This afternoon, King County Executive Dow Constantine, backed by a majority of of the King County Council, formally proposed an ordinance which would ask King County voters for a 0.1% increase in sales tax, and a $60 annual vehicle license fee. The tax increase would be accompanied by a new non-cash low-income fare of $1.50 (for people with incomes up to 200% of the federal poverty level), and a 25 cent increase in the adult fare.

The $130 million total expected revenue is broken down 60/40 between Metro and County Roads, effectively giving Metro $80 million per year* — just over the $75 million per year the agency has previously stated it will need to avoid the “bloodbath” 17% cut scenario. The tax would last up to ten years, unless renewed by voters; the package is expected to go before voters at the April 22nd election.

* Although by my calculations, 60% of $130 million is $78 million, which is a small but significant difference.

143 Replies to “King County Moves Ahead with Plan B”

      1. Then perhaps the $130 million isn’t quite correct. :) I believe it’s higher than $78 million.

      1. That doesn’t confirm Bruce’s evaluation. They also say approximately $130 million.

      2. There’s no reason to assume I’m not. You can’t look at two numbers both marked “approximately” and assume one of them is accurate and the other not! :)

      3. Sales tax revenues are inherently estimates.

        $130 million is an approximation. $78-$80 million is an approximation. Unless you possess clairvoyance, you can “assume” no exactitude.

        You’re not clairvoyant, Ben.

        The only finite figure here is 60%.

  1. I was skeptical that the legislature would produce a transportation package this year, and this news has eliminated all doubt.

    1. We don’t want it to – we rescue the hostage, and it sets us up for a 2015 session where we get to make demands, because the legislature will have to deal with SR-99 and SR-520 overruns.

      1. I’m on board w/ this.

        Enough of Curtis King’s bigotry towards transit.

        Enough of vacant House Republican twitter answers about transit when they know and we know Republicans are anti-welfare and transit is an important part of employment opportunity.

        Enough of Democrats who won’t stand up and fight.

        I’m becoming a political independent. Thanks, Curtis King. You’re a Jim Harbaugh.

      2. Joe: +1 to everything you said–everything. It’s wonderful to watch the King County Council unify around this in a way that state legislators of all stripes have not. The state legislators of both parties have shot themselves in the foot. Of course, the Republicans ironically have done the most damage to their interests. No more hostage!!!

    2. King County would have had to do this even with a transportation package. Metro’s cuts will start in September 2014. The transportation package would go to a public vote. presumably in November 2014. If it passes, King County would have to hold a second election to claim the taxing authority in the package; that would presumably be in spring 2015. So there’s a gap between when the cuts start and when the state-authorized revenue would be in place. If we implement the first round of cuts and then reverse it six months or a year later, it would wreak havoc on passengers and driver scheduling, force Metro to waste even more time implementing temporary cuts, and confuse the public even more about what is happening and whether they can trust Metro.

      1. Because that is what all of the proposals have contained. The roads part is just “done” but the transit part is “additional authority subject to approval by the voters.”

  2. Plan B it is. We have to make sure this passes because if it doesn’t, Metro will witness the same death spiral that Pierce Transit has faced. Once cuts to service occur, public confidence in the system erodes and it becomes that much harder to get voters to approve more funding – even in the transit heavy urban cores. For those who wish the revenue source were more progressive, the target of your anger should be Eastside Senate Republicans, not the riders of King County Metro buses.

    1. Also save some anger for Senate Democrats, who had about four years to pass permanent relief for Metro and could not do so.

      1. Yeah, I think the failure to pass a transportation package can be blamed on both Democrats and Republicans who used “screw Seattle” to win elections.

      2. Well put.

        Spendocrats talk a good game but can’t fight the good fight.

        Republicans may be led by a bunch of potential applicants to Jim “D-Bag” Harbaugh coaching staff come Sunday night’s mass firing – probably right in the visitor’s locker room of CenturyLink Field, and need to get it together on transit.

      3. Please do correct me if I’m wrong but isn’t Mayor Ed Murray a recently lapsed Senate Democrat? I hope as mayor he does act on this issue and in a way supportive of transit and not fall back into the habits his long tenure as state senator might imply.

    2. This will be a nail biter, for sure. Transit must rely on the good will of auto owners/drivers for their next bump in the tax rates, but the vast majority of voters rarely ride transit. Two themes in a very short campagn could sway the vote in either direction.
      A. The ‘Transit Misery Index’ = Are you better off now than you were 5. 10 or 20 years ago with all the money that’s been poured into better transit in King County?
      B. How hard the County plays the ‘We’ll close 35 bridges if you don’t pass this thing’ message and will it pass the sniff test with voters.
      90 days to mount an effective campaign is awfully short.

      1. Self fact checking item A. In King County, 70% drive alone to work, 11% carpool, and only 9% use transit. Of the 45 M daily miles driven in King, only 1.6 M are in buses or trollies. (PSRC, NTD)

      2. Since ’95 transit in King Co carried ~90 M annual riders and collected $1/3 Bil in state/local taxes.
        With the new tax in ’15, MT and ST will carry ~150 M annual riders and tax $1.25 Bil locally.
        That’s a 60% gain in riders, for a 400% increase in taxes.
        A Tough Sell, by anyone!

      3. Gee, you’d almost think Sound Transit had been spending most of its money on things that haven’t opened yet!

      4. It’s not a tough sell. It’s the most congested trips that would be worse without transit.

      5. To be fair, population increase accounts for about half of the ridership increase, and the 400% increase in local taxation is only 250% adjusted for inflation.
        You may be right Ben, but convincing the choir that much higher taxes is worth it is an easy sell. It may not resonate as you predict in the burbs.
        At least we’ll know the answer in 3 months.

      6. Sure, but the campaigning started last year. Metro went hands wide open to the state and got bupkis. The Metro campaigned on cutting routes for its 450,000 riders. The supermajority of riders aren’t daft enough to not come out and vote in overwhelming numbers while the real turnout for the election is likely to be very low. That bodes well. And, anecdotally, even conservative and Republicans friends of mine who live in the city that I’ve talked to and take the bus seem to support a Plan B-like option. I think that speaks volumes of the situation. The Council, local electeds, and voter education organisations need to get on this. I actually think a short campaign window is good. It minimises the drama and organisation of conventional opposition.

      7. Martin misses the point. It’s non transit riders who will decide this election, not current riders.
        As for things not opened yet, sure, 3 more stations will open in the next 10 years – hardly something to campaign on as a success story.

      8. 3 more stations will open in the next 2 years. In the next 10 years there will be roughly a dozen more.

      9. I agree that non-transit riders will decide the election. I make no predictions of how the vote will go; a lot will depend on how effective are the misleading anti-transit messages you like to spew here.

      10. Even conservative anti-tax voters can grasp the logic of supporting peak hour ridership. The mitigation routes from West Seattle that are due to be cut are a perfect example. Each bus of 50-80 people I haul across the bridge keeps that line of cars waiting to get onto NB 99 much shorter.

      11. Drivers are not a monolithic block of transit haters. Many of them have relatives/friends/coworkers who use transit, or understand that transit is keeping cars off the road [1], or believe it’s an essential feature in any large metropolis, or that it’s necessary for equity. Then there are drivers who would use transit if it were more frequent, faster, and went where they’re going — they see themselves as future beneficiaries. They’re often impatient to get things moving, and they especially don’t want a step backwards like the cuts would be. Think of all the drivers in Ballard and Wallingford, for instance, who are screaming for better transit and are eager to pay for it, and especially don’t want it to get worse.

        So drivers have a plurality of views on transit and Metro. And they’re generally more pro-transit in the cities and inner suburbs, while those in the exurbs are more transit-tax-hostile. King County has a lot of urban and inner-burb dwllers, as compared to Snohomish and Pierce Counties whose largest cities are suburban surrounded by exurbs.

        [1] “Transit reduces congestion” is a complicated issue. It makes an impact but less than 1:1. When some drivers switch to transit, other drivers see the empty space and generate new trips. Likewise, if buses decrease, not all riders will switch to driving on the same arterial. But some will, and there are also other impacts not measured by traffic congestion. Namely, difficulty in getting to work, having to spend more of your paycheck on gas/insurance/car repairs, and dimished mobility generally.

      12. As for things not opened yet, sure, 3 more stations will open in the next 10 years – hardly something to campaign on as a success story.

        Are you predicting Northgate Link will be three full years behind schedule? If so, is that based on actual information or generalized non-specific pessimism?

    1. On what basis are you making this prediction? Based on the success of the ST1, ST2, and Transit Now packages, I think it will succeed.

      (And there are positions which would yield having a low-income fare on principled reasons, even if you disagree with them.)

      1. The last polls that showed the previous $20 increase would lose at the polls forcing the council to simply impose it, ignoring the electorate. It’s going down. I’ll bet a testicle.

        Oh, and if McGinn’s $60 car tabs failed in SEATTLE, there’s not way this fee will pass in King.

      2. But if he wins, he has four balls and won’t need a bus. Everyone knows you walk with four balls.

  3. Good luck at the polls with $60 if the $20 faired this poorly:

    “King County residents oppose a proposed $20 car tab fee to help maintain Metro bus service, according to a new poll.

    June 27, 2011

    This year, the state Legislature granted King County authority to set a temporary $20 vehicle licensing surcharge that would bring in $25 million annually for two years to shore up Metro Transit’s budget, which hurt by the slow economy.

    But a SurveyUSA/KING5 poll found that 50 percent of county residents are against the fee. Forty-three percent supported it, while 7 percent were unsure.”

    1. A significant chunk of this car tab proposal would go to street maintenance and bridge repair.

      1. Sorry, all voters will hear is ‘car tabs’ and “$60”. It’s going down.

      2. “all voters will hear is ‘car tabs’ and “$60″”

        … and then, if supporters do their job correctly, they’ll read of all the money sprinkled around in their district for transit or road projects that are desperately needed. Voters around here are willing to tax and spend to great lengths, provided they understand what they’re getting. This package offers a lot and spreads the “pain” around so that it seems fair.

    2. “Why don’t you use your real name so I can bet you a beer that it passes”

      Because I’d rather [ot] than have a beer with a [ad hom].

  4. Hooray for “a non-cash low-income fare”!

    Hooray for the imminent death of paper transfers, and for an end to the death cycle of transfer scofflaws + inefficient operations ⇨ perpetual fare hikes for the honest!

    1. I was hoping someone would finally pick up on the operationally most-interesting part of this announcement.

    2. I’m very happy to see that the low-income fare will be ORCA-only.

      However, I don’t see anything that says that paper transfers will be eliminated, nor do I see anything that says whether low-income folks will be able to get an ORCA card without paying $5. Does anyone have a source with more information about either of those issues?

      1. While I’d be perfectly thrilled to see ORCAs made free for all discount-eligible persons and $1 for everyone else, the fact remains that this move obliterates the sole “social justice” defense of paper transfers.

        – “Some people can’t afford to purchase and store money on an ORCA.”
        – “Well, we just saved those people $1 or more on every ride, in perpetuity. Now they can!”

        Sure, the fatally change-averse will continue to throw fits. But their concerns have far less traction.

        – “But I only use the bus occasionally, and I don’t feel like getting an ORCA.”
        – “That’s nice. Enjoy your double-priced ride. If you want a free tranfer, here’s how to get an ORCA.”

        Unless Metro wishes to retain the title of Most Self-Kneecapping Transit System In The Universe in perpetuity, this move will eventually lead to the withdrawal of paper transfers.

      2. The Transit Riders Union worked hard to get Metro to consider the Low-Income Fare and their proposals included waiving the $5 fee for the card, but I don’t know if that’s included in what the county has announced.

      3. I think it’s smart not to remove the paper transfer as part of this. It’s one more argument against, for those people that love their paper transfers. They can administratively remove paper transfers any time they want, and I’d bet they will soon after all of the low income passengers are on ORCA.

      4. It’s a step toward eliminating paper transfers, and I think Metro sees it that way. I’m sure the low-income fare will have some kind of discount on the $5 fee, because that’s an obvious first consideration and the program can buy the cards in bulk. But even if they have to pay the full $5 I’m sure people will be lining up for it because they’ll be saving $0.95 per trip ($1.00 peak, $1.50 two-zone — and even more after the next fare increase coming soon, probably at the same time). The reason people haven’t been eager to get regular ORCA cards is there’s no financial benefit if you only use Metro (as most poor people do). Now there will be a financial benefit.

        The problem with paper transfers is not their existence but their use — or specifically, paying cash when you get the transfer. The 80/20 rule says that if you solve 80% of the problem, you’re substantially better off, especially if it costs substantially more to solve the other 20%. So if cash payments are substantially reduced, that will substantially improve the situation even if they’re not eliminated entirely. Only frequent riders and a few others will be getting these low-income cards. Occasional riders and visitors will still be interested in paper transfers.

        Also, there’s the discrepency between ORCA’s 2-hour transfer window and Metro’s 2-to-4-hour-or-overnight window. If you pay by e-purse you can get a paper transfer to take advantage of that longer window, especially after 9:30pm when it extends to the first run the next morning. So eliminating paper transfers would be the same as closing that window, and that would require a separate Metro decision. Opponents will say 2 hours is too short given King County’s size and Metro’s infrequency. In any case, it only takes a couple seconds to get a transfer or show it, so it would be almost as fast as pure ORCA-only. The time-consuming part is paying cash.

        Then there’s the issue of transfer fraud, where people save old transfers until the same color-letter day comes up again. This will probably go down even if paper transfers continue, because paying $1.50 is easier than paying $2.50, so saving or buying transfers will seem less worth the hassle.

      5. +1 to Mike’s comment

        The $5 fee for a Low Income ORCA pass is entirely reasonable, given the savings involved. That said, it likely won’t cover the costs of issuing ORCA cards due to income verification. Mrs VeloBusDriver has worked for various low income housing providers for years gave me the following explanation about the costs involved in doing income verification:

        Verifying income isn’t as simple as clicking the mouse, unless you’re a HUD program. If someone is working, that income would have to be verified directly with the employer, which can be time consuming. It is possible that Metro would be able to at least get basic info about whether someone was employed or not through the federal new hires database, but I’m not sure if they would be able to access that or not.

        Other than that, applicants could sign a release so that Metro could verify any public benefits through DSHS’s website. DSHS would have to grant access to Metro and employees would have to sign confidentiality agreements.

        For the most part, since Metro doesn’t have the kind of access we have through HUD, they’d have to rely on DSHS, New Hires (if possible), and applicant disclosure of sources of income. Social Security pops up on the DSHS report, but Veteran’s Benefits doesn’t nor does Unemployment (I think).

    3. If you want inefficient operations take a look at ORCA. have you ever seen how long it takes an operator to change a fare, and make a refund if the wrong fare was charged? Ever gotten off a sounder train (or link train downtown) and try to pass with the mob through one of the 3 yellow stand alone orca readers? If used properly, the idea of ORCA is great. The Implementation on the other hand leaves some to be desired. First off, more automated self-service kiosks need to be installed at transit facilities for the sale, and maintenance of the card. Having 7 day a week telephone support probably wouldn’t hurt either. Secondly, The fare structure needs to be evaluated in regards to type of service vs. zones. With this type of system, the operator should not have to provide any interaction for 99% of the transactions handled by it. and finally, where there are zones and tap-on tap off requirements (heavy rail, etc.) there needs to be enough equipment to handle the mobs getting off the trains, located in convenient locations rather than one or two machines oddly located.

      1. Your criticisms are all valid, especially the ones about avoiding operator involvement.

        The correct response to “can I pay for two people with my card?” should always be “no”.

        As someone who almost exclusively uses Metro in-city, though, my experience is that ORCA users still cost about 1/5 of the dwell time as cashpayers, in aggregate. The possibilities of a nearly cash-free system are tangible and tantalizingly close.

      2. Part of the reason that operator interaction is so problematic is how rarely we are asked for group fares or refunds. If we were in the fare screen all day long and people did group fares often, it would smooth things a bit. That said, the rarity shows how, generally, ORCA speeds things along. More of an issue are the “Owe $.25” prompts that freeze up the reader when somebody underpays their fare.

        The whole ORCA fare payment system needs some serious time in a mobile version of Microsoft’s usability labs. I’ve ranted about it in the past but given all of the contractual B.S. surrounding ERG/ORCA, I’ve given up hope that it will ever be fixed. Working around it isn’t horrible though and on the balance, ORCA dramatically speeds boarding, especially when coupled with Proof of Payment (Link/RapidRide).

  5. This is the best transit related news of the year so far. Now we need to start advocating for its passage…

      1. J. Reddoch, check your registration with King County. If it doesn’t arrive at least two weeks before, call the Elections department. They are VERY responsive. They’ll fax, e-mail, or send you a ballot within two business days of a request–usually less. I got mine in 24 hours last time.

  6. In terms of tax policy, this is a shit sandwich. These are regressive taxes that hit low-income working people the hardest. There is no point trying to pretend otherwise.

    But it’s still essential. We have to stop bailing in order to have any chance at improving the situation. This is not truly sustainable funding for Metro, but it should stave off a crisis for at least a few years.

    And, as a bonus, we get to tell Rodney Tom exactly what he can do with his spare time.

    Hold your nose and vote yes.

    1. Do they? I’m not in love with these revenue sources either, but I also believe in paying for a functioning modern society. More to the point, I’d be curious to see a breakdown of who actually pays the taxes. How much of that $130 million will come from the rich and how much comes from the poor? With a low income fare it could be that the overall package is progressive.

      1. +1

        I’m not sure that other than “because other people have said it” there’s any justification for claiming regressiveness.

      2. Is there really any doubt that both sales taxes in general and Washington’s sales tax in particular are regressive? That is just the latest of plenty of studies that happily tell us so.

        And, similarly, regressiveness is baked into a fixed vehicle license fee in an obvious way, particularly when the alternative, had the Legislature acted, would be a progressive MVET. (I realize there would be other disadvantages to having the Legislature act. This is only an argument about regressiveness.) I’m surprised you’d try to argue that a VLF isn’t regressive. Those it hits hardest as a proportion of income are lower-income car owners, and it does so without any regard to whether those car owners have transit options.

        The cause of getting this measure approved is not served by sticking our heads in the sand about its disadvantages. We need to acknowledge the disadvantages and prove that the advantages outweigh them. The low-income fare goes a long way toward making that case, exactly because it offsets the regressive nature of the taxes.

    2. It’s the Sawantanistas who will shoot this down, not tax conservatives. Your enemies are on the left, while you are looking to the right.

      1. “Sawantistas” will at least be conflicted, because they really like transit. The smarter ones will see that short of a magic overhaul of state tax policy there are few, if any, more progressive options to raise the needed revenue immediately.

        Anti-tax conservatives don’t like car tabs; they don’t like transit; and they’re not good at understanding the implications of less transit. They’ll feel no conflict at all in their opposition.

      2. They’d be the extreme minority. Most progressives or “Sawantanistas” recognise the sales tax is regressive. But cutting Metro is far more regressive. It’s a pretty easy decision. Cost-benefit, yo!

        Plus, low-income riders will be getting reduced fares, so for some folks, the regressiveness will be somewhat offset.

      3. Sawant’s hard-core supporters include the Transit Riders Union, who I can assure you will end up campaigning for this measure.

    3. Agreed, vote yes and save transit!

      Make sure transit is a priority so we can create – and keep – many more jobs in the private & nonprofit & public sectors!

      A no vote is like…

      *Running around downtown Seattle dressed up in a black 49ers sweatshirt, khakis plus a Motorola headset and expecting to survive more than 5 minutes on any day but Halloween
      *Offering to kiss Curtis King’s A**
      *Making out with a Gold Rush chick

      Not voting is for those high on dope…

  7. Could some of the 40% for county roads be used for things that benefit non-motorized users? For example, building sidewalks, bike lanes, or repaving roads full of potholes?

    1. All of it will be spent on the list of things you just listed. None of it is for new roads that I’m aware of.

  8. If this is a ten-year tax, and it just barely covers the cost of what’s missing for transit funding, isn’t King County Metro simply putting themselves in trouble a few years down the line as costs rise?

    Additionally, won’t the decrease in fares for low-income people reduce income and increase demand and would make finances worse in the long-run? I find it hard to believe that the $6.6 million to be raised by the 25-cent fare increase would be able to offset the costs of the low-income fare reduction.

    If this passes (which I suspect it won’t), then Metro is kicking the can down the road. I find it hard to believe that they are going to find a way to make a permanent fix to the transit budget once this crop of politicians champions this transit fix. The leaders 10 years from now are simply going to be stuck in the same conundrum as we are now.

    Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to see Metro cut service and I want to see lower fares for low-income people, but this proposal looks like it isn’t really solving the issue at hand, and is at best postponing it. That being said, Metro has little option at this point and the reduced transit fares seem like they are a way of trying to gain votes despite the tough swallow of the increased sales tax and car tab tax.

    1. Is it necessarily such a good thing that Metro maintain ‘current level of service?’ It seems that some of the alternatives suggested for the September cuts made good sense, such as the merging of the 66/73 and east/west local service only of the 71.

      1. The examples you site – the consolidation of the 66 and 73 and the east/west local service only of the 71 are not examples of good restructures that make sense.

        Let’s take them one at a time.

        Consolidating the 66 into the 71/72/73 corridor may look good on paper, but the net effect would be that anyone in the Roosevelt/Maple Leaf area who wants to get downtown outside of rush hour would now be faced with the painfully slow service of the 73 as it makes its detour to crawl 5 mph down the Ave.

        From Roosevelt and 65th to downtown, we’d be talking about a difference of at least 10-15 minutes each way, most of the day. Further north, it gets worse. As part of the 66/73 consolidation, bus service on 5th Ave. between 80th and Northgate is being eliminated, forcing people to walk to Roosevelt instead. Yes, Roosevelt and 5th Ave. are about 1/4 mile apart, and if the increased walk were rewarded by faster service, I would say great. But when your reward for increased walk is slower service, this is not a change for the better. If should also be noted that the walk between 5th Ave. and Roosevelt is not flat (about a 70 foot elevation difference). Around 100th St., the walk becomes steeper and, at the same time, the sidewalks disappear. Finally, for those that need to travel from the U-district to Northgate TC itself, the new 73 will serve the TC, but the routing through Northgate will be more circuitous than the 66 – to go south from Northgate to the U-district, it will first go north along 5th Ave., then east to Roosevelt, then finally turn south. Given the unpredictability of Northgate Mall traffic, the new 73 is going to experience severe bunching, as soon as it leaves the mall, long before it even gets to the U-district. Compare to the current 66, which heads south right out of the TC, which is already on the south side of the mall, effectively avoiding almost all of the mall traffic.

        To some extent, people headed downtown from Roosevelt or Maple Leaf could avoid these problems by driving to Northgate P&R and catching the 41. However, driving in the opposite direction of where you want to go just to get to a P&R is never going to be very popular, especially if the bus has to take surface streets and drive right past where you started to avoid stop-and-go traffic on I-5.

        The 66 is by no means a great route, but for everybody north of the U-district, it is certainly better than the 71/72/73, even with reduced frequency.

        Now, let’s talk about the other restructuring you mentioned – the 71. The 17% cut proposal truncates the 71 at Roosevelt by taking 65th St. to I-5 and turning around at Green Lake P&R, all at a reduced frequency of just once an hour. In this style of service looks familiar to you, we already have a very similar route in Ballard that has been lambasted by people on this blog numerous times – behold the 61!

        If the 71 gets restructured as Metro wants to, I see no reason to expect the new 71 to get any better ridership than the current 61 – it only connects a bedroom community with the nearest business district, then forces a transfer to a frequent-but-slow-and-unreliable bus to get anywhere else. People headed to the U-district, or even downtown, will likely find the connection better with routes like the 65 or 372, that will at least be half-hourly instead of hourly, although truth be told, current 71 riders headed downtown who can possibly afford it probably abandon the bus in droves if this proposal goes into effect and switch to driving.

        While the proposal definitely makes things worse, relative to the current situation, the corridor is ripe for restructuring, and there are some things Metro could do to make things better. In particular, the proposal that I would like to see would redirect the resources of the 66 and 71 not into the 73 and a truncated 71 shuttle route, but into all-day, bi-directional service on the 76. What I like about it, is that turning the 76 into a core route solves several problems at once:

        – Significantly improved travel times to downtown from Roosevelt and virtually all of Northeast Seattle
        – Coverage of the 71’s current tail would be achieved via the tail end of a useful route, rather than a dedicated shuttle with near-zero ridership.
        – From Roosevelt to downtown, the time savings of the 76 over the 73 is so vast that, even at 30 minute headways, people already on the 73 north of Roosevelt would likely get downtown faster by transferring to the 76 than by staying on the bus
        – Builds up the market for all-day travel between downtown and Roosevelt without waiting for NorthLink to open in 2021
        – The stop at Green Lake P&R would also attract riders from west of I-5, many of which have no downtown options today besides a 50-minute ride on the 16/26 or a 15-20 minute walk to the not-that-much-faster 66. There is actually some fairly sense housing with a half-mile walkshed of the 65th St. P&R and non-stop service from Green Lake P&R to downtown is exactly the type of service that would induce people to walk the half-mile to reach it. Also included in the driveshed of the P&R would be parts of Wallingford and Phinney Ridge.

      2. It’s maintaining the current number of service hours. Metro is getting better about not promising to keep existing routes as-is. At one community meeting at UW I went to, somebody asked Kevin Desmond, “Will you pledge right now that no existing route will be reorganized if this relief passes?” Desmond refused to affirm that and said, “Metro will stick to its performance metrics”.

        So passing the relief will probably make reorganizations slower and smaller than the cut scenario, but the point is that any lost hours will be reinvested in other routes rather than disappearing completely.

      3. Is it necessarily such a good thing that Metro maintain ‘current level of service?’

        Absolutely not! They should increase service. But relative to a substantial reduction in service, it is a very good thing indeed.

    2. In ten years the rest of central and east link (which have their own funding source) will be in place and Metro will need to restructure routes anyway.

      Right now we need Metro to act as the stop gap to fill the needs that link will address as well as the needs it will continue to serve after link goes in.

      Given that context, ten years from now seems like it would be an ideal time to re-examine these taxes should the voters approve them this time.

    3. I’m not sure the VLF is ten year, and I believe the VLF will be funding Metro more, while the sales tax will fund roads more.

    4. Ten years is a reasonable compromise between those who want it permanent and those who don’t want it at all, and it’s similar to other levies. By 2024 maybe the Legislature will have a better long-term solution, ST2 Link will be open so we won’t be as dependent on Metro, and the public will probably realize that anemic transit is not a viable future.

  9. Sö Seattle liberals are going to vote for a regressive car tab tax to fund jovial riding the bus …

    1. Whether it’s regressive or progressive depends on how you look at it. On the one hand, it can be viewed as progressive because the value of the car has no effect on the amount of tax you owe. On the other can, the amount of tax you owe does depend on the number of cars you own and, with cars being expensive, people with more money tend to own more of them. Hence, from this perspective, the tax starts to look somewhat progressive.

      A lot of the “regressive tax” argument stems from the presumption that every person has to own a car and, unless you’re dirt poor, there is no avoiding it. An argument that ironically gets strengthened if big Metro cuts are forced to happen.

      1. +1

        Nobody’s actually gone and looked and said using a car tab this way is regressive. It’s an unsubstantiated claim.

    2. No, I’m going to vote for a “regressive car tab tax” to fund _ME_ riding the bus and going where I want and need to go. And I own a car, so no fair griping that I’m not paying my fair share.

  10. Time to start posting campaign materials on bus windows!! “Vote ‘Yes’ on Proposition 1 to Save King County Metro and Your Bus Route”

  11. If you can’t afford the extra $5 a month on your tabs I’ll take you to Costco and buy you some Top Ramen! Tight wads…

    1. Consider that for car drivers, their tabs will go up $5 a month, but for riders, their monthly pass cost will go up $9 a month.

      1. I would assume that, pass or fail, fares are going up anyway. When you’re cutting service by 17%, you have to do something to reduce demand so what’s left doesn’t get overcrowded.

  12. Not regressive? Right. Tax my scooter at the same level as the BMW drivers. You bet I’ll be working against this.

    1. I don’t understand people that vote only for their own self interests. You understand you’re the exception, right? If you want a mechanism to tax BMW drivers more you’ll have to fight for that separately.

      I’ll happily pay an extra $5 a month for my scooter, knowing I’m helping to save our bus system. I’d love a scaled tax on vehicles, or much more I’d love an income tax. But I’m not willing to let my society collapse while I hold my breath insisting on a pony.

      1. How am I an exception? The proposed tax is an ugly tax that doesn’t take into account any value. The people with the new expensive cars can afford it and don’t care. Those who have cheap or older cars pay the same amount. That is a lot of people. What you seem to be arguing is that the ends justify the means since if we don’t pass this tax “society will collapse.”

      2. If we don’t pass this tax, your scooter is going to spend a lot more time stuck in traffic. How much is your time worth to you?

        Just remember that something like 40% of commuters to downtown, and 25% of within-city commuters, are using those buses that would be cut if the tax fails — buses that are already largely at capacity at commute time. When the buses are cut, how many of them are going to be in cars, getting in your way?

        It’s an ugly tax. The alternative is uglier.

      3. Having a vehicle tax at all is less regressive than something like a sales tax. Those that can’t afford vehicles have a double benefit – they don’t pay this tax and they likely ride the bus. That piece is progressive. On the far other extreme, the BMW driver pays this tax but probably doesn’t ever ride the bus. Again, progressive. It’s only people in the low-income area that have vehicles for whom this is regressive, and even for them they may benefit more than most as those with lower incomes ride the bus at a higher rate. So the only group for which this is truly regressive is those that are low-income and don’t ride the bus. And that’s unfortunate. But almost every one of our taxing options are regressive.

        A vehicle price scaled tax would be nice, but my understanding is that the state controls this and they won’t give it to us without building more roads (someone correct me if I’m wrong).

        With regard to society collapsing, what I’m talking about are our tax options. Without an income tax almost every one of our tax options are regressive. We could vote down all of these regressive taxes, but only if we don’t want roads or buses or schools or police or fire departments. The right thing to do is have an income tax, but good luck with that.

      4. Quite frankly, Scooter, your complain doesn’t pass the striaght-face test. So a BMW gets charged via an MVET at a totally different level as a Honda Civic? But a car tab is totally unfair? They both use the same road. There’s a whole host of ways to tax cars…gas tax, toll, MVET, tonnage, carbon/emissions, base car tab fee, congestion charge, etc… Each one has a different purpose. A car tab isn’t unfair. It’s merely one tool in the toolkit of vehicle use taxes to govern the *privilege* of right-of-way usage.

      5. How am I an exception?

        Most people don’t have scooters?

        Seriously, if I were writing the rules I’d give you a big discount or exempt you. But you’re making the perfect the enemy of the good here.

    2. I use a scooter as my main form of transportation (other than the bus). I think it’s ridiculous that I pay the same parking fees and registration fees as an SUV. But I’m still voting for this change, because the alternative is losing bus service, and that would be much worse.

    3. Scooter: when the Legislature gives us an alternative tax that’s less regressive, we can switch to it. That’s what King County was asking for in the first place. But in the meantime we have no other choice. Forget about whether those with expensive cars pay less proportionately than you do: the only way it will impact you is the direct cost to your pocketbook. The ferries charge rich and poor people the same, as does McDonald’s, so it’s not like this is the only flat charge in the world.

  13. At what point does a bus break even financially?

    What I mean by this is on a single trip, how many riders (or riders/mile, or whatever metric) does a single bus need to have to cover the operating costs for that trip? I think we can exclude the depreciation of the the bus and facilities and just focus on the cash being spent to run the bus (employee costs, maintenance costs, electricity, gas, etc.) vs. the cash earned running the bus (fares).

    Is there any buses (i.e. the #49 during peak) that reach this break even point?

    1. Fare recovery ratio is very complicated question to calculate, even if you do exclude capital cost. You have to account for these variables:

      1) The actual cost of the trip: time, fuel, and how much operational overhead (e.g., deadheading and layover) to allocate
      2) How many people are paying with cash fare, unsubsidized passes, or subsidized passes
      3) The average fare actually being paid (e.g., youth vs. senior vs. adult)
      4) How many transfers are being used, and how to apportion the fare recovery for transfer trips

      That said, Metro has tried in the past to do that math. There are two categories of routes that tend to break even or make a profit according to the formula they’ve used:

      1) Relatively short, very-high-volume peak two-zone expresses (e.g., 212, 301)
      2) Very short, very-high-volume in-city routes (e.g., 1, 2, 3S (TB), 12 (TB))

      Most routes apparently don’t come all that close. 30% is a pretty respectable fare recovery ratio.

      The question is moot, in any case. The job of transit is not to make a profit. The job of transit is to provide an essential piece of urban infrastructure, so that the city’s growth is not limited by roadway and parking capacity. We don’t expect any of our other infrastructure to make a profit either; the most we ever ask is that it recover some of its capital costs.

      1. I completely agree that the job of transit is not to make a profit. However, if you assume that the goal is to maximize ridership and minimize (or at least evenly distribute) suffering, then I do think there are opportunities to raise more revenue, and to use that revenue to run even more service.

        As an extreme example, many metro systems in East and Southeast Asia are completely self-funding. It’s no coincidence that these systems also offer the highest level of service of anywhere in the world. I believe the Lexington Ave line in NYC is also self-funding.

        More practically, peak expresses are far more expensive to run on a per-trip basis than frequent all-day routes, and the riders of those services also have a greater ability to pay. If those routes were significantly more expensive, then Metro would have a lot more money to spend on its network, and it’s likely that ridership on those routes would not suffer very much.

        I also read an interesting OTREC article on distance-based fares. The article was about a study being conducted by Steven Farber on behalf of the Utah Transit Authority, which is considering a move to distance-based fares. His research suggests that flat fares are generally regressive, because low-income riders generally make shorter trips. So a switch to distance-based fares can generally be expected to improve equity, by “providing lower fares for the folks who need it most”. I think it would be great to institute a fare system that simultaneously raised more money and improved equity, and with smart cards, this is a lot more feasible than it used to be.

      2. The biggest reason for the budget shortfall is that transit must have the resources to provide peak service, which lies idle most of the day. If there are opportunities to increase off peak ridership that will help close the gap with little incremental costs. For example, if they increased frequency between the U District and Ballard on weekends (basically express service for weekend night life), could the increase in fares more than offset the increase in operating costs. If so, then such an increase, not only provides better service, but also reduces the reliance on subsidies.

      3. Plus, even going through that process, the bigger issue is actual cost-benefit of the overall system service, which the benefits would certainly be way above and beyond the actual cost of service. Thus, this is why we we subsidise it like any other transportation infrastructure.

      4. The factors that make any transit line financially self-sustaining go beyond the line itself, or even the transit system.

        – Considering routes like the 301, for example, fewer people would use the 301 during the AM peak if they couldn’t get back to Shoreline using the transit system midday or post-PM peak. The 301 only gets away with having such limited hours because the 358 runs frequently all day. Similar examples abound.

        – Historically, many cities have or have had profitable transit systems. What does this take? Transit has to be time-competitive and cost-effective compared to other contemporary options; this is harder today than it was before 1914! But also the city has to be comprehensively walkable (this used to be ubiquitous as there was no other option, but it’s rare today), and it’s hard to do without cheap labor (compared to today’s standards in the west — I’d guess that’s a big part of the difference between profitable Asian systems and, say, London, but that’s mostly a guess).

      5. Part of the blame for service that is heavily concentrated at peak hours lies in federal funding formulas. The feds have consistently shown a much greater willingness to subsidize the purchase of buses than the cost of operating them. A peak-heavy service has a greater proportion of its total costs as capitol costs and, therefore, is better able to take advantage of federal funding.

    2. I ran some numbers through my database. There are no bus routes that are particularly close to financially self-sustaining through fares, although there might be some that are profitable thanks to city or employer subsidy. As for individual buses or times of day, I have no data.

      In terms of break-even point, for a one-zone route it’s $135/$1.09 = 124 boardings per platform hour. So you have to count all the deadheading when you’re counting time.

  14. Does anyone know how late the 512 bus to Everett leaves King Street on the weekends? The Website says midnight, but in my experience there is a disconnect between the site and the actual route times. Does anything run later?

    1. The website says 12:08 on Saturday and 11:38 on Sunday. Is it your contention that these advertised runs do not, in fact, actually exist? That seems highly unlikely. I could believe a few minutes early, or even an occasional no-show, but a listed run that never actually occurs is a kind of malicious incompetence well beyond Sound Transit’s level.

  15. Mixed feelings. So many of the proposed route changes are for the better, and the resulting system was much more efficient. There’s a side of me that wants the new routes to take effect and _then_ have funding restored, to reduce headways in the new system. Seems more sustainable in the long term.

    1. Passage of this measure doesn’t mean the good changes won’t happen. Given that it isn’t enough money to actually *expand* service, some of the good changes will have to happen in order to invest in corridors where the Service Guidelines say there should be more investment.

  16. “Quite frankly, Scooter, your complain doesn’t pass the striaght-face test. So a BMW gets charged via an MVET at a totally different level as a Honda Civic? But a car tab is totally unfair? They both use the same road. There’s a whole host of ways to tax cars…gas tax, toll, MVET, tonnage, carbon/emissions, base car tab fee, congestion charge, etc… Each one has a different purpose. A car tab isn’t unfair. It’s merely one tool in the toolkit of vehicle use taxes to govern the *privilege* of right-of-way usage.”

    Ok, let’s add bicycles to the right away charge and charge them a $60 registration fee too. They have been getting away with free loading on the roads to long. The money that brings in will help busses a lot.

    Look, reading the comments I see people arguing that this is a “progressive” and fair tax. If you really believe that go ahead and use that as your campaign slogan. Other people argue we should put aside our self interests and do it for the good of everyone (though it is funny to see all the self interest by the bus riders in the comments.). The most sensible comments I see are from those admitting its a bad tax but it is what we have available so we need to use it.

    I think this is a bad and unfair tax. The state already has an unfair enough tax system and proposing to expand bad taxes is not fair. The ends don’t justify the means. Politically, it is also a bad proposal as it will take the pressure of Olympia to do the right thing. By putting this “plan B” in place I think the bus cuts are assured. The legislature will not act on plan A because plan B will be coming up for a vote and take care of the problem. Since the legislative session will be over the only option will be the cuts when this goes downs in flame

    As a reader of this blog who had a bus pass and uses it I am voting no on this terrible unfair proposal. As a supporter of transit I think it is a terrible idea politically to propose funding transite with what has probably been the most unpopular tax that exists.

    Looking to the election when you lose support here on The Seattle Transite blog which is probably read by only a few people who are committed to transit what chance do you have going to the general public?

    1. This is an imperfect tax, but it’s what’s available. A VLF is less targeted than certain kinds of taxes we don’t even have a framework for imposing, and more targeted than sales taxes.

      We very well could institute bike licensing fees, but there isn’t a framework for doing so; starting and administering one would almost certainly cost more money than it would bring in. If the package included that with a credible plan to make it pencil out, as a cyclist that currently has three bikes, I’d vote for it.

    2. Cycling and walking aren’t a privilege. Motorised access to the right-of-way is not a right.

      1. I oppose it for mostly the same reasons as “Scooter rider” and I use Metro for 90% of my travel in the region. There is no way I can see this passing in the upcoming election. We were fucked when we didn’t get the MVET authorization we needed a year ago.

    3. I see people arguing that this is a “progressive” and fair tax.

      Who is arguing that? Please be specific.

  17. I don’t own a car and use transit almost every day. However, the large majority of the transit trips I take are on ST express buses, and a lot of my in-town trips are done by walking or biking, so the direct impact of 17% Metro cuts on me would actually be not that much. Essentially, my personal impact would mostly be an extra $10-20 a month on Car2Go/Lyft/Uber, a sum which I can easily afford.

    That being said, I am also aware that lots of people aren’t as fortunate as I am. Even though I could personally say to hell with Metro as long as ST 545 is unaffected, people who work in Seattle and live reasonably close to work don’t have that luxury. There are also plenty of people out there with less income than me who can’t just whip out their phone and summon a ride on Uber when they’re out with friends and find the last bus has left for the night.

    Even many people who personally own cars and drive them for most trips will face a greater burden driving others around if these cuts to Metro go into effect. For many parents, the level of bus service is often the difference between a teenage child going home on the bus him/herself and picking up the phone and saying “Mom, come and get me”.

    Yes, a per-vehicle tax is not as ideal as a tax that increases with the vehicle’s value, but it’s the tax that the state allows us to use, and that’s what we have to work with. And, while not perfect, it most certainly is progressive – people with lower incomes are less likely to own cars, and people with higher incomes are more likely to own multiple cars. And, even if we were talking about a tax in which every citizen paid exactly the same amount of money (which it isn’t), it still wouldn’t be nearly as regressive as cutting Metro, which lots of people depend on, who can ill afford the cost of driving to work every day because their bus is cut. It is stupid to argue that this should be voted down because the tax source isn’t perfect – in real life politics, you can’t just stubbornly insist on getting everything you want, and force real people to suffer until you get your way. Sometimes, you just have to accept something that is good enough. The Tea Party people tried to hold out for everything they wanted with the government shutdown and “fiscal cliff”, and it turned out horribly for them. Let’s not make the same mistake that they did from the left.

    Furthermore, it does not make sense to vote “no” under the grounds that this is simply a 10-year stopgap that simply kicks the can further down the road. In 10 years, we will have several new stations open, allowing Link to absorb lots of trips that currently gobble up a large number of Metro’s service hours (see routes 41, 71, 72, 73, and more). In 10 years, we will be able to maintain today’s level of service with far fewer service hours than today. Worst case, even if the tax is allowed to expire in 10 years, with no funding options to replace it, the impact of the cuts will be far less then, with many new Link stations online, than they are would be today. By contrast, the time that funds are most urgently needed to keep buses on the road is now, as we have to continue to serve the busiest corridors with buses as stopgap until the new Link extensions finally open.

    So, even though the impact of the cuts to me, personally, would be relatively small, I am still absolutely voting for this. To avoid my vote from being “tainted” by the fact that I won’t have to pay the $60 car tabs, I plan on donating the $60 car tab I won’t have to pay to charity. I encourage others who feel uneasy about voting for this because they, too, won’t have to pay the $60 car tabs, to do the same.

  18. This is D.O.A. It’s too heavy a lift at a poor time. Plus, most people are unaware of – and unaffected by – the roads piece, as it applies to unincorporated areas. But for the rural areas in particular, it’s a dire situation, where roads will turn to gravel and bridges closed, both costing much more if the funds ever become available to restore them (vs. bringing their maintenance up to par). As for transit, yes, it’s subsidized, but a large swath of the riders are low income, i.e. your food service workers downtown. Raise their fares, and soon it could be “bus” your own plates. A balanced package would have something beyond the 25¢ that was already planned, e.g., express bus fares could rise by $1.00, as those routes are geared towards “choice” riders. Raise their fares too much, however, and they’re on the freeways and in competition for parking spots. Another would be commit to raising the number of rides/month a monthly pass is priced on (from the present 36). Transit agencies are reluctant to raise this number for fear of losing businesses, who pay for part/all of many passes. Ironically, those same businesses have no problem raising their prices and passing along their higher costs. Another area could be adopting a simpler fare structure. Yet another would be eliminating transfers. Still another would be greater transparency for how Metro spends the public money they receive, but this measure continues to follow the “send us your money and trust us” approach that they’ve used to date.

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