Rep. Marko Liias

Marko Liias, a strong transit ally in the Washington State House of Representatives, has put forward a bill that would allow counties to collect a “congestion reduction charge” of up to $30 per vehicle to help fund transit. PubliCola reports that Judy Clibborn, the powerful chair of the House Transportation Committee, is one of many co-sponsors. So is Joe Fitzgibbon, the new pro-transit representative from West Seattle.

The governor vetoed a similar provision in May, 2009, but Metro’s deep budget problems may have changed the political landscape.

If passed, Liias’ bill would enter into effect August 1 of this year. The King County Council will then have to approve the vehicle license fee to the annual vehicle license fee, and actual collections could begin no earlier than six months after that. The bill terminates itself on June 30, 2014. So, optimistically, this bill represents an additional funding source for Metro between February, 2012 and July, 2014. Is this the sort of long-term fix Metro needs? No, but it may buy some time and it’s unlikely that any revenue source decided upon in the current political climate will be able to address Metro’s future budget concerns.

The $30 fee would raise roughly $37 million per year, if one extrapolates from an early Transit Task Force report on revenue options. Metro is facing a $50 million shortfall by 2012, and it only gets worse over time.

The bill would face stiff odds in the State Senate, where some members there — backed by Senator Transportation Chair Mary Margaret Haugen — are proposing to only allow communities to increase revenue for transit as part of a larger package that would also help fill the state’s highway coffers.

65 Replies to “Liias Introduces Temporary Transit Funding Bill”

  1. Why do transit folks repetitively insist on trying to tax cars for their projects?
    I understand that cars are bad for the environment, and bad for us and all, but the fact is, tha majority of people drive them, and as has been stated elsewhere, 44-65?% of people in the Seattle area never ride the bus, so this just makes them angry, and less likely to vote for any sort of tax to extend transit I would think. Why don’t we propose raising the sales tax limits or something like that, that applies to everyone, so no one group can get mad about the cost being stuck to them?

    Taxing vehicles directly seems counterproductive to me.

    1. Because the squealing from car owners will be less than the squealing from business owners, probably.

      No-one is suggesting that these temporary flat fees are a good way to fund transit, it’s just to slow the bleeding for a while until we can find a more sensible funding source.

      Car owners who object to the $30 fee should contemplate what I-90 would look like if half the people on busses started commuting in their cars again because their routes were abolished.

      1. Because even fully (4/5) occupied private vehicles take up more space per capita than a fully-occupied bus/train.

        Think of this as a volume charge.

      2. Agreed. Also, imagine how much easier it would be if half of the cars on the highway were parked in the garage because it was faster/cheaper for their drivers to simply take a train or bus instead?

      3. We need to find a way to make those people realize what I-90 could be like without transit, that is the problem. We have failed to do that thus far, and until we do that we need to not bring about this kind of taxation.

      4. Alex, we will never make people “realize” what I-90 would be like without transit because we will never stop running transit across I-90. Are we really never going to ask for any transit money from the public until everyone is in agreement that traffic across I-90 would be bad?

        I’m skeptical, of course. King County overwhelmingly approves of transit taxes and I think if this measure went up for a vote it would pass.

    2. It’s called “Negative Externalities” Or that the mere ownership of a car imposes costs on everyone that have consequences that need to be mitigated. In this case when you drive your car you block others from driving their car on the same road, ie congestion. Cars idling in traffic cause air pollution which we all breath. (Nevermind all the lead that was spewed out for 70 years from the leaded gasoline.)

      The Mitigation is transit, hence it’s the recipient of the tax.

      If you are angry about being taxed to own a car think about people who have to breath the air, fund the military, and the roads, whether they own a car or not.

      1. The mere ownership of a car does not mean one is inducing congestion. For example, if someone only drives at midnight when there’s little traffic on the roads then there is no congestion externality.

        However, the blunt instrument of a vehicle license fee is what we have — we do not have a congestion tax to internalize the externalities. It’s a close approximation.

      2. I understand the negative effects of the car, I ride my bike and take bus/train myself. I don’t own a car.
        Unfortunately the trains I ride regularly catch on fire and close down, but thats another story.

        A lot of people that end up paying this tax however don’t understand this, and just get very angry that we’re taxing them. The fact that we understand why we’re doing it doesn’t do any good, somehow we need everyone ELSE to understand this.

        Many of the people being taxed just look at us as a bunch of high-and-mighty pricks because they don’t understand how this benefits them. We need to change that before we levy new taxes IMO.

    3. Because more of them would take transit if we had better transit. Transit is the only way to get us out of the congestion problem (not that it will lower congestion, but it allows people to bypass it), the expensive car problem, the real estate waste problem (acres of parking lots), and the national security and budget problems (dependency on foreign oil, and the military activity required to guarantee it). I didn’t even mention the limited oil problem or the environmental waste problem (the byproducts and externalities of oil extraction, which are getting worse now that more oil is coming from shale), or the energy-required-for-extraction problem (which is also emerging with shale oil).

    4. People are alreaqy struggling daily to feed them selves and they don’t get paid the amount of money that the people who are funding this bill. How about lower Metro’s cost’s by cutting the top executive pay, and everyone in between. How about buy less buses, or sell some buses that don’t get used ? Why not try, furlough day’s like the rest of us before you drive another worthless proposal down the throats of everyone, because you can’t or wont manage your budgets.

      Let’s try that before you stick it to everyone in King, Pierce and Snohomish county’s because of failed management cost over runs and outrageous pay scales.

      1. Metro staff have been taking furloughs. At any rate, how about you figure out how much your suggestions save and then compare that to the deficit?

      2. I’m going to be struggling a lot harder to feed myself if i can’t get to work and school. Bus cuts disproportionately hurt poor people, people of color, and the disabled; i get to be the trifecta there.

        As for “driving another worthless proposal down the throats of everyone,” last i checked, you have a fairly simple pair of solutions: elect different representatives and, if such a piece of legislation passes, engage in the repeal process. “Shoving” implies that these aren’t people who won fair elections.

      3. How about more comprehensive bus service so that people can get rid of the major expense of a car, or their second car perhaps. Then people wouldn’t be struggling so hard to pay for food and other expenses.

    5. Cars slow down/block buses. That makes each bus ride longer, so the car drivers need to be taxed for the trouble they cause the bus riders. That is my reason, and I am sticking with it.

  2. Does anyone have the bill # for this? I’d like to inform my reps and senator of my support for this bill.


  3. Fitzgibbon — No “s”

    the Liias’ bill — cut the “the”

    And, because I didn’t comment just to be a picky former teacher… it makes good sense to tax cars to support transit because increased transit removes cars from the road, making driving more convenient for those who have to travel by car or truck.

    1. “it makes good sense to tax cars to support transit because increased transit removes cars from the road”

      That’s not true. No empirical evidence supports that.

      1. Is the claim not true or is it unsupported? What’s your empirical evidence that funding transit does not “remove cars from the road” compared to a control?

      2. So you’re saying that if all transit disappeared tomorrow there’d be no more cars on the road then there is today? I know there’d be at least one more, mine.

      3. We’re not talking about all transit disappearing if Metro doesn’t get a tax increase.

        With regard to the comment that this tax increase would take cars off the road, that would depend on whether smart routing decisions were made. If service levels stayed the same, then more cars would not be taken off the road. If poor routing decisions are made, trip frequency could increase yet cars on the road could increase. That would be the case if any increased bus service picks up non-car owners, or cannibalizes existing routes, or disproportionately serves low-ridership rural routes.

        It’s too complex an issue to make the kinds of arguments Mkmse and zed do.

      4. “We’re not talking about all transit disappearing if Metro doesn’t get a tax increase.”

        No one said that. Norman said that transit does not remove cars from the road, and I was replying to that statement.

      5. Norman, I know you don’t think ENOUGH people use transit to commute to justify the cost… but certainly you can support the thinking that cutting those buses will result in those riders continuing to go to their workplaces, but by some other means. That’s all I’m trying to say.

      6. In theory, and all else held equal, decreasing the price or increasing the quality of a substitute (transit) should decrease the demand for driving.

        Increasing the cost of owning a car should also decrease the demand for owning a car, which would also decrease driving.

        Assuming you’re one of those that still decide to drive, you would experience fewer others driving and less congestion.

        Anyways… I couldn’t find empirical evidence, but I don’t see why the theory wouldn’t hold true.

      7. Sorry but if someone can’t afford paying $30 a year more to drive then the obviously can’t afford a car. What really got people onto buses was when gas went over $4 a gallon.

      8. The problem with this tax is that once it’s paid, it’s a sunk cost. It doesn’t cost any more to take the car on any particular day. A toll or congestion charge would be better at encouraging drivers to switch to transit.

  4. All money for transit and roads should come from property tax.

    Politicians and citizens should then maturely compromise about the allocations.

    For example, many surveys have shown that people want to spend far more proportionately for walk ability and bicycle access than is currently being allocated.

    Special fees do not simply “make cars pay” but also ingrain ways of doing things that are not up to date with current desires and technology.

    1. Property taxes should (and do) constitute some portion of transportation (both public and private) funding as property owners derive benefit from transportation infrastructure. The problem is supply and demand don’t work well if this is the sole funding source. It creates an all-you-can-eat transportation buffet.

      I’m a big believer in increased gas taxes. It has the dual benefit of encouraging more efficient vehicles and placing pressure on the demand for fuel. Yes, I understand it takes fuel for to deliver my goods, and I’m willing to pay increased shipping costs for everything I consume. If fuel were more of an elastic good, we wouldn’t have to tax it, but if you look at supply and demand for fuel, you’ll see how inelastic it is. I also think we should either be tolling everywhere based on supply and demand. Way cheaper to society than expanding freeways.

      If we can increase gas taxes that might allow us to increase the share of the property tax going to public transit, sidewalks & bike infrastructure. That is where my values are these days. Make it easier for me to walk, bike or ride, even at the expense of making it easy for me to drive.

  5. How would this $37 million compare to the amount Metro would raise by simply charging market rate for parking at P&R lots?

    Since this is a fixed cost I think it’s unlikely to get anyone to switch to transit. If anything people are going to put more value on their car and feel they need to use it more to justify the fees. It costs you $30 no matter how much you drive or, it appears, what the value of your car is.

    The anti transit backlash could well be severe. Remember $30 car tabs? This bill sounds like a double dare ya to Timothy.

    1. With back of the envelope calculations, charging for parking at P&R lots would raise no where near the amount of revenue.

      I don’t know if one tax will change whether people drive, but if we’re going to talk about economics we should know that it’s all about decisions made on the margins. I am not convinced that a marginal $30 fee would make many people more likely to drive more — it’s a sunken cost once paid, and a small one compared to the thousands of dollars the vehicle and its keep up costs. I doubt many people will refuse to buy cars because of a small annual tax, but some people on the margins absolutely will.

      But if the goal were to reduce car ownership then there are much different tax approaches available for that. I think the only goal is to raise revenue for transit agencies. The reason cars are being “targeted” is because a vehicle license fee is transportation related and perhaps that’s an easier political sell than a more general tax authority.

      1. I think you’re right. The back of my envelope based on 25,000 P&R spaces says Metro could reasonable pull in something like 6-12 million. It boils down to the fact that there’s not enough transit riders to directly fund transit; which isn’t news. Since car owners are more likely to benefit from somebody else riding the bus it makes more sense than taxing gun owners or dog owners. I still say it’s a softball served up to Eyman for the next election. How much is that going to cost? Starting to use the P&R lots like a business on the other hand would generate a feeling that Metro really is looking at what it can do rather than just declaring every crisis a “revenue problem.”

      2. I think the other issue is “stable” revenue sources. Retail sales bounce up and down all over the place but the number of cars is relatively stable and predictable.

        It’s not hard to see why an organization like Metro would find that attractive.

      3. Do you know roughly how many P&R spots does Metro have? I’ve come to the conclusion that I have no idea, since I used 10,000 spots for my generous estimate and I thought that was far more than we actually have. I totally agree with you that market rates are appropriate for at least the lots that are getting full (i.e. where parking has some value). I’m not sure if it would raise serious revenue since enforcement and infrastructure would certainly be expensive.

        I think (guess) 98% of people know how they’d vote on an initiative just based on their internal leanings. I don’t know if the other 2% of the state are really interested in whether Metro charges for parking. Perhaps many steps could communicate that government is more efficient and deserves revenue, but I’m not sure what they are.

        Eyman isn’t going to put in me a defensive posture, and he’s probably just as much against charging for parking at a P&R and increasing license fees. Though you’re right that a license fees initiative is more likely to go to and succeed at the ballot.

      4. 25,126 according to the 2009 utilization report. Now some of these are leased spots in churches and the like and wouldn’t be charged. Others, like S. Bellevue would command a premium. So ballpark I figured $1-2 a space based on 250 days per year use. Remember some spots get used more than once a day. For example S. Kirkland is usually more full when I return from an evening in the big city than when I park. I also think you’d see more overall use because, if you’re willing to pay, you be pretty much guaranteed there would be a spot available without having to get there hours early. They did something like this with BART lots in SF and it worked. They went a bit farther in that you could call and check availability and pay to reserve a spot.

      5. You have to consider collection and enforcement costs also. In Sound Transit’s report on charging for parking at Sounder stations they said that at the low end of the revenue range after figuring in collection costs they would just break even. Charging for parking seems like more of a tool for managing demand then raising revenue, unless the price is something substantial.

      6. I’m not sure if it would raise serious revenue since enforcement and infrastructure would certainly be expensive.

        Enforcement is either cheap or another revenue source. King County Parks charges a $1 to park at Marymoor and turns a profit. Metro is currently spending money to try and police abusers parking more than 24 hours anyway. Typically a private owner will contract with a tow company for “parking enforcement”. It works like this. When the owner sees someone parked illegally (hide and ride) they call up the tow company (which paid for the signs that say, “Violators WILL be towed”. The person that ignored the sign then has to pay the tow company not just for the tow but for storage on their lot. Come back after a 1 week flight and your parking is more than the airfare! The tow company kicks back a portion of each John that gets snaged. If ST/Metro can’t figure this out then contract the parking to someone that knows how to turn a profit. Hint, you hit ’em hard right at the beginning of a holiday weekend so that the offenders are not only soaked for the tow but 3-4 days of storage which the yard is closed plus the loss of their car. It’s not long before it pretty much polices it’s self.

      7. Bernie, I don’t disagree with you. I think we should charge at Park and Rides and particularly the ones that are getting full.

  6. I know I always say this, but it still goes: I consider public transit an extremely important measure to extend the life of my car. Not only are transit riders out of my way when I do need to drive, but I get to avoid both putting the most mechanically destructive miles on my car and driving where the experience is wretched- the definition of city and suburban driving.

    For people born with a motor, tires, a CD player and a set of fuzzy dice, I think Federal law should address the unfairness. For us earthlings, car taxes for transit are a good deal.

    Mark Dublin

    1. Mark,

      I’m glad you take the bus on a regular basis. If this tax increase does not go through, you still will be able to take the bus. What is it about that you don’t understand?

      1. “If this tax increase does not go through, you still will be able to take the bus. What is it about that you don’t understand?”

        I don’t understand how you could state that without knowing anything about Mark or which routes may be cut if no additional revenue can be raised.

  7. Here is a fore instance, The state has been working on I 405 for 30 years, and they are still not done working on it. Make the people who ride the bus, pay the fairs, tax increases and leave the people who don’t alone. You people are saying that by increasing a car tab tax will help Metro ? In what way ? If Metro can’t manage a budget now, what makes you think they will be able to do it in the future ? This is just a bad idea for bad management and how Metro needs to figure out what, where and when to deal with their problem before getting a bail out from Everyone who doesn’t ride the bus. Who can’t ride the bus because they don’t work 9am to 5pm. See where I am going with this. Metro needs to start at the top and Cut pay, tighten belts, furlough days, and then raise the fairs for the people who do ride the bus to pay for the art decor on their new off ramps and parking garages. Leave the rest of us out of it please.

    1. Let’s start by fixing the Department of Spelling and Grammar.

      Do you have any proof that Metro is mismanaged, or are you just assuming that because they are a government agency they must be fraught with fraud and waste? Have your read about the Regional Transit Task Force or any of the other steps Metro has taken to try and deal with the budget problem brought about by the recession? It might do you some good to actually look into the matter before jumping to conclusions about whether Metro “deserves” your tax dollars.

  8. Do you have any proof that Metro is NOT mismanaged, or are you just assuming that because they are a government agency they must NOT be fraught with fraud and waste.


    Grammar Police and Spelling. Is that all you got from that Zed ?. You got the message loud and clear. It doesn’t matter how you get it, so long as you get it. That’s what matters most. Now back up and show proof Metro isn’t a bunch of over payed Executives in suits Zed and I will personally give you my $30.00

    I will bet good money if you where to ask anyone employee from Metro outside in a Football game, starting at the bottom working up what they thought as whole about how it is in real life./ You would probably have you proof. Zed there is hope for you to when I say ” YOU CAN fix stupid.

  9. One more thing for you Zed and the Grammar Police. Tell me again how they can’t save the extra they need. Metro needs to do some serious sole searching here. Like cut a couple of those stupid trolleys that do Lake Union trips. Zed where are the Numbers for today’s Metro budget sheets. Give them to me and I promise I will balance it and everyone that works at Metro will keep their jobs.

    King County Metro 2007 (75 cents per passenger mile operating cost, 15 cents replacement cost):

  10. Permanent (Major) Park-and-Ride Lots = 65 Total spaces= 22,546
    Metro Leased Lots 65 +2,580
    Total lots 130 25,126

    Do you think say 10 Overpaid managers can drive through 130 lots in a 8 hour day ?
    Out of 10 of the 45,000 vehicles Metro owns, leases, stock piles or fixes ?

    Hypothetical Charge $5.00 a day to park = $112,730 Daily

    ( PREPAID WINDOW stickers or get a $24. Fine = CHING CHING $$$$$$$$$$$$$

    $112,730 x 20 days per month if your lucky = $2,254,600. a Month
    $2,254,600 X 12 months = $27,055,200. a Year

    Cut the FAT out of the HUGE Budget that Metro runs off every year and your problem is solved. It is sickening to see those numbers Metro has and they cant make it work. DARE WE SAY CORRUPTION in there some where ? They ask for a Increase from everyone @ $30. per car when you can do it yourself.

    Get creative Metro and See you IF YOU cant Fix stupid ?

    1. $5/day is way over what you can get for most of the lots. Remember that lots like Wilburton are at 50% capacity NOW when they’re free! A lot of the lots are small leased lots where most of any charge would likely go back to the owner. Add on $5 parking to the $3 each way bus fare and a lot of people would just drive downtown. I think somewhere between $6 million and $12 million is the best you can expect for parking revenue. Not chump change and perhaps even more valuable in political points.

  11. Bernie, it was a example of what Metro didn’t think of first. Instead of just sucking it up and trying to fix it them selves they run right out and start crying ” We Need More Money ” The last time I was in Seattle was 2 days ago where I had to pay $12 to park for just 1.5 hours. That’s the norm down town. Seattle is raising the price of their on street parking up to $4.00 for only 2 hours, so that’s gone, no more running out and feeding a meter.

    A leased lot at 50% is still a leased lot at 50% regardless of the leased price payed each month to whom ever owns it. Unless Metro was dense enough to say something like, ” well if we have to ever charge or raise the price to park in our leased lot, we will give that money to you also ” in some contract language with the already over paid owner then I would say yes this confirms all speculation that Metro is indeed ran by a bunch of overpaid irresponsible [ad hom] in suits.

    Then the $10. a day is still looking good to the people that are able to ride “into town” everyday and the rest of us, well we won’t have to be stressed over subsidizing your next bus ride at our expense because I live in Everett and Community Transit takes care of that. Because I don’t ride their bus either I am content along with the rest of the people who are tired of the antics that go with Bad management.

    Look at the Managers report from Metro for 2009 The amount of cash budgeted for improvements, money that gets wasted on New Parking Garages and Art, 46% earmarked for 4700 employee wages not including benefits. It’s to much for to little of benefit that doesn’t get spread out to everyone that will be effected by taxing or adding another $30. to already stretched households effected by out of control mismanaged Government.

    Metro’s statistics of preventable and supposedly ” Non Preventable accidents alone tells me there’s a problem. Every accident is preventable with training and public education and I know this because I have been driving heavy trucks and equipment for 30 years with out one accident or ticket.

    People are tired of carrying the load for Bad Judgment calls of over paid tax and spend more mentality Management/Government officials that have become out of touch with the big picture of that’s it. NO SOUP FOR YOU, so quit asking.

    1. Every accident is preventable? So if a bus is stopped in traffic and gets rear ended it’s the bus drivers fault? When that woman crossed the center line and hit the front of the bus on 1st Ave that was the bus drivers fault too?

    2. “…because I live in Everett and Community Transit takes care of that. Because I don’t ride their bus either…”

      If you live in Everett why the hell do you care about King County Metro? Last time I checked Everett was still in Snohomish County, or has it moved? If this bill is passed, and the King County Council decides to implement it, the fee would apply to cars registered in King County.

  12. “”A leased lot at 50% is still a leased lot at 50% regardless of the leased price payed each month to whom ever owns it. Unless Metro was dense enough to say something like, ” well if we have to ever charge or raise the price to park in our leased lot, we will give that money to you also ” in some contract language with the already over paid owner then I would say yes this confirms all speculation that Metro is indeed ran by a bunch of overpaid irresponsible Monkeys in suits.””

    I will bet that if you did some type of serious digging, that half the leased lots belong to some friend or family member of a top official @ Metro

    1. Many leased lots are church parking lots. This works because 9-5 weekdays churches tend to have an oversupply of parking. However, their parking needs during the week are not zero. How do you know who is there using the lot as a P&R and who is there on church business? Most of these lots are small and the cost of trying to charge for parking when the demand is already marginal doesn’t make sense. When venting your wrath keep in mind that Metro administrators can’t just decide to charge for parking. Any fees must be approved by our elected officials. It’s the political quagmire that leads to most of the stupid decisions.

    1. So why are you holding Metro responsible for accidents that are caused by others? I’m still trying to understand why you blame Metro for someone rear ending a bus when it’s stopped. I think that’s why Metro calls those accidents non-preventable since the driver of the bus had nothing to do with it and therefore Metro had nothing to do with it.

      Would you support Metro spending money on TV ads to educate the public on not running into buses?

  13. First off, some girl that is drunk at 2am in the morning that crosses a line on First ave and goes head on into a bus is fate. That Womens demise no matter what the circumstances was non preventable. Secondly, no you cant expect a bus driver to be at fault for being rear ended unless he break checked that person, which I am sure wasn’t the case. Public education could be a set of intense strobe light/lights on the back of a bus that would attempt to warn of a impending stop. I am not sure if Metro advertises public awareness on the rear of their buses or do they even care ?

    Are you insinuating that every “Non Preventable Accident” was caused by a bus being rear ended or the local Moose/Elk decided to cross the road ?

    1. Where did I say that there is no such thing as a preventable accident? I was responding to the accusation that there is NO such thing as a non preventable accident. I’m sure Metro has plenty of accidents that are totally preventable and the fact that they have so many that they themselves say are preventable says something about it’s honesty.

      I’ve heard that the number one non-preventable accident at Metro is vehicles passing the bus on the left and taking off the buses mirror when the bus is either stopped in traffic or stopped at a bus stop. How should Metro educate people to not pass too closely? Do you think the people doing that would even care about a sign on the back of the bus?

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