Metro Funding: Bring the Sizzle!

One oft-cited reason for America’s crumbling road infrastructure is our politicians’ preference for shiny new highway expansion projects over unsexy-but-necessary repair and maintenance.  There are no ribbon-cutting ceremonies when you fix a pothole, or so the thinking goes.  This has led some opponents of highway expansion  — myself included — to call for a “fix it first” approach to road spending - i.e. prioritize maintenance.

But there’s a reason why “fix it first” is such a hard sell: politicians aren’t stupid. They know the voters like shiny new baubles, and so they oblige (re-read Ben’s post on Prop 1′s failure for more on this).

Transit advocates could learn a thing or two.

Over the last several years, Metro has been working to prevent a catastrophic drop in service through a series of short-term budget patches.  Currently, the hope is that the Legislature will allow King County the right to impose an MVET to prevent service cuts and provide a more sustainable revenue source.  Through a series of emergency measures, Metro has been able to minimize the short-term impact of these cuts.  However, I worry that the cumulative effect of this five-year drama is that citizens view Metro as a giant money pit in need of ongoing bailouts, when the truth is that it’s been robbed of a sustainable revenue stream and struggled to come up with an alternative.

In other words, the effort to save Metro has been framed as a fix-it-first affair: it’s all “eat your vegetables” and no sexy new spending. To get political support for a permanent funding solution, a different approach is needed. Where’s the steak? Where’s the sizzle?

For all the flaws in the execution, I’d submit that RapidRide was the right model, politically. A 0.1% dedicated sales tax to fund a shiny new service throughout the county.  RapidRide was voter approved, and the money was put in a lockbox that guaranteed it would be spent on the RapidRide service.

Since it looks like the legislature has failed to act anyway, and talk of secret plans is filling the airwaves, let me suggest an alternative approach, inspired by RapidRide.  Instead of asking for new taxing authority just to save existing service, the county should propose a new service.  For lack of a better name, I’ll call it FrequentRide.  The idea would be that a certain set of core routes would be upgraded to service every 10 or 15 minutes, seven days a week.

In terms of paying for such a service, we’d have several options. I think the last five years have taught us the limitations of a sales tax. An MVET is a nice alternative, and all else being equal I’d take it over a sales tax any day. A property tax, though, is better aligned with the goal of funding transit.  Expensive cars can be found anywhere. Expensive land, however, is typically concentrated in the densest areas which benefit the most from transit investments. No doubt, there are challenges to a property tax (Bruce details some of them here), but conceptually, it’s the right way to fund transit.

My very quick back-of-the napkin math says a property tax of $0.25 per $1,000 of assessed value would generate $75M in annual revenue*, which would cost the median King County homeowner about $100 per year.  By contrast, a 1% MVET could easily cost twice that for a family with two late-model cars.

As Martin recently wrote, making a separate Seattle transit agency is unlikely to be a panacea, but Seattle could get in on FrequentRide with a property levy of its own, focused on capital improvements like trolley wire, improved bus stops, and dedicated lanes.

By announcing Plan B, the County has indicated it’s ready to act if the state won’t.  That’s encouraging, but they should go even further. The public is ready for leadership.  As the saying goes, “be bold, and mighty forces will come to your aid.”

* I’m spitballing numbers here based on the King County Assessor’s website and various other sources – feel free to dive deeper in the comments. But again, I don’t care about the specific numbers as much as I care about reframing the argument. 

Comments

  1. says

    What’s really necessary, of course, is to reform the political system so politicians are motivated to do what’s right and not just what’s popular, but that’s easier said than done, especially since the solution might itself be unpopular.

    • lakecityrider says

      You work on that and I’ll finish up my lead into gold machine. We’ll see which one can fund transit first. :)

      (Your point is well taken, this is a bit of gallows humor.)

    • Mike Orr says

      In a democracy, the problem is the public. My Canadian friend keeps telling me, people get the kind of government they deserve. It’s not impossible to imagine a public that values good governance, getting things done, and being fair. In fact, we have examples in New Zealand, Canada, Scandinavia, and (perhaps to a lesser extent) Australia. Also, Nepal is doing something interesting: measuring “gross domestic happiness” rather than gross domestic product. It seems to be working. And also, societies with decreasing inequality are more stable than those with increasing inequality. So… I don’t know how to get from here to there, but the first step is to know where you want to go to.

    • Mike Orr says

      That question is important, but it also shows that we are focusing on the wrong things.

      In the ideal scenario I was outlining, the public and government agree on what is right, so the “arbiter” is the public and the regular courts and elected officials. There will doubtless be a minority that disagrees, but either they’ll be very small or they’ll find it “fair enough” that they can tolerate it. This is more or less the situation in Canada now, or (perhaps less so) the UK.

      If people are focusing on who the arbiter is, it shows that they don’t trust the system: their afraid that somebody will set the rules to benefit themselves and ignore (or harm) everyone else. We need to step back and see that this entire “us vs them” mindset is a lot of the problem, and inequality is the main thing exacerbating it. People don’t care whether one person gets richer as long as others aren’t desperate.

      So, in a stratefied society like the US with a skeletal safety net, of course we need to protect ourselves and be wary of who the arbiter is. But our ultimate goal should be beyond that, a “win-win” situation rather than a “win-lose” situation.

      • RossB says

        I think a bare majority of Americans, as well a bigger majority of Washingtonians would favor a moderate left wing government, similar to what we had from 1932 to 1980. But there are a few reasons why we don’t have that. First, the Republican party has been very successful even though they have moved quite a bit to the right. They have won several presidential elections with a stance that would be considered extreme by 1950 standards. Second, a few Republicans support Republicans, despite this extremism. Third, with a two party system, there is a tendency to reward each side, or “split the difference” between the two, regardless of how extreme one party (the Republican party) is. Fourth, the Republican party favors tax cuts — as a result, some very wealthy Americans support that party, and are willing to sink lots of money into campaigns as well as private media to support them. Finally, a system that elects people by district tends to favor the right — the left is generally concentrated in one area (the cities). The result is that Democrats win statewide (or national) elections, but lose district based ones (e. g. the U. S. Senate).

        The end result is that there is little incentive for the Republican party to become moderate. An Eisenhower Republican is now a Democrat. We’ve only elected two Democratic Presidents since Ronald Reagan, and both were Eisenhower/Nixon type Presidents: moderates proposing Republican policies. I’m all for a win-win policy, but only one party is interested in that sort of policy. The other party is extreme — and they just want to push that extremism as far as it will take them. Unless they lose (and they haven’t lost that often) they really have no incentive to change.

      • Mike Orr says

        That’s the problem in getting from here to there. There’s also gerrymandering and voter suppression, which are giving right-wingers more power than they’d otherwise have. I’m not saying just split the difference between left and right. First you have to convince the public what’s right and eliminate gerrymandering and suppression, and get people to turn out and vote, then you can do all these other things. But it still helps to have an idea of where you want to go.

      • William C. says

        We’ve only elected two Democratic Presidents since Ronald Reagan, and both were Eisenhower/Nixon type Presidents

        I’m constrained to point out that we’ve only elected four Presidents since Reagan…

      • Scott Stidell says

        …and also constrained to point out that the Democrat has won the popular vote in 5 of the past 6 presidential elections.

  2. David Lawson says

    I think “FrequentRide” should be presented for best political effect not as an upgrade of certain corridors, but as an upgrade of the whole system. For example, something like it would be a great way to market the expanded network, improving life in all corners of the city, which I’ll be suggesting in a post tomorrow. “Vote for this and every single bus in the city will be much more frequent” is a great hook.

    Even if the vote were purely for replacement funding and not new money, you could use a reform like the Frequent Network Plan as a hook for voting for replacement funding, provided that you engaged in the sustained education effort necessary to show people that it was really, truly an improvement.

    • Nathanael says

      You’re not going to be able to make every single bus in the city more frequent — people demand coverage routes which can’t justify the frequency.

      But a “Frequent Grid” which hits every single neighborhood — that, you can do. Think Los Angeles’s Metro Rapid.

      • David Lawson says

        Tune in tomorrow for a way to make every single route in the city frequent with a 30% service hours increase, or very, very close with a 15% service hours increase, with essentially no loss in coverage. The goal is ambitious, but not out of the realm of possibility.

        I’ve already proposed a revenue-neutral plan (linked in my previous comment) which increases frequency on most routes with fairly little loss in coverage.

    • RossB says

      I would definitely support that. I think you might lose a few people who want to keep the old routes, but gain back a bunch of people who want to see the changes you have described. My guess is that when push comes to shove, the people who want to keep the old routes will vote to approve the levy, since they don’t want to lose overall service (which might mean losing some of their routes anyway).

    • RossB says

      One concern I have is that your idea depends a lot on Link. Once we build a spine, it makes a lot of sense to redo the routes so that it can use it. I think that is one way you got so much service out of the proposal. But Metro needs money now. How much of a hit would your proposal take if they have to use the line as it exists now, not ten years from now?

      • Mike Orr says

        David L has already sketched out how much we could do with the existing service hours. Frank’s proposal does not depend on ST2 Link, if I understand it right. We need frequency now, not just in ten years. So we fill in the hours that would allow the 5, 8, 10, 40, 41, 48, 120, and some others to become full-time frequent. (Parts of the 128 and 347/348 may also deserve it.) Some of these would be redundant with ST2 Link but most would not.

        Let’s also get at least the RR E night owl to the county border, and some night owl into Northgate/Lake City.

      • David Lawson says

        Everything south of Pine Street in my proposal (and in tomorrow’s additional-funding proposal) could be implemented today.

        Everything south of the Ship Canal could be implemented as soon as U-Link is open, which should be in about two years — in other words, before you could implement such a major service change given the public process.

        Between the Ship Canal and Northgate, things would be a bit worse if the proposal were implemented before Northgate Link opens. Crosstown service would have to be diverted to UW, wasting hours. You’d probably have to take away the east half of the revised 31 and reduce frequency on both halves of the revised 71 and the new 78.

        Above Northgate, the FNP doesn’t really change anything, and tomorrow’s proposal would be completely pointless without Lynnwood Link.

      • Ben Schiendelman says

        A six year property tax measure in 2014 (six years as as long as you can go without hitting some of the nasty 1% rule limits) would keep Metro stable as their sales tax revenue increased and then end approximately when North Link comes online.

      • RossB says

        @David — Between the Ship Canal and Northgate is the section I was worried about. As I see it, there just aren’t enough buses from the north end of town going downtown. You could divert them to the U-District, but it is a terrible part of the U-District for such a diversion. Traffic is a mess around Montlake. Maybe if Link opened up the Brooklyn station early, but I assume that everything gets opened up at the same time.

      • David Lawson says

        Yes, the 41 would need to stay in place until Northgate Link opened, and probably also some express service between the western U-District and downtown. (Riders from much of campus and from the hospital would walk to Husky Stadium rather than the U-District, but riders from northwest campus and the U-District would still need service.) The good news is that the all-day 41 and a few U-District-downtown shuttles are not all that hours-intensive.

        I’m not all that concerned about it because by the time we could implement a restructure on this scale Northgate Link would be well on its way.

  3. Joe Szilagyi says

    I would happily pay a $100 property tax bill city level even if Seattle handed it over 100% to the County to upgrade service hours for in-city routes. Especially commuter routes.

  4. mic says

    “FrequentRide. The idea would be that a certain set of core routes would be upgraded to service every 10 or 15 minutes, seven days a week.”
    Except that the 75m is needed just to keep from cutting any service, so maybe double your revenue estimate to increase enough corridors to have a map showing everyone gets something.
    RapidRide was as much about getting the Feds to purchase new buses for Metro as it was about providing a shiny new transit improvement. Some corridors just got new buses and not much new service. RR was way overhyped by Sims, but it got the job done in our ‘Trinket Transit’ decision world.
    I’m not sure when, if ever, the voters will wise up to PR Depts. spinning the next tax increase into Jetsons Utopia, but even snake oil salesmen leave town eventually.

    • Nathanael says

      Yeah, you’re right about the numbers. Double it, and get a “Frequent Grid”.

      A frequent grid plus bus lanes / signal priority across the most congested segments would make for an excellent bus system. Unfortunately it’s proved very hard to get bus lanes or signal priority anywhere…

  5. lakecityrider says

    If a levy lid lift can be used (I’ve read what I perceive to be conflicting opinions here and elsewhere regarding whether it can), it also lets the debate and vote be framed similar to the Families and Children Levy or the Library Levy. “For $8.33 per month, Metro can do this list of updated and wonderful things,” and then proceed to list them. While we’re here, sneak in a few of the better route restructures from the service cut proposal and frame them as net improvements (they are). The biggest thing will be to show that service will improve, not just stay where it is now.

    Oh, and by making it a property tax, the argument about a “war on cars” is nicely sidestepped and the sticker shock is reduced. “My car registration is now $247?! NO.” versus “My property tax went up $83? Fine.” Roughly the same dollar amount but the impact is felt differently.

    • William Aitken says

      My understanding is that there are a couple of options here, with differing rules. I think that’s why there’s some conflict. Below is my (very much a layperson’s) undersatnding.

      The City and the County both have some power to raise property taxes. They are limited in how much regular tax they can raise, and they are limited in how quickly they can raise the amount they collect through regular taxes. They also, with a vote, of the people can raise excess levies. There These funds can be used (more or less) for any public purpose. One difficulty with this avenue, especially for the county, is the constitutional requirement for uniformity: in particular, I don’t believe that the far flung reaches of King County could be exempted. Another is that there are many deserving competing needs for financing from the city/county general funds.

      Another taxation vehicle is the TBD. A TBD can be established by a city, a county or a group of cities and/or counties. They can include either all or just a portion of the territory of the establishing entities. They have various limited taxation powers, among them, a limited right to raise property taxes. Their property taxes are limited. You can impose a levy for one year that can be spent on almost anything. You can impose a levy for multiple years, but it can only be used to fund capital improvement bonds. What counts as a capital improvement is fairly narrowly defined in Washington. In particular, “replacement of equipment” is explicitly excluded.

      I don’t know just how much of this narrow capital improvement money Metro really needs — would buying replacement buses count as “replacement of equipment”? But one option might be to shift capital expenditure financing over to the TBD’s bonding authority.

  6. Stephen says

    I like the idea of codifying the different serivce levels. Right now we already have “FrequentRide” in many places — but it’s not really exposed to riders very well. People on this blog are aware of this but if you ask a random rider to identify which corridors are every 10 min they would not be able to answer. Part of the problem is sometimes routes combine to offer good frequency, but no single route is. Metro could probably reorganize routes in a relatively resource- neutral manner (compared to today, not with a 17% cut) to highlight frequent corridors.

    • David Lawson says

      Metro could probably reorganize routes in a relatively resource- neutral manner (compared to today, not with a 17% cut) to highlight frequent corridors.

      Indeed.

      • Stephen says

        Yeah, this is certainly a step in the right direction, but it still relies a lot on combining separate routes — you can see it in the table at the bottom — the following routes only have 15 minute frequency:
        2+10 | 3+3T | 4+13 | 13+24 | 14+34 | 34+35 | 50+55 | 65/67+73/75

        Ideally, I’d rather see 1 route with 10 min frequency and see if there’s another way to serve the riders on the other part of the route. Again, I think trying to explain someone “take the 2 or the 10, but if you take the 10 be sure to get off before you get to 15th because then you’ll be going the wrong direction etc… “

      • David Lawson says

        Yes, ideally you have single corridors. But it just doesn’t always make sense. Cities are often laid out, and Seattle is no exception, with much higher density near the center. This means you need more service to handle demand near the center, and sometimes the most sensible solution is to combine two routes coming from farther-out neighborhoods. It’s also true that sometimes the most logical way for two separate routes to reach a destination will involve a common corridor as they approach the destination.

        In the 2/10 case in my plan, for example, you need extremely high capacity along Pike/Pine between downtown and Broadway. If you ran just the 10 along that route, you’d need far more buses than it would make sense to send all the way to Volunteer Park, and you’d also have 2 buses from East Union with no obvious way to get downtown. The best way to handle such routes is to have them numbered consecutively (as I did with the new pair of routes in the FNP, the 34 and 35, or as Metro does with the 71/72/73) but you can’t always do that.

      • Stephen says

        Maybe there’s a better way to do it then just consecutive routes since it’s not always true that consecutive routes share the same corridor.

        What if routes that shared a significant common chunk had a letter + number layout. E.g. we create a “G-line” that splits into a G1 and a G2. Then you could tell people to get up pike by taking the G, but still get the benefit of multiple feeders. That does assume that basically half the route is the same though, it probably wouldn’t work for the 34 + 35 because both ends of the route are very different.

      • David Lawson says

        Washington, DC has a variation on that theme.

        Personally, I find that as executed there it makes the bus system even more illegible than straight route numbers. That is particularly true where there are two different common corridors that share a letter because they are both on a trunk route. For example, the D6, a local trunk route, shares a corridor with the D5 on one end of the route and the D4 on the other… and the D5 and D4 have absolutely zero in common and serve opposite sides of town.

      • Mike Orr says

        Paired routes can be an acceptable compromise but they shouldn’t be overused. The main problem is that frequency drops in half when you reach the split. The 26/28 just barely reaches the edge of north Seattle. The 31/32/65/75 overlap just makes you frustrated if you’re on the east part of the 75, and your pleas for frequency are more ignored.

        What most bothers me is rapid transit lines that are individually 15 minutes but overlap to 7.5 or 5 minutes, as on MAX. 15 minutes is not frequent enough to fully deliver the promise of rapid transit; these networks really only deliver it on the shared portions. But the shared portions don’t have enough housing for everybody to live within walking distance of them, so they’re left living on the tails, and the region won’t raise their frequencies because it would “overserve” the shared segment. That’s what I like about Link, that all parts have 10-minute service until 10pm, and I hope that remains true on East Link too.

      • David Lawson says

        Paired routes are best when their frequency is 5/10 or 6/12. But they’re hard to avoid, just because there are fewer corridors close to downtown then there are further out. If you don’t ever pair routes, you’re likely to just have poorly coordinated redundant service. (A prime example: today’s 8 and 43 along John and Thomas.)

      • Adam Bejan Parast says

        I think several of Bellinghams “Go” frequent routes are paired routes. The best way I’ve seen this handled from a users perspective is to hyphenate the routes numbers so you have 22-A and 22-B. Along the shared corridor all you need to know is it is the 22. After the splint you need to know which on you’re on.

      • says

        If the 75 wasn’t paired with the 65 and through-routed with the 31/32 it wouldn’t magically move up the frequency pecking-order. In fact, I bet the pairing and through-routing helps overall 75 ridership. Between Children’s and Lake City, though it’s one of Metro’s most scenic routes, there just isn’t a ton going on.

    • Mike Orr says

      Part of the issue is the limited hours when routes are frequent, and the inconsistency between them. The 8 is frequent until 7pm, the 48 until 10pm, the 41 until 6:15pm (southbound) or 7pm (northbound), the 120 until 6pm. None of them are frequent on Sunday. This means for the large number of people working 9-5, the only time they see any benefit is on Saturdays (except the evening 48), so the route doesn’t seem “frequent” to them. If Metro makes a big fanfare about these routes being frequent, it leaves them feeling as nonplussed as many people feel about “Rapid”Ride.

      Pierce Transit and Community Transit go a step further by extolling their routes that are “15 minutes peak hours” and it makes me want to shout, “That doesn’t fucking matter!” One, peak service is generally more frequent than off-peak anyway. Two, anybody with a 9-5 job leaves at the same time every day and knows when that bus comes. It’s their other trips where frequent service is more critical: spontaneous shopping, visiting friends, going to the park, etc. Those trips are more numerous than going to work five days a week, and they’re when people are most likely to drive because the buses are less frequent.

      • asdf says

        There is one case where, frequency during peak hours is absolutely critical and that’s when connections are involved. Nobody wants to be stuck waiting 25 minutes at a bus stop halfway through their trip, twice a day, every single day. On the other hand, a 25-minute wait in the middle of a trip you take, on average, once or twice a year, is a lot less big of a deal.

  7. says

    I’m all for including upgrades to service as part of a funding package. But it also has to prevent cuts to existing routes, or else it will fail even in Seattle. Voters won’t support new service while their own routes are being cut back.

  8. Al S. says

    I agree that new capital projects have more sizzle than continued operations funding does. Still, the issue of continued operations funding is one in which coalition building with other operations and maintenance needs is more strategic than transit operations going at it alone. I think that the public is more likely to perceive a transit operations funding plea as more self-serving, where a comprehensive transportation funding mechanism with local control over distribution (such as a countywide panel that customizes allocations for each county) and with accountability mechanisms has the best chance of success.

    • Frank Chiachiere says

      I think operations could have sizzle as long as it’s called out as such. That’s why I think it has more to do with branding than anything else.

  9. RossB says

    If we expand and rename RapidRide, we better make it significantly better. As it is, most people (myself included) think it is crap. Imagine if light rail in Seattle consisted only of streetcars (no tunneling, no elevated lines, etc.). No one would vote for “light rail” because they would assume that it is no faster than a bus. The same thing is happening with BRT. People have seen RapidRide, and it isn’t any faster than regular bus service (for the most part). I bet people are more excited about riding a Sound Transit express bus than they are a RapidRide bus. We need at least a couple things to improve it:

    1) Full off-board payment

    2) New dedicated lanes. For the most part, this isn’t cheap, but if RapidRide bus is stuck in the same traffic as a car or a regular bus, then it is hard to get excited about it. Express buses became really popular because they rode in car pool lanes — we need something similar for RapidRide (even it is isn’t a full BRT system) before we use another label on the system.

    • Mike Orr says

      “RapidRide” has a lot of requirements that Metro can’t fulfill on a wider scale. Frank’s or David’s money won’t get us anywhere near making all these proposed-frequent routes RapidRide. The federal grant underlying RapidRide requires a distinct brand (hotdog red buses, new shelters) and a minimum level of service (frequent, off-board payment, street improvements). This is not scalable, and everybody — the feds, Metro, and activists — have all been moving away from this model, and toward incremental improvements.

      • RossB says

        That makes sense. I think we are stuck with RapidRide being what it is. We might get better BRT, but it probably would be part of Sound Transit (which already has a nice fleet of buses) as opposed to Metro. I could easily see some BRT based improvements as part of ST3 (add a few lanes, some off board payment stations, etc.). But RapidRide will probably continue to be what it is — pretty buses, but not better than the other buses you see in town.

        I think David’s idea makes more sense. Propose a bit of an increase along with new routes (which are way more frequent) and I think it would be a very popular package.

      • Mike Orr says

        Metro also can’t debrand RapidRide without repaying the grant, so we’re stuck with it for now. Ultimately I hope Metro can come to an agreement with the feds that debrands or opens up RapidRide, as long as it maintains the service levels on RR A-F. That would allow other routes to adopt the brand just by raising the frequency (without hotdog-red buses or ORCA-enabled stations), and also allow the founding lines get regular route numbers (1-99 for C-E, 2xx for B, and 1xx for A).

      • Anandakos says

        Mike,

        Why debrand RapidRide? It’s supposed to be BRT, so instead of orphaning it, make it BRT!

        “Oh, right,” you say, and I understand why. It’s barely Bronze, but that means that now that the big capital has been spent on the vehicles, software and stations, the cost of improvements is mostly political. Fifteenth and Leary would be a fantastic place for a southbound green-acceleration signal, especially when the bus is approaching a partially filled right lane waiting to turn left and delaying it. The driver could throw the switch at 50th and the traffic would be moving in time for the bus to avoid stopping north of the light. There isn’t that much traffic on Leary going straight through the intersection that mucking with the cycle would hurt much.

        Also, stripe the street as two lanes all the way from 50th down to Ballard Way and add a Left Lane Ends merge just south of the bus stop with a big “Yield To Buses” hanging right above the left lane. Ballard Way already has to stop.

        This would allow buses starting from the stop there to proceed directly ahead and postpone merging until after the merge sign. Yes, cars would have to make an “S” bend, but most of those coming from Ballard do so on Ballard Way because it has fewer traffic controls.

        To make the northbound exit work you would need to make a capital investment. The informal parking under the bridge is not wide enough to have two rows of cars; there is quite a bit of “wasted” pavement there. So, starting at the abutment, extend the off ramp westward as far as directly below the tops of the support “T-ees”, making a new lane from which autos only can turn left. Make the existing left lane another left only lane and the existing right lane straight only. Do not allow any turns from it; instead, require people turning right onto Leary to do so at Ballard Way, at least during the afternoon peak. That way the bus will always be able to stop at the station rather than in the queue a couple of times and then the station.

        But the real way to improve the RRD and make it a winner is to use Harrison rather than Mercer at the south end. Make the left turn at from Elliott to Harrison bus only, and make it pre-empt. That would not be too much of a traffic issue because the buses are only every ten minutes. To make it more useful, the Magnolia buses could use it as well, giving better access to the Then, forbid right turns onto Elliott by non-transit vehicles, at least during the evening peak hours. That would make the right lane a de-facto bus jump.

        This would take the bus off of manic Mercer Place and save two blocks of First North and Queen Anne Avenue. Grant that it misses a big block of development right around 3rd and Mercer, but there could be stations at 3rd West which would be only two blocks away.

        The rest of the route to downtown is pretty much hopeless and wouldn’t deviate from the current one so any improvements made through Belltown would redound to the alternate route as well.

        If the Purple Line is built then these improvements would be a very inexpensive way to continue improving transit to the Interbay corridor, which will never grow to be a dense place because of the mixed uses it must continue to support, not the least of which is that smelly, noisy 24/7/365, oily railroad yard that James J Hill built for his Great Northern. And Harrison looks to me about the street at which the LQA station would be built.

        These are just ideas to kick around.

      • Mike Orr says

        The argument for debranding RapidRide is that we need three or four times the number of priority routes than RR A-F will be, and that Metro really can’t afford that, even given money to add frequency or make street improvements. I.e., it’s not worth diverting more money to hotdog-red buses and funny-looking shelters, or stigmatizing a route that doesn’t have enough offboard ORCA readers to be called RapidRide. In that case, when you have six RapidRide priority routes and several non-RapidRide priority routes (with full frequency and some amount of transit lanes), how much value is the brand really adding?

  10. Brent says

    The best hooks, IMHO, are capital investments that serve a wide swath of the ridership, and simultaneously improve traffic flow in a way drivers can grasp. (And please, no more free ticket mailings.)

    RTA signage and bus ticket machines at every stop in the CBD, and every stop by train stations, might seem come with a sizable price tag, but not if it is mostly a one-time expense.

    The package also needs to take the sting out of charges of it being regressive. A very direct way to do that is to roll out the low-income ORCA.

  11. IHW says

    In addition to – or instead of – raising property taxes, the County could also tap into a revenue source that not only doesn’t require new taxing authority, but is mandated by state law.

    RCW 84.40.030 says that all real estate should be assessed at 100% of market value, so if you looked through a roster of recent-sold properties, you’d expect to see assessments that are roughly equal to sale prices. Instead, King County Assessor routinely hands out hefty discounts of up to $300,000, thanks to a mass assessment methodology that annually generates one single “Standard Area Adjustment” for each neighborhood. All assessments are increased by this percentage, regardless of how much any given property may have appreciated.

    I compiled a sale price vs assessment comparison for Ballard, Redmond and Lake Forest Park and showed it to the Board of Equalization (the data is available at http://goo.gl/LJc40F). In response to my complaint that only one-fifth of these properties are assessed at market value, the Board said it’d be too much work for the Assessor’s office to aim for greater accuracy.

    The thing is, if we had an assessment system that taxed recently-sold real estate based on their sale prices and used these properties’ age, size and other characteristics to estimate the values of similar properties, the County could likely increase its tax collection by much, much more than Metro’s budget shortfall.

      • IHW says

        Among the 510 recently-sold properties in Ballard, the average amount of under-taxation was $420, with $131 allocated for Seattle and $61 for King County. In Redmond, the average is $536; $73 for King County. In Lake Forest Park, $836; $91 for King County.

        Let’s take the low end and assume that recently-sold properties are reasonably representative of the general population of properties in terms of the extent of under-taxation. If equalizing assessments to the level of market values yields an extra $50 per property for King County, according to Frank’s spitballing, the County could collect an additional $37.5 million.

        So I was wrong. This alone would not cover Metro’s $60M shortfall. But in addition to the extra revenue it would increase aggregate assessed value, so future tax increases would have a greater impact. Also, this scenario would yield an additional $100 per property for Seattle – hopefully some of which will be allocated for transit.

    • Yorik says

      Wouldn’t work like that because property tax revenue is not derived from assessed values so simply raising assessed property values does not increase property tax revenue.
      Washington state works under a budget-based property tax system in which taxing districts submit their annual budget or revenue request to the assessor. The assessor then determines the tax rate that is necessary to generate enough revenue to meet the adopted budgets. So assessed value simply determines how the predetermined property tax revenue burden gets distributed.
      In short, better assessments would improve fairness, but wouldn’t increase revenue.

    • David Lawson says

      Greater accuracy in assessments would make the property tax fairer, but it wouldn’t raise more money by itself. The county sets an overall levy amount each year, and then derives the rates by dividing the overall levy amount by the assessed value of all the property in the county. RCW 84.55.010 (thanks to Tim Eyman) provides for a limit on the overall amount of tax levied in any given year by any jurisdiction, allowing only a 1% increase. You can’t raise the levy amount without a popular vote. Thus, increasing the total assessed value in the county would just lead to a reduction in the property tax rate, not an increase in tax collected.

      Edit: Yorik beat me there. Should refresh more often.

      • IHW says

        Indeed. Should refresh more often. Didn’t see your point and Yorik’s. You’re right. So much for a work-around without a popular vote.

  12. Mike Orr says

    This is essentially a marketing wrapper around the concept of raising all core routes to 15 minutes until 10pm, which has been Metro’s goal for at least fifteen years. Metro has done it piecemeal whenever it has had funds; e.g., on the 7, 36, 44, and 26/28, and almost on the 49. It tried to do it on the 5, 13, 2S, and 3S last year but failed. All these are part of what Metro calls its “underservice” on certain corridors. So yes, do it now, let Metro fill its underservice in one step. Then we’d have the kind of frequency that Chicago, San Francisco, and Vancouver take for granted — which is appropriate for a city Seattle’s size. (Those cities also have half-hourly night owls a mile apart, but first things first.)

    However, I’m more wedded to the general concept than to this particular branding of it. The other approaches all have about equal merit: David L’s reorganization, Seattle’s TMP, Metro’s underservice list. I just want any of those to go forward. I also have a slight concern that “FrequentRide” may leave out minor things that a more wholistic plan would include (i.e., certain improvements on certain non-frequent routes). I would rather see a comprehensive approach than just making a group of routes more frequent. Although even that would be better than nothing.

    Some duplicative routes should be downgraded (2N, 4S, 61), but that’s a side issue and a minor amount of service hours, so it’s a longer-term concern and shouldn’t sidetrack us from necessary frequency on the core routes.

  13. Sam says

    Which kid appreciates his new bike more? The one who worked and saved all summer and bought it himself? Or the kid who’s daddy bought if for him? We have to stop letting a large percentage of the population off the hook when it comes to paying for transit, otherwise, they won’t fully value and appreciate it. When we only single out certain groups to pay for transit, like car or property owners, a lot of other people are left out of the privilege (and yes, it is a privilege) to contribute towards something that benefits them. By requiring them to help pay for it, it builds character and self-respect in them. So I propose also taxing things like EBT cards and other income-based benefits. And let’s start taxing bicycle sales. And increase taxes on junk food, cigs, beer, and lotto tickets, and have that money be funneled into transit. When everyone is invested in financially supporting transit, you get a better system, rider, and ultimately, citizen.

    • Mike Orr says

      You realize that taxing government benefits is absurd? Giving $100 and taking back $10 is the same as giving $90, so why not just give $90 in the first place, and not pretend that you’re giving $100. The only difference is that the $10 ends up in one government account rather than another, but surely the government can think up a smarter way to deal with that.

      • Sam says

        No, it’s not absurd. It’s still their income, no matter where it comes from. That’s like saying it’s absurd for someone surviving strictly on public benefits having to pay sales tax, because why should money that they get from the government have to go back to the government. We do this kind of money circulating all the time.

        People have to realize that what I call the moocher-class is growing, and the working class is shrinking, and as much as you might resent and want to punish workers and the wealthy, they don’t have enough money to pay for the ever increasing number of people with their hands out. It’s unsustainable. At some point, the almost 50% of people who are 100% freeloaders on others, are going to have to start carrying more of the weight.

        The top 40% of households before income taxes paid 106% of the nation’s net income taxes. At the same time, the bottom 40% paid negative 9.1%. In other words, they paid negative income taxes. They received an average of $18,950, or what is called government transfers. Over 47 million people are on food stamps. Student loan debt is up 463% in the last five years. The total owed the fed gov is $674 Billion dollars. More than 101 million working age Americans don’t have jobs. And a person without a job cannot have self-respect. Let’s give these people self-respect, and a sense of purpose, by having them help out by funding our transit needs with the money we hand them.

      • William C. says

        Juxtaposed without comment:

        And a person without a job cannot have self-respect.

        Let’s give these people self-respect… by having them help out… with the money we hand them.

      • asdf says

        Once you factor in that landlords will likely pass property tax increases down to their tenets, everyone who doesn’t live under a freeway bridge is going to be paying. I don’t understand what your objection is? Are you suggesting we raise money for Metro by charging rent for the undersides of freeway bridges too?

    • David Lawson says

      We have to stop letting a large percentage of the population off the hook when it comes to paying for transit, otherwise, they won’t fully value and appreciate it.

      What is the “large percentage of the population” that doesn’t pay sales tax? Sales tax provides the great bulk of our transit funding.

      • William C. says

        No, because we don’t need to talk about it; we already are paying for transit through sales tax. Unless you think that everyone, even homeless poor people, should pay more for more transit? If you’re saying that, we can have that discussion… but it’s not what you were talking about.

      • Sam says

        Here’s my point. A jobless single parent or person on disability who are taking advantage the full list of benefits available to them have a greater disposable income than a home-owning couple with low-paying jobs. Let’s not fund transit on the backs of people who are trying to do things the right way, by working hard and trying to buy a house. Let’s ask people who we have been, and will continue to support in their non-working lifestyle, to help out funding our transit system. If we can tell that struggling home-owning couple that it’s just a small increase in their property taxes, why can’t we tell the mother who doesn’t work who makes twice as much in benefits as the poor working couple that “it’s just a small amount” we’re asking for from her? Again, people on benefits growing, people with jobs and homes shrinking. Relying on them = unsustainable. Relying more and more on people on benefits = sustainable. It’s a growing industry and there’s no end in sight.

      • William C. says

        Ah, yes, that is a huge problem with America’s welfare system. (At least, on the basis of my extremely limited information, it seems like one.) And if we start making up whole new taxes, then yes, we can talk about that as one of their many details of implementation. Otherwise, yes, please go fight this fight in parallel with Ben and David and the rest of us fighting the fight for good transit – and I’ll be right behind you.

      • djw says

        This post wasn’t talking about sales tax as a way to pay for more transit, was it?

        No, but that fact directly undermines your stupid analogy and your whole argument. The primary source of county funding for Metro comes from a regressive tax; a tax that the poor end up paying a much higher percentage of their overall income than the rich. Your opening premise was that they pay nothing. This is why you find yourself backpeddling by telling stories juxtaposing hypothetical examples of deserving and undeserving poor people. Much of your trolling here is quite successful; that this particular trolling effort failed shouldn’t cause you much concern.

      • Brent says

        “Let’s not fund transit on the backs of people who are trying to do things the right way, by working hard and trying to buy a house.”

        Ah, now we know who the arbiter of what is right is. I never knew being a renter was a sin. Sorry.

        I think I’ll stick with letting the people who get the most votes be the ones who write the laws.

      • lakecityrider says

        “Let’s not fund transit on the backs of people who are trying to do things the right way, by working hard and trying to buy a house.”

        Is it OK that I’m lazy at work and that my income lets me buy a house? Just checking to see if I should be working harder in order to ride transit.

    • RapidRider says

      Unless you are a hobo living under a bridge, you are paying property tax, either directly (direct to county or through a mortgage escrow) or indirectly (through rent).

      Also, unless you buy your bike in Oregon or through Craigslist, you pay a “sales tax” on it. And legally, you do have to report and pay equivalent sales tax if you buy through Oregon or Craigslist.

  14. John Bailo says

    Highway Expansion?

    Where? When?

    The population of Washington State grows by 60% over two decades and not one major new highway is built? Yes, some lanes are added, but just as quickly taken away for HOV.

    To say that Washington has focused on highways is to be simply wrong. It has spent many billions to build a tinker toy train over some 20 miles and lots more billions on quarter and half mile tunnels.

    But highways? No. The record does not show that.

      • John Bailo says

        For one, route 605:

        The concept is being peddled as an eight-lane expressway stretching from Lewis County through the Snoqualmie Valley to the Canadian border, paid for partly by the private sector. It could include truck lanes, toll lanes for cars, freight and passenger-rail lines and utility transmission lines and pipelines.

        It’s the newest version of an old idea that has been called, in various iterations over the years, Interstate 605, the “outer beltway” and the East Side Freeway. And like previous proposals, this one promises to pit proponents against those who argue that this much new concrete is too much.

        http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2001979989_corridor15e.html

        For others — the rest of 169 (East Valley Highway) should be expanded all the way to Puyallup.

        There should be an East-West limited access highway that continues (and expands) 518 all the way through east Kent to Covington and beyond to Black Diamond.

        Many of the interior “routes” of Inland Washington that get us to recreational areas should be expanded.

      • John Bailo says

        Washington has spent nearly nothing on transit…

        Isn’t it more accurate to say, “contributed nothing” since it has spent billions in Federal largess, much like Portland did/does?

    • djw says

      Yes, some lanes are added, but just as quickly taken away for HOV.

      As has been explained to you many times, WSDOT’s policy with HOV lanes is to designate them only when they increase efficiency. They are not “taken away”; they are allotted in such a way that the overall efficiency of the freeway is increased. Please stop repeating this nonense.

      • John Bailo says

        As many times as you say it, I still don’t understand the convoluted reasoning by which this is possible.

      • William C. says

        Let me try to explain it to you, then.

        If you keep single-occupant vehicles out of the HOV lanes, the HOV’s will move faster and be less delayed, right? Of course, if traffic in the other lanes is clogged enough, the SOV’s will be more delayed. But the twist is that the HOV’s time has to be weighted twice or thrice, because there’re two or three people in that car. (Of course, we also weight by the number of HOV’s and SOV’s on the road.) That’s what’s meant by increasing efficiency of the freeway: not just moving more cars in a given amount of time, but moving more people.

        So, if studies show that an HOV lane decreases ten HOV’s trip time by 20 minutes but increases ten SOV’s trip time by 30 minutes, that’s still a net gain, because the HOV’s represent twenty people.

    • RossB says

      Tax medical patients! Tax Dim Sum! Tax Pho!

      (sorry — inside joke based on a previous proposal by Sam)

    • Brent says

      But, Sam, there aren’t enough poor in King County to pay for the transit system. Ergo the poor tax should be fought tough-and-nail by all loyal TEA partiers.

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