • Mike Orr says

      As discussed in the Waterfront Streetcar article comments, there are several ways to implement this; it doesn’t have to be exactly as it was. We can use the Benson streetcars on this or other segments; we can use modern streetcars on this segment. If we do it, we should double-track Alaskan Way to make greater frequency an option. And we should consider connecting the north end to Seattle Center or Discovery Park. Maybe not in the first phase, but leave the option open. And a trolleybus (even a green-painted trolleybus) would also be effective, even though some people disagree.

    • says

      Please DON’T bring back the Waterfront Streetcar. I prefer its replacement, Metro’s route 99. Unlike the streetcar, the 99 is free to ride, even at night, and even when it leaves the RFA. It’s always free. Also, the 99 goes further into the I.D., gets people closer to King Street Station and the DSTT’s International District/Chinatown station. And it also travels up 1st Ave, getting people closer to the Pike Place Market and the Seattle Center.

      • Chris Stefan says

        Sam, even though the bus is free it has hardly any ridership. Clearly most people preferred riding a streetcar that cost money instead of a free bus.

      • says

        I’ve ridden the 99 ONCE ever. The Streetcar I’d ride every time I go to the waterfront just because it’s iconic. I’d ride it more if it connected with the Seattle Center. It would be a great way of going between the center and the Sounder/Amtrak/Link lines while avoiding downtown traffic.

    • Chris Stefan says

      Frankly someone with some pull needs to start advocating for transit to be a part of the new waterfront plans, preferably in the form of a historic streetcar line. The stadium authorities and the sports teams have done this a bit by having a study done, but I don’t know how far they are willing to push this. We need to get a couple local politicians and some more local business leaders on board. Ideally someone willing to go to bat for funding and to indicate this is a non-negotiable item. I don’t think us citizens saying “bring the Waterfront Streetcar back” is going to do more than maybe put the idea in a few heads.

      OTOH if the Downtown Seattle Association, the Greater Seattle Chamber of Commerce, the Port of Seattle, or the Waterfront or Pioneer Square merchants associations was really pushing for the WFSC then it would stand a good chance of happening.

  4. AJ says

    Bring back Seattle’s rolling historic district! Bring back the Waterfront Streetcar!

    Otherwise, I support the $80 VLF. It gives us the financial leverage we need (small starts, new starts, infrastructure stimulus, TIGER3, more!) and sends a strong message to Olympia that we, as a city, are united behind seeking and requesting transit funding. It says we want to determine our own path forward on our transportation future.

    Let’s do it!

  5. Kevin Pedraja says

    Mr. Mayor,

    I find myself in rare agreement with you. At least in part. Improved mass transit is, indeed, essential to the long-term future of the city. But while I agree on the goal, I disagree on the means. Why fund our transit plans exclusively on the backs of drivers? If the entire city will benefit, why not impose an across the board sales tax or some other fee that more fairly distributes the financial burden? What you propose simply provides a benefit to one group at the expense of another.

    I’m more than willing to pay my fair share for improved mass transit as long the rest of my fellow Seattle residents are equally invested.

    Kevin Pedraja

    • MurrayD says

      I fully agree with this statement. Taxing drivers to pay for tansit seems backwards to me. Those who live without a car because they have good access to mass tranist will not be paying the extra tax for mass tranist. It also hurts people like me twice as much. I ride tranist as much as i can. But i do own a car because transit is not always practical for what i have to do. I also own a motorcycle because i like to save money on gas when i cant use transit. I dont really like riding in the pouring rain, thus the need for a car. This new tax will be attached to both of my vehicals thus i will have to pay it twice. Someone who can fully rely on tranist will have to pay nothing. Seems backwards.

      I am all for more mass tranist and i will pay for it. I just want it to be fair. Car divers have to pay for roads. Transit riders pay for … what?

      • Ben Schiendelman says

        These aren’t really arguments for the Mayor – they’re arguments for your legislators. The city doesn’t get a choice of what funding mechanism to use. Olympia would only give us this. Our choice is – take it, and fund transit, or leave it, and fund nothing.

    • says

      We definitely agree that mass transit is essential to our city’s future. As Ben pointed out, our options are pretty limited under state law in terms of which taxes we can levy. Most people who use transit in Seattle own a car as well (I know I do), and drivers will benefit from building more transit, especially rail. On many of the corridors we studied in the Transit Master Plan, we found that many will be at capacity in the years to come if they’re just served by buses and not something, like rapid streetcar, that can carry more riders. Already we get reports of full buses having to pass people waiting at stops. Rail can carry more people and help us maintain capacity for those that do drive. So it benefits people whether they choose to take transit or whether they choose to drive.

    • Alex Broner says

      Most taxation is “taxing one group and benefiting another group” as you put it. Except often the two groups overlap. Remember, this is a license fee, not a driving fee, while (we would hope) all drivers have licenses, not all license holders drive for every trip. {eople who ride transit have licenses too! Perhaps the fee should apply to non-driver IDs as a well? For a one time fee this isn’t all that much money to start crying foul over and raise the “get off our backs” flag.

      One of the problems with sales tax increases is that we already have a really high sales tax. Sales tax falls disproportionately on the poor, and to boot it discourages people from shopping in our city.

      • Matt L (aka Angry Transit Nerd) says

        “Vehicle License Fee” means car tabs. $80 per year per vehicle.

    • says

      Kevin,

      I say this in half jokingly: one way to think about it is to imagine that your license fee pays a few bucks a year to consolidate 60 single-occupancies vehicles into 1 bus filled with 60 people, and therefore clear the road for *your* single occupancy vehicle. It’s win-win: you increase your mobility, by increasing other people’s mobility!

      • Kevin Pedraja says

        You’ll note that I’m not opposed to paying my fair share. And if rail ever did make it to my neighborhood, I would use it. I’ve been a happy rail commuter in other cities I’ve lived in. But between the proposed VLF fees from the city and the county, we’re talking about $100. That’s not a huge amount to me, but it is much more than “a few bucks” to some people and *very* regressive. I won’t claim to be 100% familiar with state law, but there has to be a more fair to distribute the burden for this. And the reality is that a lot of people who drive don’t use mass transit because they can’t; it’s either not practical from a reach standpoint or not flexible enough to accommodate their work schedules. (Topic for another day, but why do express busses stop at 5:30? I don’t know too many people with real jobs who can make a 5:30 bus. Adding a couple of hours to a 10 hour work day is asking a lot).

      • Ben Schiendelman says

        Kevin, it’s really not that regressive. It’s $20 outside the city, and $100 within. If you can already afford to live in Seattle with a car, you’re generally doing okay.

        Also, it sounds like you aren’t aware that under the $80 plan, there would be a rebating mechanism for low income folks. PLEASE don’t start coming out against things before you know everything about them.

      • Shane Phillips says

        Ben,

        I hadn’t heard anything about this rebating mechanism. Where can I find more information about it? It seems strange that I’m just now hearing about it despite the discussions here and elsewhere going on about how regressive it is (which, admittedly, is a decent argument). We should be doing more to emphasize this to VLF doubters.

      • aw says

        Wouldn’t it be $120 in-city; $20 county fee, $20 councimanically enacted fee, and $80 up for the vote. City folk aren’t exempt from the county fee, are they?

  6. JayH says

    The waterfront street car is just one example of why I am afraid of the Mayor’s proposals. The waterfront streetcar was built then abandoned when the political wind changed. The Kingdome was built and destroyed for the latest fad stadium. Many promises were made for Magnuson Park, and a bond measure was passed for improvements that were largely not made. I could go on.

    Why should we support “Seattle Transit” with such a lousy record of follow through, support, and lack of maintenance? Mr. Mayor, I can be persuaded, but I will need assurances. A lot of assurances.

    • Ben Schiendelman says

      The waterfront streetcar was abandoned by Nickels, not McGinn. Actually, none of what you’re complaining about was McGinn.

      Not to say I’m complaining about Nickels, either. But get your mayors straight.

      And the stadiums were county and state, not city.

      • JayH says

        True, all true. But McGinn will not be Mayor forever. All of the projects I mentioned were dumped after that Mayor (or county exec) left office. Who’s to say we won’t abandon the street cars or light rail in a few years? We’ve done it before at least three times if you go back a few decades. I’m not a reactionary. I’m not afraid of higher taxes or higher fees. I would like some assurance that what is built will actually be built as promised and will be somewhat cost effective. Sound Transit promises have fallen flat, especially if you go back to the 1996 ST1 ballot issue. That isn’t done and will never be done.

        I am asking the Mayor for a whole lot better process for “Seattle Transit”. Here’s my suggestion. Let’s use the same process that was used for the monorail proposal a few years ago. Give us a chance to stop it if it turns out to be a disaster in the making. That would likely persuade me to vote aye on “Seattle Transit”. At least the first time.

      • Ben Schiendelman says

        Jay, if you honestly think we might abandon streetcars or light rail in a few years, I don’t think you’re having an honest discussion about transportation.

      • Chris Stefan says

        Huh? As far as I know everything promised in the 1996 Sound Move measure will be complete by 2016 though it only goes to Husky Stadium rather than NE 45th, but that is being built too and will be open by 2021 (as will Roosevelt and Northgate). Sure some things took longer to build than expected in 1996, but for most of them there is a good explanation as to why.

    • says

      The Transit Master Plan process is what will guide our investments in rail. It shows us which corridors make the most sense, and ensures decisions about what goes where are driven by rigorous analysis of the data and the need. The mayor is committed to fulfilling his promise on this.

      Robert Cruickshank
      Office of Mayor Mike McGinn

      • eddiew says

        The Transit Master Plan work is incomplete. One top corridor, Madison Street, is only appropriate for electric trolleybus due to grade. The others are being considered for a range of improvements: rapid streetcar, BRT, and enhanced bus. They have a range of capital and operating cost. Seattle has many transport needs, including pavement management, sidewalks on arterials that lack them, a new Magnolia Bridge, a new seawall, Mercer West, as well as transit.

  7. Andrew Smith says

    McGinn’s totally right about not waiting for the state or the region, something I’ve long argued.

    In the city we simply need more transit than they do in the suburbs, and the transit we do need is sometimes more expensive (less expensive per rider, but more expensive per capita). If we have to give Bellevue (or whatever, you get my point) a tunnel each time we build a light rail line, even Bellevue will exhaust it’s appetite long before we do.

    • Anon says

      “McGinn’s totally right about not waiting for the state or the region…”

      And as I understand it, he is pushing ahead within the boundaries of his control. Somehow, that gets twisted to “he’s going solo and acting with a lack of regard to the interests of the broader region”.

      I suppose if his opponents think the interests of the broader region shouldn’t involve rail to any significant degree, then their portrayal of him is accurate…

      Except the general public in Puget Sound is much more receptive to rail than his detractors can ever bring themselves to admit.

  8. Janine says

    There’s already quite a bit of taxing for transit in this city. Metro sales tax and property tax, plus a new car tab tax; Sound Transit sales tax and car tab tax; and the TBD tax on car tabs from the city. A high additional car tab tax on top of that?

    So what does the average family of four pay now in taxes for transit? $480 every year? For two car families another $160 per year would mean $640 every year for buses and trains.

    Two questions for R. Cruickshank: if the Mayor’s proposed tax hike goes into effect what would the average 4-person family in Seattle pay in transit taxes, and why should there be so much taxing of families here for transit when in many cities, such as Portland, there is NO direct taxing of individuals and families? Around Portland the only transit taxing done is a modest tax on businesses’ payrolls.

    • barman says

      Dude, tax policy is messed up in this state for more reasons than transit funding. The whole thing is wonky.

      I WISH the PSRC had as much political power as Portland’s ‘Metro’. I think in theory, that will be possible in the future. Then, hopefully, tax policy will make much more sense around here. At least far as transit is concerned.

    • Steve Wight says

      In Portland, it may be the employer who’s cutting the check, and maybe the Portland worker doesn’t notice the amount because it may not show on their paystub, but the Trimet tax is still a very real tax on the income of Portland workers. When I worked in Portland, I was self employed and cut that check myself, so I certainly noticed the amount.

      At an average Portland household income of $44,273 (2006 data pulled off some web site) and 0.69% 2011 trimet tax rate, the mean transit tax in Portland is roughly $305.48 per household by comparison. So Portland residents are not getting their transit for free.

      • Earl M. says

        Steve – Why are you applying the tax rate to household income? Households are not taxed, employers are. That tax does not reduce any employee’s paycheck – it just reduces dividends to shareholders. By your screwed up reasoning, Microsoft pays $100,000,000 in transit taxes each year because its 20,000 employees here each pay $500 in household taxes to Metro, ST, etc. You are playing numbers games that have no basis in reality.

      • Steve says

        Steve – Your methodology is wrong (the tax rate on payrolls is not a tax on household income). Families are not taxed by the payroll tax. If we had one of those, there wouldn’t need to be sales tax or property tax or car tab taxes for transit. Employers would pay $30 per year per employee (hardly a big amount – nothing to them really, that’s what they pay in soda pop costs). That would mean families would pay hundreds of dollars less per year in transit taxes. That’s a FAR better way – after all, employers are who benefit from transit, not the public overall.

    • Chris Stefan says

      If you don’t like the funding mechanisms used locally for transit, take it up with the Legislature.

      FWIW when an employer looks at the cost of adding an employee they look at the total cost including any benefits and payroll taxes. Just because there isn’t a deduction directly on your pay stub doesn’t mean such taxes don’t effectively come out of employee paychecks.

      • Nathanael says

        Employers will generally pay employees as little as they can possibly get away with. That amount is determined mainly by the employees looking at what they receive, and secondarily by the minimum wage. Accordingly, taxes on employer payroll do not affect wages; they can’t get away with cutting employee wages to compensate.

        Unfortunately they do often attempt to *automate* in order to replace employees with computers, which don’t have payroll taxes. This dislocation can only be addressed with corporate profit taxes, or sales taxes (which have their own dislocations).

        But anyway, the main point is that municipalities and agencies generally have very restricted options as to how to raise taxes. The State Legislature always has the option to simply tax the rich and not the poor…. but it doesn’t give that option to the cities.

      • Aleks says

        Accordingly, taxes on employer payroll do not affect wages; they can’t get away with cutting employee wages to compensate.

        That’s not quite true — the elasticity of supply for employment is greater than zero. In other words, if a company reduces the wages it pays by passing on some of the payroll tax to its employees, then its employees will work less, but not as much less as you’d expect. A 10% cut in salary paid does not translate into a 10% cut in hours worked.

        You’re right that payroll taxes do not get passed onto employees in full, but they’re not paid entirely by the employer, either. It’s somewhere in between.

    • Mike says

      Janine said “So what does the average family of four pay now in taxes for transit? $480 every year?”
      Way low Janine.
      Combined budgets of Metro and Sound Transit are 1.885 Bil., with about 2.5 Mil in the 3 county taxing districts. CT and PT would add some more bucks, which offsets some bonding from year to year. A bit rough, but close to $754 per person.
      Average household size is 2.5 in WA, so that’s $1,885 per household.
      There are 7 mil. registered vehicles in the state, or 2.68 per household, times the $100 per vehicle tab fee, so that brings the total to about $2150 per average household in Seattle.
      About 1 in 10 use transit, so that’s a subsidy of $19,350 from non transit households per year for each transit user.
      It mounts up fast!

      • says

        First, the whole $100 vehicle tab increase isn’t going to transit. It may not be going to build the R.H. Thompson, but that’s a good thing for almost everyone. Second, is it 1 in 10 households that use transit, or 1 in 10 people? If it’s 1 in 10 households, then the last number is the subsidy per transit-using household, not per transit user. If it’s 1 in 10 people, then the portion of transit-using households must be higher than 1/10.

  9. Janice says

    It does no good for the Mayor to push for this. Just let the STBD get there without provoking them with his holy than though attitude.

  10. Gary says

    There is an article over on Crosscut by Mr. MacDonald about the city streets repair.

    http://crosscut.com/2011/08/12/seattle/21197/The-sorry-state-of-Seattle-s-streets/

    One thing that is immediately obvious is that buses do horrendous amount of damage to streets. Can the Mayor address the cost savings of installing a street car on the road way maintenance?

    Also if the city were to move more people from buses and cars to bicycles, what would the cost savings in road repair be as well?

    These are not trivial savings folks. One reason Portland is able to keep up with it’s street repair is that they aren’t damaging their streets at the same rate as Seattle is.

    • Ben Schiendelman says

      Indeed. The downtown streetcar connector would save more just in operating costs than its own construction cost, without even considering the roadway damage.

  11. Greg Bohrer says

    Yes – Seattle is horribly behind the curve on rapid transit (especially light rail)
    expand expand expand… We’ve been discussing and argueing for over 30 years and our results show it… while we’re at it… do not eliminate the waterfront streetcar! it provides a valuable transportation link in an area that will soon need people movement in a safe and appealing manner.

      • Chris Stefan says

        Killed in a back room in the dark of night no less. We need real transit to be part of the new waterfront, not tuk-tuks and pedicabs.

    • says

      Seattle is behind on rail because it took an easy to implement system, deployed quickly in everyplace else in the world (light rail) at low cost ($30 million per mile) and turned it into a Frankensteinian monster.

      Rail runs on level tracks.

      Seattle is built on 7 hills (minus Denny regrade).

      The old Interurban Trolley sensibly ran through one of the level corridors and covered a distance of 1/3rd the state. They should have just rebuilt this route at low cost and then see where things spread from there.

  12. newsaholic says

    The mayor has one small error in his article. He states that there won’t be any more light rail stations built in the city for decades. However, there will be a station built at Rainier Ave as part of the East Link Project, which is scheduled to start construction in 2015/2016.

    • Mike says

      Not quite. East sub-area is building the station, and Seattle will agree to give that whole area to Bellevue or Mercer Island :)

      • Brent says

        So, lets build the station and track, and start service on that portion of East Link. Then, all the Bellevueites forced to transfer at Rainier Station will push to get the rest of East Link built, ASAP. ;)

    • MurrayD says

      He said that no more light rail stations in the city will be built after northgate. The North link (northgate station) and East link are supposed to finish building about the same time (2023ish). So for decades after that he sees no further light rail in the city by Sound Transit.

  13. WBR says

    Mayor McGinn,

    Since this plan is one more plan that ignores (at least) 60% of the population of the city to serve the 20% that are already served by multiple transit options (and their own financial ability to live close to the downtown core), this plan makes no sense. Focus on FINISHING the light rail LINK lines through N. Seattle that have already been approved (multiple times), then you can have your little trolley, assuming you’re still the mayor. Given that this is one more giant waste of everyone’s money for a project that only serves the Already Served, I’ll be working to make sure you’re not.

    • Ben Schiendelman says

      There’s nothing the city can do to make Sound Transit’s light rail faster.

      That said, you saw on this blog two weeks ago that this downtown streetcar connector will save us a lot of money. What do you want? Do you want an efficient system?

  14. Will in Seattle says

    Any chance you can tax out of town people who comment on Seattle-only transit paid for by Seattle-only taxes a $5 per comment “luser fee”?

    They get in the way of my car.

    • Mike says

      Oh pristine and holy one. Do you plan to leverage any of that funding with state or federal taxes? If not, tell me where to send the five bucks to.

  15. Anon says

    It’s just great to see a real leader out there…definining a clear vision, striving towards that goal one unglamorous step at a time, working on behalf of the broadest community, and constantly prodding the moneyed establishment out of its comfort zone.

    America needs more Mike McGinns, and fewer Dow Constantines.

  16. Mike Orr says

    It doesn’t make sense to me to make the waterfront streetcar top priority when there are a lot more critical transit needs in the city. Several times more people ride the 44 than ride the streetcar, and they all have to suffer its unreliable trek from Ballard to UW. People in one part of West Seattle can barely get to another part. People in east Rainier Valley have to wait 45 minutes for a bus to Link. The 75 takes a horrendous flipping hour to get from Sand Point to Ballard. The 11 drops to hourly in the evenings. The waterfront street car provides only a marginal transit benefit compared to these other needs. Tourists spend only a few days in the city, but residents ride the bus five days a week or seven days a week — and not usually on the waterfront. Tourists ride these neighborhood buses too — they don’t spend all their time on the waterfront. So let’s fix the major transit needs first and then come back to the waterfront streetcar.

    • Chris Stefan says

      If ROW for a streetcar isn’t part of the design for the new waterfront then there likely won’t ever be one there again. If ROW is allocated it doesn’t mean there will need to be a streetcar right away. The ROW could be used for buses or for Corner’s tuk-tuks and pedicabs.

      While the City most likely would have to come up with the capital to build the line that shouldn’t be too expensive as everything is going to get torn up anyway for rebuilding the seawall, tearing down the Viaduct, and building the new park and Alaskan way. It would cost somewhat more to install tracks, OCS, and stations later but less than if space wasn’t left for them in the first place.

      As for operating costs it may be possible to have someone other than the city or county pick those up, for example via a LID, or maybe the Port could be convinced to contribute. It is also possible that like the monorail a fare high enough to cover costs could be charged.

  17. says

    Transit, along with education and next generation infrastructure like broadband is one of the keys to being competitive in a global economy.

    And Personal Transit like Google cars will dominate in the 21st century.

    It moves us away from a high cost model of relying on gas and oil.

    As do Hydrogen fuel cell cars, due out in 2016.

    Transit puts money in people’s pockets and keeps money in our local economy instead of being shipped off overseas.

    Assuming that the King County Councilpeople and Seattle Council people live here, yes, it takes money from average people and puts it into the pockets of local politicians.

    Portland’s transportation policies, including their rail lines, have created a “green dividend” of $2.6 billion each year that gets reinvested in their community.

    They also used up tens of billions of Federal tax dollars to create a system that is only used by a small percentage of the people. And, as we know from reading STB, 61.4 percent of all rush hour trips in Portland are still in single occupancy cars.

    Transit will create the types of communities in which next generation businesses and creative leaders want to participate.

    I look forward to living in a modern low density town with clean new homes that have lots of surrounding greenspace…where hydrogen fuel cell powered Google Cars and Taxis roam the streets, able to be called by waving my hand in front of Kinect kiosk, or Android camera.

    Personal Transit…the 21st Century!

    • Nathanael says

      Still magical thinking, John. Automated electric cars are lovely but they *just won’t carry high volumes*. Sure, they’re an argument for not building rail in the countryside, but what do they have to do with a high-density corridor which already exists?

    • Nathanael says

      And if you really want to live in your “modern low density town”, what are you doing to encourage population reduction? Because that’s the only way it’ll happen. (Apart from the fact that a lot of people *like* high density cities, they’re becoming more and more unavoidable as population pressures mount.)

      • Nathanael says

        FYI, I live in an actual low density town. It’s nice. For what it is. It’s damned hard to find a good specialist doctor though, and there’s not a lot of choices as to jobs. Cities have serious advantages.

    • Nathanael says

      Oh, God, and not the hydrogen fuel cell canard again. They’re going to be *electric*. I’ve followed the tech for a long time.

    • Mike Orr says

      “And Personal Transit like Google cars will dominate in the 21st century.”

      Meet George Jetson. His boy Elroy. Daughter Judie. Jane, his wife!

      “if you really want to live in your “modern low density town”, what are you doing to encourage population reduction?”

      Actually, no. It’s been said that the entire population of the US could live in Texas or even one of the smaller states. Western countries are either declining in population or about to decline. The US has kept is population up the past two decades only because of high immigration. Few women nowadays are having the 2.1 children that would be necessary for a constant population level. Birthrates have also declined in China, India, and Mexico. It’ll take another generation for those children to grow up and have their own smaller families, so the population is expected to rise to 9 billion and stay there. Assuming that low-population countries will resist a migration of 2 billion people from high-population countries, the US would still have a lot of empty space.

      • says

        Birthrates have dropped in India? Are you nuts? I think it was last month or the one previous that National Geographic did a front page article on the earths population problem. Virtually all countries are growing in population outside of a few in Europe. India is growing like mad and will soon pass China. Not sure where you got your numbers.

  18. eddiew says

    Mike Orr’s early comment is great. I hope ST Boardmembers McGinn and Conlin are wathing the ST2 North Corridor process carefully so that an alignment between Northgate and Lynnwood via SR-99 gets objective study. Seattle could get stations at Northwest Hospital, the Bitterlake urban village, and North 145th Street; Shoreline could get stations at North 160th Street, North 175th Street, and North 185th Street; Edmonds could get stations near Edmonds CC and Stevens Hospital; I-5 could still have regional express buses. This has ST2 funding and ST is asking for FTA funds.

  19. Selena says

    National Geographic ranks the Waterfront Streetcar #2 in Top Ten Trolley Rides in the World, part of a larger book entitled “Journeys of a Lifetime” (2010). Please bring back our historic waterfront trolley!

    • says

      I think it’s clear by this thread that the majority of people who are transit aware (meaning STB readers) want the Waterfront trolley back. Have it share the same maintenance facility as the First Hill Streetcar and connect the other end to the Seattle Center and you have yet another decent link in the city.

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