The Gas Tax and (School) Buses

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Photo by schmich

Recently there has been a lot of digital ink spilled here on the subject of gas taxes and the 18th amendment. Outgoing Governor Christine Gregoire has proposed a wholesale motor vehicle fuel excise tax to help pay for school buses. This times article focuses mostly who would pay the tax, consumers or producers*, and whether or not it’s a good idea to use the gas tax to pay for school buses when there are other transportation needs.

I don’t have especially strong opinions on whether school buses should be funded with the gas tax. However, one topic the times article does not mention is the 18th amendment. Nor do any of the other other discussions of the idea. I asked the Governor’s Office if they have considered whether this proposal would violate the 18th amendment. They said they had considered it, and decided the proposal likely would not. Now, whole sale motor vehicle fuel excise taxes are pretty much exactly the sort of taxes the 18th amendment is about: “all excise taxes collected by the State of Washington on the sale, distribution or use of motor vehicle fuel. It does follow that if gas taxes can pay for school buses, then gas taxes can pay for virtually any transportation project. Both Metro buses and Link carry Seattle public school children, for example.

Now I don’t think this will pass the two-thirds requirements in the state legislature, so we probably will never know whether this would have actually been constitutional. But my point is there are a lot of ways pass this 18th amendment hurdle, and there’s starting to be some talk of raising new revenues from a gas tax. Let’s see if we can get some of that money for transit.

* This is an econ 101 question, and the answer is both, but the degree depends on the price elasticity of demand.

Comments

  1. Brian says

    And gasoline is often used as an example of an inelastic good. So most of the tax burden would fall on the consumer.

    • Andrew Smith says

      Gasoline is a nice academic example of an inelastic good, but it’s far from one in practice. The reality is people actually do change their practices when gasoline prices rise.

      • Charles says

        yes, drastic things are known to happen when the price of gas rises dramatically. People drive less. They shop closer to home, they think twice about when and where to travel. They move closer to their work or school. They start using public transit when the would not otherwise consider it. Houses on the outer fringe become worth less.

        But I’m glad someone has brought up the idea of elasticity because it needs to be talked about in the context of housing supply and it is perhaps a key as to why the argument to eliminate zoning laws in a bid to increase housing supply may not hold that much water as a solution.

        There are at present 18+ million un-occupied dwelling units in this country and on any given night, there are 700-800 thousand homeless people. That is a Supply/demand mismatch if ever there was one.

      • Nathanael says

        Gasoline is a good for which the concepts of “short term elasticity” and “long term elasticity” were invented. Gasoline use is inelastic in the short term, highly elastic in the long term.

        I tend to think that Econ is in its infancy, because its tools don’t handle stuff like this well.

  2. says

    If a school district or public transit agency gets an exemption from paying the fuel tax, then they shouldn’t benefit from the fuel tax. In other words, they shouldn’t get money from the fuel tax to buy new vehicles.

    • biliruben says

      I’m guessing 95% of school buses putter along at 30 mph on residential roads.

      Is there a better way to transport kids to school than diesel engines, given their function?

      • Andy says

        Thank you. What point is having someone pay into a pot only to disburse it back to them. The exemption and subsidy go hand in hand.

      • Nathanael says

        The purpose of taxing fuel used by school districts or transit agencies would be to encourage the school district to get more fuel-efficient buses, switch to electric buses, etc.

        This would not be necessary if the bus purchase were made by literally the same government which collects the fuel tax — for instance, in New Jersey the entire state’s transit operations are directly part of the state government, which also collects the gas tax.

        But that isn’t how it works in Washington State. So it may make more sense to tax the fuel purchases and increase direct state subsidies to local districts — it encourages them to make fuel-efficient choices.

        Now, there’s a reason fuel for *trains* is tax-exempt — we’re trying to encourage people to switch to trains. You could make the same argument for buses: make fuel tax-exempt for buses simply to give bus operations an edge against cars.

        This is a perfectly reasonable argument, but it’s not the same as the “why bother to take with one hand and give with the other” argument.

    • says

      Andy asks, “What point is having someone pay into a pot only to disburse it back to them.” Um, Andy? That is the whole theory behind taxes. You pay taxes, then get it back in one form or another.

  3. filfil says

    It seems like the larger issue here is the states few options for bringing in revenue. From a transit perspective, where should the $$$ come from? Gas, sales, property, or state income tax?

    • Norman says

      “From a transit perspective, where should the $$$ come from? Gas, sales, property, or state income tax?”

      This is just an amazing question to me. Transit revenues should come from transit fares, obviously.

      • Andrew Smith says

        Yeah, while we’re at it, we need to tax those in wheel chairs for ramps and elevators in stations. At very least the handicapped need to pay to operate the elevators. You can’t get up stairs? pay a damn elevator fee, don’t come to me for a hand out.

        We also need to tax the children for their education. Freeloading little shits, why am I paying for their school? I already went to school, I don’t need any more. The worst are kindergartners. Have you ever seen a kindergartner’s art project? Those little shits are can’t even crayon correctly. Clearly a waste of money teaching those snotty brats. At very least they need to pay for their crayons.

        And don’t get me started on those damned mentally disabled people living on my dime. Why don’t those bunch of ne’er-do-wells get jobs as doctors and lawyers already?!?! At very least they need to pay for their own social welfare.

        And the worst of all are those damned special education kids. First, I don’t need school and they are taking my money for their damned education. Next, they may not even get jobs to pay their taxes back and then I have to foot the bill to make sure they don’t die on the side of the road. They need to pay for their own well being.

        Don’t get me started on the military. These arseholes need to buy their own gear. You want to kill someone, buy your own bullets. No one’s giving me free bullets. You want to fly a fighter jet? Buy your own damned jet instead of leaching off me. At very least pay for your own fuel. I pay for all these jets and aircraft carriers and I don’t even get to fly them. I pay for all the nukes, where’s my button? This is bullshit. No more Mars rovers until everyone gets a turn on the joystick.

        The worst offenders are scientists at national labs. You want to cure cancer? Pay for the research yourself. Don’t come to me for a handout.

      • asdf says

        One of the reasons why transit is as expensive as it is is mandates to serve disabled individuals who can’t walk, or can barely walk.

        If there were no ADA, we could save a ton of money by having no paratransit and no wheelchair lifts on the fixed-route buses either. The Link stations would also have no elevators, which suck up tons of money to maintain.

        I see both sides of the coin here. On the one hand, there are many disabled people for which transit is the only viable transportation option – in some cases, the disability may prevent the person outright from driving a car or driving a car safely. And even if you are still physically capable of driving a car, cars become a lot more expensive if you need to buy your own wheelchair lift, on top of medical bills sucking up a large chunk of income, on top of the fact that many disabilities prevent a person from holding down a good job, so disabled people tend to have lower than average incomes to start with.

        On the other hand, ADA is far more burdensome to transit than just about anything else, while providing no money whatsoever to deal with these burdens. The cost of a ramp to allow wheelchair users to enter a building is negligible compared to the cost of the building. And building elevators that are mandated by ADA would likely be necessary anyway, if nothing else, for hauling heavy equipment.

        Whereas transit, on the other hand, is burdened with a unfunded mandate that in order for a transit agency to operate it has to, by law, provide paratransit service with the same span and geographical coverage as fixed-route service, at an average cost of $38 per passenger trip. Besides taking away a lot of funding from services that the rest of the population uses, such mandates distort incentives anytime a transit agency plans service. For instance, if you cut Sunday fixed-route service, you no longer have to pay for Sunday parantransit service. Whereas if you cut some peak-period commuter trips or do restructurings in favor of a connection-based system, you save money on fixed-route service, but your obligation to run parantransit remains exactly the same. And so it’s no surprise that when budgets are tight, agencies like Community Transit cut Sunday service and when federal grant money comes in, it goes not to restoring Sunday service, but to add more commuter service.

        The ADA makes additional commuter service look relatively cheap compared so Sunday service, in spite of higher operating costs resulting from long deadheads, because more commuter service doesn’t require more paratransit service.

        So, what should the solution be?

        First of all, paratransit service should be run by a completely separate entity than regular transit with a completely separate budget so that decisions on one type of service have nothing to do with obligations to fund the other type. Second, if the powers from above are going to mandate paratransit service, they need to provide some reasonable portion of the money to pay for it, rather than force local taxpayers to foot the entire bill. And third, the mandate for paratransit should come from a metropolitan area reaching a certain population density, and have nothing whatsoever to do with the level fixed-route transit service in that area. A city the size of Seattle should have exactly the same obligation to provide paratransit service even if regular transit service were to get eliminated completely.

      • Nathanael says

        Norman, as soon as you pay road tolls covering the full cost of every road you drive on, it will be possible to fund transit services from transit fares.

      • Nathanael says

        asdf: Paratransit turned into something it wasn’t originally meant to be.

        The original plan was for paratransit to be a cudgel for cities like New York, which have notoriously inaccessible mass transportation systems. As long as the subway stations aren’t wheelchair-accessible and the buses have stairs, or don’t load flush from the curbside, dammit, you have to provide paratransit!

        That seems perfectly reasonable to me.

        It has also been found in judicial rulings, that when sidewalks are not maintained so that they can be used by people with wheelchairs, the transit system has to pick up the slack. Given that the transit system is usually associated with the city who’s responsible for the sidewalk, this seems OK to me too.

        However, Seattle has a fully accessible light rail system and fully accessible low-floor buses and a fully accessible streetcar. And fairly well-maintained sidewalks where they exist.

        So what is going on? Why is paratransit still a huge cost?

        Well, now paratransit is largely being used for purposes which weren’t really being thought of originally — for example, a huge proportion of the riders of most paratransit systems is dialysis patients; and then there are people with mental problems who are confused by the regular bus system.

        The agencies are addressing the overuse of paratranist partly with “travel training”. But something needs to be done about things like the dialysis patients — this stuff should be funded out of the National Health Service budget.

        Oh wait. We don’t have a National Health Service. I think I see the root of the problem. :-)

      • Norman says

        Motorists pay sales and property taxes, too. In fact, since about 85% of King County households have cars, the vast majority of property taxes is paid by motorists. And, since there is sales tax on motor vehicles, but no sales tax on transit fares, motorists pay most of the sales taxes collected in our area, also.

        However, transit useres pay no sales tax on their transit expenses. Transit users pay no gas taxes on their transit expenses. Transit users pay no license fees, MVET’s, or parking fees, parking taxes or parking fines on their transit expenses.

        And, while motorists pay 100% of the operating cost of their trips in motor vehicles, transit riders pay only about 25% of the operating cost of their trips on transit.

        Transit riders are getting an (almost) free ride on the backs of motorists.

      • David L says

        It’s just jaw-dropping that you write:

        “Transit riders are getting an (almost) free ride on the backs of motorists”

        without acknowledging the obvious implication of your statement in the same post:

        “about 85% of King County households have cars”

        that the vast majority of transit riders are also motorists and pay all those motor vehicle taxes you’re talking about.

        I’m a good example. I take transit every day to work. My household also pays MVET, parking fees, and gas taxes on two cars (one of which is rather inefficient, so we pay a lot of gas taxes compared to miles driven).

      • David Seater says

        Many transit riders are also motorists, and vice versa. The two are far from mutually exclusive.

      • says

        I live in the burbs and I take transit to work and anytime I go to the city (several times a week) and I also own a car and pay all the taxes associated with that. Norm thinks the only people who use transit are those without a choice because they have no car.

      • asdf says

        Norman – you act like transit riders are an exclusive group and if you’re not in that group, you’re paying for the people that are.

        Except that anyone, including you, can choose to ride transit whenever you want and benefit from those subsidies you love to complain about. And you don’t even have to feel guilty about costing the other taxpayers money when you choose to get on a bus because operating that bus costs exactly the same, whether you get on or not. If anything, your bus fare would be helping to reduce the taxpayer subsidy needed to operate such buses.

    • David L says

      A combination of fares (typical farebox recovery worldwide for cities like ours seems to be 25%-33%) and less regressive taxes than we have now. A state income tax is probably unachievable, but we should try hard to stay away from even more sales taxes. I’d suggest a combination of a permanent property tax hike and a gas tax.

      • David L says

        That’s because they built SkyTrain and a huge ETB network, which radically cuts their operational costs… the sort of capital improvements you rail against when we agitate to build them here.

      • Nathanael says

        San Diego’s light rail is as fast as it needs to be (San Diego is actually pretty compact and dense and needs fairly tight stop spacing on its trunk lines), but the others you mention are indeed inferior in some ways to Seattle.

    • John Bailo says

      It should come from property taxes and nothing else.

      Washington does not fairly value property according to its own laws.

      It penalizes the newcomer and favors the long timers.

      Property needs to be stringently assessed for “Fair Use”. That means that if there are open acres next to dense dwellings, that land needs to be assessed as if being used at maximum utility.

      Also we need to get rid of the rate of increase restrictions on property tax. Giving one group of people a “break” on property tax is akin to tax discrimination or any other type of unearned entitlement.

      Let’s get back to normalcy and not stealing with regressive income and sales taxes and fees. Property and assets are the only fair way to pay for statewide services.

  4. Chris I says

    Our road network enables the sprawling development that makes it difficult for children to walk or bike to school. The danger of speeding cars and trucks near schools and the surrounding neighborhoods also prevent children from walking/biking to school. I think this is perfectly reasonable.

    • asdf says

      Absolutely. The more people that can walk or bike to school, the better.

      And one related issue that should be addressed to promote walking and biking to school is making more of an effort to get students to travel lighter. There is no reason why every student should be expected to lug 40 pounds of textbooks between home and school every day. We need to move towards a direction where physical textbooks stay in the classroom (if they exist at all), with electronic copies of the books available over the internet for students to reference at home.

  5. asdf says

    My personal experience riding school buses has found them to be a very inefficient way to move people. The routes tend to be very circuitous, often taking longer than the real transit system, even in cities not known for having a particularly great transit system. Operationally, needing to purchase a separate bus and hire a separate driver for every trip has got to cost a bundle.

    I won’t deny that yellow school buses will always be necessary for younger children – I don’t see parents allowing their 6-year-old to navigate a public transit system without adult supervision. But when kids get to be high school age, yellow school buses are effectively a crutch to work around the fact that our transit system is not as good as we would like it to be.

    I’m not saying that some amount of dedicated transportation won’t be necessary. You will need some sort of door-to-door service to get students to school who have disabilities. And you would probably want shuttles connecting most schools with nearest Link station or transit hub. But it would be much cheaper than windy routes that attempt to go by everybody’s house.

    • aw says

      In rural areas, public transit isn’t an option for the high schoolers. And there it’s not one bus and driver per trip; that one bus can transport elementary, middle school and high school students on separate trips.

      Speaking of inefficiencies, there’s nothing more frustrating than waiting behind an elementary school bus that seemingly takes five minutes to unload five kids. I’m also astounded by the number of parents that wait at the bus stop in their car so the kids don’t have to walk any more than necessary.

      • asdf says

        Yeah, in rural areas, I agree with you 100% that yellow school buses don’t really have a better alternative. But, I’m not talking about rural areas, I’m talking about Seattle. We should at least be able to have a good enough transit system so that high schools in the middle of the city don’t need dedicated buses winding through long distances to get there.

        For instance, let’s take Ballard High school as an example. Even though it’s served today by the RapidRide D-line, it’s in a currently awkward location where if you’re coming from the east or west, the bus can’t get you there without either a mile-long walk at the end or a transfer.

        However, let’s fast forward to 2021 and suppose the completion of Link finally freed up enough service hours to fund a cross-town route like this.

        This hypothetical route, which could have a bunch of extra trips added as needed around the school start and end times would fill in the missing hole in our grid while serving crosstown trips to Ballard High School, Roosevelt High School, and Roosevelt Link station all at once. People who live as far as Shoreline or even Bellevue who attend Ballard High School would suddenly be able to get to school pretty quickly on a 2-seat Link->bus ride, which would be both faster and cheaper than some school bus making a winding over such a large distance to stop by the house of every student along the way. You would still need some dedicated transportation for those schools, of course, to carry students with disabilities, just as Metro has to fund paratransit today. But you would be left with a system that not only gets people to and from school faster and more reliably than the yellow-school-bus model, but also provides transportation options for everyone, not just students attending public schools.

        I remember reading somewhere that New York City students do not ride yellow school buses to school – they ride the subway to school and the school district pays the MTA some of what they save from not having to operate yellow school buses to cover the increased crowding that results from school trips.

        Eventually, when the real transit system is ready, Seattle should be moving towards a similar model.

      • David L says

        Metro would love to have a crosstown route at 65th. The problem is that the road network as it exists today won’t allow it. A bus can’t navigate the section of 65th between Winona Ave N and 3rd Ave NW. To get around that section with a bus you either have to go all the way down to Market/46th or all the way up to 80th, making the route prohibitively slow.

        The 71 already comes pretty close to covering the eastern half of the corridor, but the western half is a problem.

      • asdf says

        It all depends on the size of the bus. Yes, a 60-foot or even 40-foot bus wouldn’t be able to navigate that route. But there’s no reason why a smaller bus couldn’t handle it. Today, there’s a Microsoft connector bus that takes 65th St. to Green Lake, then jogs down to 50th, and heads back north on Phinney. This bus seats about 20 people, which would be plenty for that type of trip. The problem here is that Metro doesn’t want to operate smaller buses for trips like these – they want to operate either big buses or nothing at all.

      • Mike Orr says

        “Metro would love to have a crosstown route at 65th.”

        That’s good to hear.

        “The problem is that the road network as it exists today won’t allow it.”

        So it can go around Greenlake one way or the other to NE 65th Street, and it would still be a useful route that would allow people to get to the businesses on NW 65th, and would bolster the pedestrian/urban tendencies on that street. Whether it has sufficient potential to justify the cost of a route, I don’t know, but theoretically it’s a hole in our network. I knew a person on 70th, and it was always a choice of walking from the 44 or 48 (both 15 blocks) or transferring to a north-south bus (then all infrequent). He did it several times a week, while I would have found another place to live.

      • Nathanael says

        “I’m also astounded by the number of parents that wait at the bus stop in their car so the kids don’t have to walk any more than necessary.”

        I think that’s usually overprotectiveness / fear of crime, actually. Which is crazy too, in most places.

      • Nathanael says

        “I remember reading somewhere that New York City students do not ride yellow school buses to school – they ride the subway to school and the school district pays the MTA some of what they save from not having to operate yellow school buses to cover the increased crowding that results from school trips.”

        Yeah. This used to work. Unforutunately, the school district (which is also the city government in NYC — long story there) demands free rides for the schoolchildren (reasonably) but then provides LESS money to the MTA than the cost of the rides.

        Yeah. So the MTA ends up subsidizing the schools. Not cool. Don’t let that happen.

    • says

      The CT bus doesn’t take any more time to get to my kids school than the school bus so my son stays after and just rides CT home a couple of times a week. However, it costs more because I have to pay for him to ride it. If it wasn’t for that they’d only use it.

    • Nathanael says

      Speaking of bad school bus routes, I remember a circuitous route as a child which actually took longer to get to the school than it took to walk. It took about 45 minutes to walk the distance — the bus was well over an hour.

  6. Norman says

    If revenues now used for highways and roads are diverted to other things, then how do you propose to pay for highways and roads?

    Or, does this blog seriously believe that highways and roads are not necessary?

    • asdf says

      We do not deny that highways and roads are necessary. But there is a difference between having highways that go places and having highways that get constantly widened every time the population grows so that every person can drive everywhere in a separate car without causing congestion.

      The latter costs far more than the former and keeping the highways at the quantity and width we’ve got today – with highway budget devoted to maintenance and replacement of aging bridges, rather than ever-expanding capacity – that’s where the savings will come from.

      And if you want the population to be able to grow with the need for wider and wider highways to eat up more and more of the our land and our money, we need a viable transit system that provides a viable alternative. And with appropriate levels of tolling, there will be plenty of highway capacity for the people that really need them, rather than having the highways be clogged up by people who are simply too lazy to walk 5 minutes to catch a bus.

      And if we want a transit system that scales up to a level where it can actually reduce congestion meaningfully, we need to build a system that can handle it and buses don’t meet that criteria. The solutions that you propose – vanpools with a few buses mixed in – scale down really well in the sense that you can keep costs reasonable for a system that only 10 people in the whole city will want to ride. But if you want a system that scales to 50% of the city or more, we need a system that has higher capacity per vehicle. And that is why we are building Link.

      • Norman says

        “We do not deny that highways and roads are necessary.”

        Well, highways and roads are underfunded in our area. So, if you expect motorists to pay for highways and roads, then you should expect transit users to pay for their transit.

        Why should motorists pay for everything while transit users get a free ride?

      • Nathanael says

        Norman, please go compute how much local road, highway, and bridge maintenance could be funded by cancelling the Deep Bore Tunnel and various expressway widenings and interchange rebuilds.

    • Nathanael says

      Norman: fewer roads and highways. There’s an excess already. If existing taxes were directed to local roads and US highways rather than maintaining the bloated expressway system, they would go a lot further.

      You still want expressways? Tolls. Expressways are very much a luxury item of no value to the general population; they should be tolled.

  7. says

    Has anybody put this proposal to voters?

    Or even a poll of voters?

    Of course for a bunch of people who talk about backbone but don’t have it to face the voters… perhaps if I may be sarcastic Governor Inslee and Rodney Tom and Tim Eyman could just say at a joint press conference if you vote no on new taxes in 11/2013 to comply w/ the education ruling called McCleary we’re just going to nuke state agencies to balance the state budget. We’ll start with State Parks – BAM! Then we’ll nuke Fish & Wildlife so you can fish without a fishing license and so what if there’s no more fisheries – BAM! Then if Hiroshima and Nagasaki aren’t good enough to fund McCleary we’ll nuke the Department of Ecology and that’ll be spectacular while Tesoro corporate cheers wildly!! If those mushroom clouds aren’t enough we’ll just nuke DSHS and become the most libertarian state in the nation… and therefore if you’re poor, get on the Greyhound out of here. /SARCASM

    • David L says

      Voters are not always realistic about thinking through consequences.

      I think that proposal, put just like that, would get a 40% non-sarcastic yes vote.

    • Norman says

      A $40 car tab increase for transit, bicyles, and streetcars was put to Seattle voters and voted down, just last year.

      Polls showed that the $20 car tab increase for Metro last year would have been voted down convincingly. That is why Dow did not let the public vote on it.

      Polls show state voters overwhelmingly opposed to new taxes.

      Dream on.

      • says

        Then perhaps the kind of cuts that cause real pain to the majority need to happen. I mean real pain like cutting road maintenance, the sale of most state parks, and the like.

        I am all for the public voting. But I expect the public to realize if we’re going to have this four-legged system of government we can’t have a single leg rotting from old age (legislative) or from corruption (executive) or from overreach (judicial) or from ignorance (direct democratic).

      • asdf says

        The reason why Prop. 1 failed wasn’t because the city doesn’t support walking, biking, and transit. It’s because the city did such a pathetic job explaining what the money was going to.

        They refused to say which specific projects it would fund as part of the campaign and instead said “Here’s a list of stuff we might want to do – trust us to pick the best stuff from the list”.

        Any time the city asks for a tax increase, but doesn’t say specifically what the money is going towards, it makes the city look incompetent and makes the public weary of trusting them with their money, hence the measure fails.

        On the other hand, when a specific list of projects are proposed that align with the voters’ interest, it can pass. That was why ST 2 passed, but Prop. 1 failed – not because 20% of the voters suddenly changed their mind in a span of 3 years from pro-transit to anti-transit.

      • says

        The problem with a true democracy is that as Asimov stated – “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge.”

        People who are not qualified to make budget decisions get to vote on them.

      • says

        Another awesome asdf comment… best part:

        “Any time the city asks for a tax increase, but doesn’t say specifically what the money is going towards, it makes the city look incompetent and makes the public weary of trusting them with their money, hence the measure fails.

        “On the other hand, when a specific list of projects are proposed that align with the voters’ interest, it can pass. That was why ST 2 passed, but Prop. 1 failed – not because 20% of the voters suddenly changed their mind in a span of 3 years from pro-transit to anti-transit.”

        I think that’s the way to go in the direct democratic/Eyman era. No, seriously specifics and a good reputation is necessary.

        Grant is right though that I think people are in for a rude shock when the educational industrial complex gets their 50% of the budget pie; a lot of things we adults need to care for the kids like the criminal law system, buses and a parks system are going to go bye.

      • Nathanael says

        Joe, regarding state parks: Selling them is an irreversable move and a very poor idea.

        On the other hand? CLOSING them would give some real pain and make people notice.

        Cutting road maintenance — well, the trouble is that people don’t notice it until 5-10 years after you do it. (We had two mayors actually eliminate street maintenance completely in my city, for 10 years or so. The *next* mayor, who rebuilt all the streets simultaneously, was the one who the IDIOTS who constitute the majority of the population complained about…)

        You have to cut something where people see it INSTANTLY.

    • says

      I also think in an era of cutbacks this needs painful discussion: http://www.thestranger.com/seattle/welfare-state/Content?oid=6686284

      “if Washington is a welfare state, it is residents in these mostly rural, mostly Eastern, mostly Republican counties who are the biggest beneficiaries, while taxpayers here in the blue parts of the state are left footing the bill.”

      Remember, I’m Skagitonian. I lean right but I sure as heck am not voting to see taxdollars sent to Eastern Washington when we need flood protection and a new jail.

  8. DJR says

    The issue isn’t getting kids in Shoreline to Ballard High School, its getting kids in its actual district in Magnolia and Queen Anne there. Link wouldn’t help with that.

    • David L says

      It would free up operational funds to run buses that would help more frequently and with better routing.

      As much as you dislike my proposal to run some peak and all off-peak Magnolia buses through Queen Anne and Mercer, it would eliminate the need for yellow buses for a considerable number of high school students.

      • asdf says

        The 31 as it is, at least travels in something resembling a straight line and provides unique coverage with the 32 to northwest Queen Anne and the Fremont->U-district corridor.

        Route the 31 to Ballard, you’d spend a considerable amount of service hours duplicating other routes across the Ballard Bridge and within Ballard itself. And you’d still need to do something (doubled frequency on the 32?) so Nickerson and south Wallingford don’t get cut to half-hourly headways.

        I will say though, that when I personally travel between Magnolia and Ballard, usually to visit Discovery Park, I tend to walk across the Ballard Locks, rather than do the circuitous bus route with multiple transfers.

      • DJR says

        The 31 could basically be -replaced- by the 32, is the thing. Its Magnolia ridership is trivial even by Magnolia standards and there are vaguely OK transfers to the 32 from the other buses and any hypothetical new route. Ballard’s where we need a bus – my ideal one would head up Leary to “real” Ballard, then hang a right on 65th to hit the high school and the Goodwill.

      • asdf says

        I’ve ridden the 32 a few times on a Sunday afternoon and found its ridership to be dismal as well. Until Fremont, I was practically the only person on the bus. Ideally, the 32 would just end in Fremont, but there’s no place to layover and turn the bus around. So it has to continue on to somewhere.

        The thing about the 31 is that it fills in portions of the grid that are not covered by other routes. It’s the only way to get from Magnolia to virtually anywhere in north Seattle without doing either multiple transfers on 15th or backtracking through downtown.

        You could argue that your new Ballard->Magnolia route would fill this gap. But I have my doubts. First, the tail of the 32 takes about the same amount of time as the tail of the 31. So, unless you could some up with a turnaround/layover spot on Nickerson, simply replacing 31 with 32 wouldn’t actually free up any service hours to use on another route unless you cut frequency between Fremont and the U-district, which does get a fair number of riders.

        I’m also weary about a route that goes east, north, and back west again. At a minimum, you route only goes to Ballard and to get anywhere else in north Seattle, you’d have to transfer. The 31, by contrast, leaves much more of north Seattle accessible from Magnolia without a transfer, especially when you consider the fact that the 31 is thru-routed with the 65 and 75 in the U-district. Yes, getting to Ballard is still a bit of a pain, but its a tradeoff between Ballard vs. everywhere else. And Ballard is still accessible from the north part of Magnolia in under 30 minutes by walking across the Ballard Locks. It would be tough to imagine a bus that would get the ridership to justify running frequently enough so beat that, once wait time is taken into account.

        If we’re going to do anything to improve transit in Magnolia, I think the top priority should be getting late night service back to the level it was before the latest change. Not sure what to cut to pay for it, though.

      • DJR says

        The new apartment development in Interbay that’s finishing in a couple months might perk up the corridor some, but my point is that the corridor got added service in the last service change, and that added service doesn’t really seem all that warranted. The 24 bus I rode today, on Christmas, had more riders than I’ve ever seen on the Magnolia portion of a midday peak 31.

        Meanwhile, Ballard High School has a -solid- peak bus commute of students from Magnolia that’s not all that well served at present and irritatingly wouldn’t have been much better served in the proposal we got for a Ballard bus last time. Low hanging fruit there to anchor a route. And existing 31 riders could transfer to the 32 without too much trouble.

        Magnolia has been promised a 1030 pm bus in the next restructure, but yeah, more is needed as a neighborhood lifeline.

  9. GuyOnBeaconHill says

    Good luck trying to re-interpret the 18th amendment. There is a WA Supreme Court decision, O’Connell v. Slavin (1969), that explicitly defines public transportation as:

    “…a number of buses, trains, or other carriers each holding a number of passengers, which may travel upon the highways or may travel upon rails or water, or through the air, and which are owned and operated, either publicly or privately, for the transportation of the public. The mere fact that these vehicles may travel over the highways, or that, as the appellant points out, may relieve the highways of vehicular traffic, does not make their construction, ownership, operation, or planning a highway purpose, within the meaning of the constitutional provision.”

    Any party that wants to see gas taxes used for public transportation will need to convince the WA Supreme Court that it’s time to overturn its previous ruling or convince the Legislature that it’s time to change the 18th Amendment.

    There is a possible end run around the 18th Amendment, however. The amendment only applies to taxes collected by the State. If the taxes were collected by a county or city, they shouldn’t be subject to the restrictions imposed by the state constitution. If cities and counties can get the authority to impose their own transportation fees and taxes, then that revenue could be used for public transportation.

  10. John Bailo says

    School buses, more even than regular transit, should be funded with property taxes, not anything else. They are tied to local school districts, which relate directly to neighborhood values.

    If you want some kind of load leveling of property tax between districts, then you should look into the property tax swap plan that was proposed by republican Rob McKenna. Remember…the guy you didn’t elect.

    • Nathanael says

      School districts absolutely should not be funded through property taxes. I know they are in most of the country. But it makes no sense. It means that a rich district with a few kids lavishes funds on the kids, while a poor district with a lot of kids has terrible schools.

      Schools need to be funded statewide on an enrollment basis period.

  11. transitrider says

    When I first heard this proposal, it struck me as an “end around” by the Governor to get education funding while squeezing a potential option for general transportation funding. Put another way, avoiding a difficult choice by having funding that’s related to what’s being funded. Due to the extreme transportation needs of this state, her proposal should be ignored. Something that is a general tax that includes accountability should be the choice for school bus funding.

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