First, the bad news. We’ve discussed SB 6570 in the recent past. A state bill, it would allow private transit operators, such as Microsoft’s Connector service or airport shuttles, to use transit-only facilities, including such facilities as BAT lanes, flyer stops and transitways. Our Puget Sound transit agencies have responded in a letter to the chairs of Senate and House Transportation, calling out efficiency problems, costs, and safety issues that would be caused by the bill. Potential delays in HOV lanes, for instance, could cause agencies millions in additional operating costs.
The Federal Transit Administration has also weighed in on the issue, pointing out that projects receiving federal funds require a case by case evaluation to be opened to private transit operators, as opposed to the state bill’s blanket exception. The FTA says clearly: “such a use would appear to conflict with FTA’s rules where those transit facilities and highway lanes … were funded with FTA grants.” The state bill has an exception for state projects that receive federal funds, but this wouldn’t cover agency, city or county facilities, as the FTA points out – and Sound Transit, especially, builds a lot of HOV access ramps.
As we stated before, it doesn’t appear that legislators voting for this bill are considering its impacts, or legal obligations regarding receipt of federal funds. Senate Transportation clearly did not exercise due diligence before passing this bill out of committee, and we hope House Transportation does not make the same mistake.
Fortunately, there’s also good news out of Olympia. The state’s regional mobility grant program for transit, recently stripped of funding in the Senate, has seen $14 million replaced in a House Transportation amendment expected on HB 2838, the House Transportation funding bill, which passed out of committee yesterday. Representatives Mary Lou Dickerson (36th) and Marko Liias (21st) led this effort, and reportedly it passed unanimously. These grants have gone to a number of urban transit agencies in the past, generally to fund congestion reduction capital projects, and it’s good to see House Transportation sticking up for transit funding.