Budapest Rapid Streetcar (Nelson/Nygaard)

Seattle has a Transportation Benefit District (TBD) that allows it to levy a vehicle license fee of up to $100 per year. $20 has already been enacted but not spent. Some portion of the remaining $80 may go to the ballot this fall. The Seattle City Council controls both revenue and expenditure, minus the ballot approval.

The expert committee recommended going for the full $80 to help backlogs in street repairs and the three master plans: bicycle, pedestrian, and transit. The combined $100 would generate $34m a year; the committee recommended that $10.7m of that go to Transit Master Plan projects, and another $4m on other transit access efforts. Depending on how long the tax is levied, it could support bonds to help construct relatively capital-intensive BRT or Streetcar lines. Constructing all five high-capacity lines to the fullest extent would cost about $700m, clearly requiring private or federal contributions regardless of the taxing level.

The Council is all over the map on this, and PubliCola has an excellent rundown. Briefly, Jean Godden, who is in an interesting reelection race, wants to add $40 and emphasize road maintenance projects; Mike O’Brien wants the full $80 in accordance with the committee’s priorities; and Tom Rasmussen splits the difference at $60, maintaining the recommended proportions but leaving some authority in reserve. There are also splits on whether to do more rail engineering for the money, or not.

Mayor McGinn, who has no formal role in TBD legislation, has come out for the full $80 as a permanent funding source to enable serious progress on the high-capacity projects.

As promised, there is action you can take. Tomorrow, there is a public hearing on the license fee at City Hall, Wednesday, August 10th, at 5:30pm.

34 Replies to “Action Alert: Testify on the TBD”

  1. Sigh, lots of screaming over at the ‘cola about how unfair to the poor the car tab measure is, the amount going to pedestrian, bike and transit, and claiming BtG should have covered everything. Oh and let’s not forget the “war on cars” nonsense.

    A couple of things from a messaging standpoint:
    1. When talking about the “bikes & pedestrian” portion, don’t say any more about bikes than you have to. Talk about pedestrian improvements. Vast areas of the city still lack safe walking routes and even car drivers are sometimes pedestrians. Drag kids into it “safe routes to schools” is a winner.
    2. Discuss how funding transit helps the poor more than keeping their license fees low.
    3. Discuss how BtG money has been spent, particularly in terms of road maintenance and pedestrian projects outside the downtown core. Counter the argument that these funds have somehow been wasted.

    1. The misunderstandings out there on Bridging the Gap are really annoying. It was passed to “bridge the gap” in funding before the recession hit! The recession hit, so now there’s another gap! Not too hard to understand, but the media hasn’t done a good job explaining. Bridging the Gap also has a pretty high percentage just going to roadwork, so this is an opportunity to put more money towards other modes.

      1. The “understanding” though is tax increases never provide what’s promised. The nickel a gallon was another example (without a recession to blame). Instead of buying new ferries we got a couple of crate engines that can’t be used in any of the existing fleet.

      2. The nickel a gallon was another example (without a recession to blame).

        The recession isn’t to blame, at least not directly. However, lower Vehicle Miles Traveled which leads to lower gasoline consumption has ultimately yielded fewer nickels than the State originally forecasted.

        I hope the city uses a conservative car ownership forecast when putting this package together. Having a bunch of “if funds are available” projects be completed would be a welcome change.

        (Note to anyone who hasn’t looked at Sightline’s “Dude, where are my cars” series that I’ve linked to: It’s worth a look. Lots of interesting information on traffic volumes vs forecasts.)

  2. I want to see this pass, but $80 seems like a hard sell. Hasn’t there been any polling on what voters will vote for?

    1. Yeah, I could see $80 if the economy was more stable, or if both Metro emergency funding and the schools levy weren’t on the same ballot. I say go small (but transit/ped/bike heavy) or wait for an emptier ballot in a stronger economy.

      1. $60 or $40 loses us the vote. Without a streetcar, it simply won’t win. WITH a streetcar, it definitely wins. Metro might not even go to the ballot.

    2. CTAC3 did some polling and I believe they found that this has a decent chance of passing. They definitely found way more support for a car tab fee than for sales tax or tolls or property tax (which are the other authorized TBD funding sources). That said, 60% would definitely be an easier sell.

      1. Correct me if I’m wrong, Zef, cause I haven’t gone back to check, but I don’t think the CTAC3 poll specifically asked about $80, did it?

      2. Jason, TCC’s poll specifically asked about $80, and found that it looked good to go as long as the transit percentage was fairly large. Jean’s $40 roads-only actually polls pretty poorly, which is why I think it’s DOA.

        BTW, Chris’ advice is solid. Play up the pedestrians! Larger mode share than bikes, and way less controversial :)

      3. Thanks, John. Couldn’t remember. Still, I don’t think the poll referenced the metro and ed packages on the same ballot, and it was obviously conducted before the words “double-dip recession” graced the top fold of all our papers. I’d like to see how a Gooden-sized package with a more multi-modal focus polls.

  3. The combined $100 would generate $34m a year

    So $20 tabs to bail out Metro was going to raise $25 million a year. That means Seattle would be contributing only $6.8 million of that yet retain the most service. Where’s the Seattle subsidizes the suburban service chorus?

  4. Martin–another major area of debate at the council is how long the package should run–8 or 12 years. The longer period allows bonding.

    Bernie–it is not as simple as that. You ignore farebox recovery and other factors to come up with this same old tired talking point.

    1. OK, let’s look at farebox recovery (2009, last Route Performance Report posted on the Metro website). Combined South and East subareas have balance owed of $143,579,306 after subtracting fare revenue from operational expense. West subarea has a balance due of $162,702,962.

      1. Oh, and to be fair, the West subarea does include Shoreline which isn’t on the hook for $120 car tabs (guess how many people are going to register their vehicle outside of Seattle). So that would bump West subarea total for the $20 CRC to about $7.5 million. Still a lonnng way short of their ratio of the bar tab. It shouldn’t be a surprise the suburban council members aren’t willing to fall on their sword for the CRC.

      2. Yeah, ’cause transit in the city doesn’t benefit the people in the suburbs at all.

        I’ll gladly pay the $20 on each of my three suburban-registered vehicles if it means keeping the routes that I rely on every day while working in the city.

      3. I’m sure you would. Transit is way cheaper than parking DT. But most people living on the eastside don’t commute DT anymore. And in fact most people commuting into Bellevue are coming from the north and the south. I’m guessing South subarea is still largely dependent on transit to DT Seattle since there’s no real jobs center like DT Bellevue or Microsoft. DT Seattle has the best case for transit; no doubt about it. Unfortunately what’s happened over the years with 20/40/40 is the tax base has been hit with a dollar charge for every 20 cents needed. I think if you make the necessary roll backs and explain to suburban voters that the sales tax can be rolled back a penny we’ll all be on board. The eastside needs smarter transit and King County needs lower taxes.

      4. Owed to who or from what???
        Your point went over the top of my head, but that’s not uncommon.
        The route performance report has nothing to do with tax revenues, unless you assume farebox percent is the balance sheet.

      5. I took the total revenue as reported and the platform hours (not service hours which is fair and favors Seattle). You can derive the cost per platform hour at $125/hr as widely reported elsewhere. You just multiple out the cost (platform hours X cost/hr) and subtract farebox revenue collected. That’s the balance due. This assumes an average system wide cost which I think again favors Seattle since stop and go driving is less fuel efficient and harder on equipment. Lots of other marginal things like Van Pools but I think they’re mostly just noise in the big picture. The other big ticket item is sales tax revenue. I don’t know how much each subarea contributes. I think it can be derived from ST data but I don’t know where to find it.

  5. How frequently is the VLF repaid? I assume that the fee is due each time you renew your license tabs, but how frequently is that? Every 2 years?

      1. This would be such an easier sell if it was monthly. Then it would be like a magazine subscription, but it’s your subscription to the right to operate a car in the city.

  6. What’s the difference between Rapid Streetcar such as the one pictured and Portland Style LR?

    1. The one in the picture is about 3 times longer! It is basically 3 streetcar vehicles attached. It’s the same idea as the articulated buses. The Transit Master Plan mentioned that the Ballard-Fremont-SLU rapid streetcar could benefit from being a double streetcar because there is enough demand to warrant the extra capacity. This would require longer platforms, of course, and it might be a headache to make it work with the existing platforms in SLU.

      1. Oops, I just realized you said “Portland Style LR,” not Portland streetcar. Portland MAX cars are about twice as long as the streetcars, and they run 2-car trains, so the capacity is roughly 4 times that of a streetcar. The interior layout is also different, and I expect light rail is able to go a lot faster for technical reasons. The long streetcar pictured looks like it would almost be equivalent to a MAX train, then.

      1. Of course. So did Seattle. Going north from CPS, Kaiser Engineers mapped out a very reasonable solution using a portion of the reversible lane ROW to the RTP(Regional Transit Project).
        REJECTED by Norm Rice as not serving Cap Hill, which could have had a streetcar circulator from CPS up to Broadway and back to IDS stations. Instead, we’ve dithered away billions and 20 years to put in one station on Cap Hill and another at Huskey Stadium.
        It truly is all about choices made. We also had similar choices for South and East sub-areas, as well as Commuter Rail, but chose the path less traveled (but that’s a whole different topic).

      2. Mike, that was always a pipe dream. The reversible lanes can’t take more weight on the ship canal bridge. That’s been an issue with their noise reduction efforts, much less adding rail!

      3. In order to tip the balance so that the majority of people don’t drive, you have to have frequent rapid transit to the neighborhood centers. The reason a majority of New York, London, and Paris don’t drive is that they can walk to the subway and it comes every five minutes, and it’s not stuck in traffic or behind stoplights.

      4. Ben, there was also an option to place two sister columns, in place of the electrical towers, which served as both seismic upgrade for the original span and a platform to hold the light rail span, along with a bike lane for nearly level crossing from the Burke-Gilman to access Eastlake. The LRT would have returned to grade under the reversible lanes to land on Campus Pkwy.
        Anyway, it’s ancient history now, but was a choice to be pursued.

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