Proposition 1 was the last chance to avoid deep, countywide cuts, and the first installment of those cuts will take effect in September. However, Friends of Transit, the Political Action Committee founded and operated by former STB staffer Ben Schiendelman, announced yesterday the intention to file an initiative for the November ballot to recover quickly:

The proposed initiative would increase the city’s property tax by $0.22 per $1,000 of assessed value between 2015 and 2021. The measure is estimated to generate $25 million a year in revenue, enough to fund as much as 250,000 hours of bus service. This funding would help stave off cuts to routes operating completely within Seattle, and may help reduce cuts to routes operating between Seattle and other cities. The property tax increase requires a simple majority vote for approval.

If a measure like this were to pass and work as intended, this would be great news for transit in the areas that most need it to function. As this measure would run on the November ballot, it couldn’t take effect until January 2015, when many cuts have already been in effect for months.

Friends of Transit has not yet finalized the language of the initiative, and we are a long way from a campaign. I asked Ben how he envisions this would work in practice. “The council would be directed to buy service to offset Metro’s service cuts (the language references the cuts documents) for routes with 80% or more of their hours in Seattle,” he explains. Mr. Schiendelman says that the package is resourced to cover all of the routes that qualify, but it would be up to the City Council to implement it and prioritize where necessary.

Nevertheless, there are things to like about this proposal and things to be concerned about any city-only measure:

It is a progressive tax. Property value is a good proxy for wealth, and it’s clear that Seattle’s supply constrained rental market is driven by what tenants can pay, rather than underlying property upkeep costs. In other words, property tax increases are unlikely to pass on to renters.

It is likely to pass. November congressional elections are the second best possible time to run a transit measure. April is just about the worst. Meanwhile, while not all the returns are in, the first-night results showed that the five legislative districts primarily in Seattle are the five where even early voters in an April election are pro-transit.

Oran depicted it graphically:

There a few ways where a city-only measure can slip up, and Friends of Transit will have to be careful to avoid at least some of them:

The dream dies in the rest of the county. Any hope for near-term relief in the suburbs is doomed with the passage of this initiative, as passage is inconceivable without Seattle votes. That’s unfortunate because Seattle’s statutory limits on housing supply (by design!) drive low-income people into South King County. On the other hand, Seattle can only do so much to rescue other cities; indeed, it voted yesterday to do so and the rest of the County said “no thanks.”

There is no perfect answer for intercity routes. The 80% cutoff seems like a reasonable one, including a number of routes with very small segments outside the city limits (like the 5). Some Seattle residents benefit mostly from two-way two-zone routes in the system, and there is a tradeoff between doing something for all Seattle bus riders and preventing (unpopular) leakage of tax revenue into the rest of the County. 80% is a number that could stand some route-by-route analysis to make sure that it covers the key trips for Seattle residents.

Money is fungible. Mr. Schiendelman points out that “the cuts would already mostly be in place [authorized, at least -ed.] by the time this passes – Metro couldn’t justify deciding to cut Seattle more deeply before the measure goes to ballot, on a chance of it passing.”  The politics of amending the existing plan that way are simply too toxic to consider.

However, if Metro service in Seattle is at a basically acceptable level, Metro’s every incentive is to direct all future service growth to the suburbs. Schiendelman counters that the tax expires in 2021 — not coincidentally, when Northgate Link opens — and Metro can’t risk it expiring with a huge hole in the system’s heart.

Dow Constantine’s statement about the initiative was cautiously welcoming:

“We welcome and encourage efforts that would protect bus service and avoid major disruption to our riders. Unfortunately, in the near term, we will still need to transmit major service cuts if Proposition 1 fails.

“While King County Metro works as a regional system that moves people across jurisdictions throughout the county, reflecting the truly regional nature of our economy, the notion of cities buying bus service is not a new idea. We already have a number of cities and businesses contracting for service.”

One can never say for sure before seeing the final details, but it is highly likely that this initiative will be good for Seattle and good for people that travel into Seattle, wherever they may live. Good luck to Friends of Transit. May they exercise care in finalizing the language.

211 Replies to “A Seattle Initiative to Save Service”

  1. Awesome piece.

    I’m here to answer questions, although I’ll be a little slow. And anyone interested in helping should sign up at – we’ll be reaching out starting this weekend to plan signature gathering!

    1. You know I’m all in on this. Thank you for getting immediately to action on Tuesday. Plan to fail, plan to win!

    2. Thanks Ben for doing this. I’ll definitely sign and I’ll try and get others to do so as well. I assume you will send emails to folks who are on the mailing list for Seattle Subway, right?

      1. I expect the Subway list will get a blast soon, yes. I haven’t had time to talk to most of them!

  2. What neighboring cities would be most likely to see a similar action, if any, for commuters?

    1. Good question – Bellevue likely, Kirkland maybe. I can’t see most of the south county cities doing it, as their voters just turned down transit.

      1. We just failed to fund our schools in Kirkland/Redmond—for the second time this year. I’m not nearly so optimistic about funding transit anymore.

      2. Judging by the poll results? Shoreline is the most likely to vote to “buy service”.

      3. I was thinking the same thing. Plus there is a fair amount of integration between the northern suburbs and Seattle because of all the roads that cross both. If the Seattle initiative passes, I could easily see the areas north of Seattle working with Seattle to add service that benefits both. For example, Seattle may eliminate the 373, and keep only the 73, but Shoreline will add it back in, and expect Seattle to pay for much of it.

    2. I think that Redmond is also likely. Their Mayor is fervently pro-transit and I think that Microsoft would get behind the initiative and push.

      1. He is; he has pushed the current redevelopment of downtown to add housing and make it more walkable to help get ready for East Link.

  3. Has anyone considered contracting out the bus operations which has been done successfully in many other cities worldwide?

    1. Community Transit contracts out the operation of its commuter routes and its portion of Sound Transit service but local routes are run by CT-employed drivers, if I have remembered correctly. The commuter routes are–not to sound denigrating at all, just descriptive–essentially piece-work for a few hours a day. I have very little desire to see a Metro-contractor trying to navigate a trolley route through the tiny streets of Madrona or a 60′ articulated bus making a left turn through Lake City. The drivers, by and large, are good at what they do in tough conditions.

    2. Metro is too large and diverse of a system to “contract out” wholesale.

      The system could be contracted out piecemeal, base by base, though that would require significant investment, as only one Metro base is capable of doing heavy maintenance (South Base).

      The only cost savings from contracting out would be some wage costs, and Metro’s PERS contribution. However that would shift to other PERS participants to some extent. PERS stands for Public Employee Retirement System.

      And once the transit union has a signed contract, Metro would have to ensure the contractor either follows it, or Metro would have to pay the union members the differential between what they would be payed at Metro and what the contractor would pay.

    3. One more significant difference.

      CT is a corporation, Metro is a unit of county government. No, Metro drivers are not civil service (though I believe Seattle Transit’s drivers were), but they have more employment protections than drivers at CT would have.

  4. Look at the results of Prop 1 – it failed miserably in the eastern and southern areas of the county. Those folks don’t want roads or transit (remember Prop 1 had a 40% road component). So the “h” with them – if we in Seattle want to fund transit lets us fund transit.

    Ben – where do I sign the petition? Better yet where can I get copies of the petition so I can get my neighbors and fellow transit users to sign it as well?

    Lets move forward – let those of us who want and need transit pay for it — and let the rest of King County wallow around pot holes and poor bus service.

    1. Since the bill contained both roads and transit you cannot conclude that.

      Maybe we want more roads and are satisfied with our levels of local transit.

      Maybe we want more regional transit and to build LINK faster.

      Maybe we want a little more of each, but do not want to pay for it in one big bundle or with sales tax.

      At any rate, I think we’ve reached the end of our ropes with logrolling and it’s time to break it down to who is getting what and how much.

      Property tax, voted on locally, is a very appropriate way to fund these projects.

      Especially for you Seattle people, it will finally turn up the heat on people who are essentially freeloading on the value of the Seattle lifestyle and services without paying full price. For those of you who want more available living space, this could be the kicker for more appropriate sized dwellings and more units.

    2. Your are misreading the ‘burbs. Most people didn’t get that the package was 40% roads – it was almost exclusively campaigned as a transit measure (“move king county now” had a big picture of a bus). Kent and Renton areas notwithstanding, there is a strong correlation between the amount of transit service in a community, and their propensity to vote yes.

      With that in mind, this statement doesnt make a whole lot of sense:
      “Seattle can only do so much to rescue other cities; indeed, it voted yesterday to do so and the rest of the County said “no thanks.””
      Areas with lots of transit voted to save transit, areas where there is less transit (and where transit plays a much smaller role in the overall transportation picture) voted no.

      1. John, that may split in funding might be tastier to the Kentian crowd. But the scale of the proposal to save Metro *and* fund the roads would be astronomical at that point. I don’t think people would have voted for $150+ tabs. Ultimately, that would have failed even if you could get transit voters to turn out. And quite frankly, the left would have opposed it for a host of reasons.

      2. I wouldn’t fund any of this with tabs or sales tax.

        It would only be funded with property tax.

        If they want to pay more property tax and get more service, so be it.

        If not, then later.

      3. Your idea of city-supported shuttles to Kent Station and Link is a good idea. Why not pursue that. Hopefully it could run evening and weekends and not just midday.

  5. How will this work with the planned route restructures? Is the intention to reverse these changes in Seattle, or to augment them?

    1. First step is reverse. After that, if there’s more money, allocate as needed, based on TMP.

      1. I think Ross is asking about the qualitative changes to routes, rather than the service hour allocations.

      2. I’m also curious about the retention of any planned restructures. The 8 really should get split into it’s North/South and East/West legs regardless of changes in funding.

      3. The cuts include some good restructures which should be salvaged. Especially the frequent 13 and 3S, consolidating the 2S on Madison, and rationalizing the 71/72/73. Now is the time for these because they’ll just be harder later. Use some of the extra hours for mitigation in areas that are losing service. But I’m sorry, 6th Ave W and Seneca Street are too close to frequent routes to qualify as “losing service”. Seneca can be dealt with by some kind of First Hill shuttle for the elderly/mobility-challenged/patients in the area.

        However, I’m less convinced about the West Seattle reorg. That needs to be rethought if additional hours become available.

      4. Ben: I would set different priorities.

        The restructure has some beneficial aspects which should be retained; a plain reversal is not right.

        First priority for additional money should be all-day 15-minute-or-better service on all the major routes in Seattle; the worst cuts are arguably the “now too infrequent to use” cuts to many, many routes.

        Second priority should be additional coverage of areas far from the surviving routes, with (again) all-day 15-minute service.

        This is going to look a lot like “restoration” in a lot of places. But not everywhere, because some of the restructures are quite comprehensive.

      5. So, here’s the problem. If we get too technical, when a voter asks “will this save my service?”, the answer is “well, maybe…”

        We’re trying to give Council some leeway, though.

      6. Any 71/72/73 restructure should revolve around Link and happen after U-link opens. It makes zero sense to do a big restructuring along a corridor only to have to do it again in another few months – or worse, have “restructure fatigue” kick in and end up with a bus network until 2021 that forces people in Northeast Seattle to connect to the 73 instead of Link.

        In a world without Link, my goal for North/Northeast Seattle would be to trade the 66 for an all-day 76. But given the way things are going, I think it’s better to focus on maintaining what we’ve got (except for obvious routes like the 25) for a measly 2 more years, then do a big restructuring that focuses on connecting Northeast Seattle to Link with all-day frequent service.

      7. I doubt U-Link will affect the 71/72/73 except for deleting some of the runs. UW Station is in the very extreme corner of north Seattle and a ton of congestion from University Way and Campus Parkway. A U-District makeover will probably wait till North Link.

      8. UW Station is in the very extreme corner of north Seattle and a ton of congestion from University Way and Campus Parkway.

        What are you talking about. I just took the bus from Totem Lake to a doctors appointment at UW Roosevelt clinic. There’s a big hole being dug already that would be even closer to where I was going than the 48 I took to the appointment and 43? (not sure of the bus I took home). It was an eye opener taking this trip into the big city. People ride the bus, more than one person gets on/off at a stop… every stop. Artic’s have three doors (mind blowing). There’s more. Maybe I should author a guess post; a land where vehicles yield to pedestrians.

      9. Pacific Street already has four frequent routes on it (43, 44, 48, and 271), plus the expresses, plus all the cars going to the 520 entrance. Rerouting the 7172/73X to UW Station would add ten more articulated buses per hour each direction to that already-crowded street. (Or five, if half of the runs are deleted because of students walking from the station to their classes.) There’s no other way to get to the station except through the campus or Montlake Boulevard. Through the campus is not viable because they’d have to come down the very indirect Pend Orielle Road, and Montlake Blvd is so crowded they took all buses off it years ago. You could lessen the road-load by terminating the 71/72/73 at Campus Parkway and making people transfer to the 43,44,48 and additional relief shuttles, but that would significantly add to the travel time and defeat the purpose of the express.

      10. Complicated thread; probably should just die. My take away. Buses in Seattle are oversubscribed and what I thought were “well used” east-side routes, based on mid day ridership, are in fact individual shuttle service compared to Seattle. I knew east-side ridership was poor but I had no extent to how awfully it is.

  6. I forgot the best thing to like — whatever it’s called, it won’t be “prop 1”.

      1. If the initiative and slogan aren’t “Vote for Pi” we’ve already failed.

  7. Ben, where do you see this going in several years?
    1. Another hike in the Seattle Property Tax to ‘save’ or increase more service.
    2. A precursor to creating separate transit agencies for Seattle, East and South King.
    3. A rollback to pre Bridging the Gap funding, when the gap no longer exists.
    4. ??
    5. Just working on today, which is enough to take on.

    1. Maybe in several years, as Sound Transit grows, Metro will become less and less important.

      1. By that I mean, it might even be true already. Seattle thinks of Metro as a local service but everyone else sees Metro as an inferior way into the city compared to Sound Transit.

      2. Metro will become less important as people in the east half of the city shift more of their trips to Link between the U-District, Northgate, Roosevelt, Capitol Hill, Bellevue, Lynnwood, Rainier Valley, and the airport. They’ll also start to evaluate trips based on whether they’re on Link or partially on Link.

        In cities with subways, many visitors go mainly where the subways go, and many visitors go only where the subways go. They ignore the bus routes completely. In Seattle that’s not possible, but will be come partly possible. In a way it’s like “Save Route 2!” turned on its head. The Route 2 advocates go only where the 2 goes, and it happens to have enough variety to make that feasable (First Hill, downtown, Seattle Center, Queen Anne houses, central-east houses, a few supermarkets, the library). Link will become the same way, but serving a larger cross-section of the city and faster than the average bus route.

        But Metro will still be essential for neighborhoods Link doesn’t go, for feeders, and for inter-station stops, and for alternate crosstown service (23rd, Rainier/Broadway).

  8. I wish this could have been the proposal on the ballot in April, or that the county could have added in a property tax component. Be that as it may, I’ve signed up to gather signatures and help campaign. Could it get the number “845” so it can be “vote yes on Initiative BUS?”

  9. Ben
    If there is extra money (say, there are too many routes that are 75% Seattle/25% suburbs), could the County augment existing service (more frequency?) or will it go into a general fund?

    1. If there’s more revenue, it’ll go into adding to transit routes in Seattle, based on Council and TMP.

  10. I completely support the idea of Seattle raising money for it’s own service. However, my main concern is this: “However, if Metro service in Seattle is at a basically acceptable level, Metro’s every incentive is to direct all future service growth to the suburbs.”

    Is there anything that would prevent Metro from doing this (and us paying twice for the same service)? I would hope there would be a clause in the contract that we still get our percentage of service out of the King County tax pool.

    1. There’s no way for us to force County Council to do something, but the political disaster they’d have to go through to take service out of Seattle during their re-elections makes the likelihood close to nil.

      And there’s still a provision to prevent this, yes. :)

      1. They really can’t – the suburban councilmembers aren’t that powerful. Dow plus the Seattle delegation can reject anything like that.

  11. While I like the idea of using property taxes, I’d be concerned that this initiative would fail for a similar reason that the first one did: there’s no tangible improvement over the status quo. Whether that’s valid or not, many people seem to have the perception that metro is “inefficient” whatever that means.

    I think this could be partially mitigated by adding a few lines to the initiative that I think would make it stronger, such as:
    – Enhance the efficiency of metro by reorganizing service in a way that focuses mobility into the 15 high-priority bus corridors established by the Seattle City Council in the 2012 Transit Master plan. These 15 corridors will have very frequent all-day service, as well as service long into the night. Conversely, to fund these 15 corridors, cuts will be maintained for the bottom XX% of lowest-performing routes in the city (due to Proposal 1).

    Obviously there will still be people who think metro is inefficient for other reasons, but by including this in your proposal you give a nod to the people that think re-proritizing service to be more efficient is good — plus, the actually impact in the long run is probably minimal, the fact is that seattle and metro would almost certainly work together to prioritize the 15 TMP corridors Anyways!

    1. Prop 1 didn’t fail in Seattle. I like the idea, but it’s too late to make changes that complex – filing deadline is tomorrow.

    2. One big point: Prop 1 didn’t fail in Seattle, not by a long shot, and (for some unknown-to-me reason*) people HATE vehicle registration fee increases. A November ballot is far more favorable and a “smaller bite” property tax increase (most people pay their property taxes in monthly chunks via their mortgage companies) seems to go over a lot better besides. That said, I’m completely on board with you. I’d love it if this can be sold as “it’s saving and improving service,” but I don’t know if an initiative can be written in such a way.

      * I didn’t intend to rehash that argument, just as a point of comparison that I still don’t get.

      1. Part of the dislike for vehicle registration fees, I think, is that I think people dislike flat fees a lot more than percentage taxes. This makes sense. Flat fees are super-regressive. (That’s why Reagan was so fond of ’em.)

      2. Nathanael, I also wonder if part of it is because of the percentage increase, whether a flat fee or progressive. If you add $60 per year to someone’s property tax bill, they won’t be thrilled but they won’t go ballistic either because it’s not more than a couple percent of your regular property tax bill. If you add $60 per year to someone’s car tabs, that’s another story. Now you’re increasing people’s car registration fees by 50-100%.

      3. Lots of people tend to get very emotional over increased costs related to driving or parking. An extra dollar on a vehicle registration fee, parking fee, or fill-up psychologically feels a lot more painful than an extra dollar on grocery store bills, rent, or property taxes. I know, rationally, this shouldn’t be true, but if you look at the way people actually behave, it is.

        I also like the fact that I can vote for a property tax measure without guilt. I pay property tax every year, but don’t pay any vehicle registration fees.

    3. Cuts will start in September, so by November today’s service level will be an improvement to the status quo.

    4. I agree, Stephen. “Improve transit service” is a much more appealing message than “save existing service, again”

      Can we bump the property tax to raise $30M annually, and then champion a few highly visible bus improvements that will result?

      Even if not, framing the initiative as “improving” transit is better than “protecting” existing service. Many of the restructures in the cut package are good ideas, but the frequency is too low and the span is too short.

      1. If you’re going to ‘brand’ this as improving service instead of restoring lost service, you better push for whatever the realistic amount of money is to actually improve the service. If you brand it as ‘improving service’ and then all you do is maintain the status quo that would have been lost otherwise, you build distrust with the electorate and give anti-transit groups more ammunition which doesn’t bode well for future property tax levies. You have to be transparent with what you really are asking for.

      2. Agreed Chad. Ben has the right plan, the problem is just “keeping what we have” isn’t going to cut it. The plan should be increasing frequency with new revenue.

  12. Property tax is absolutely the right way to fund local transit routes.

    It puts power and control back in the hands of the neighborhood voter, and it appropriately bills those who benefit from desirable transit projects.

    The regional projects — Sound Transit — can still be funded with other styles of taxes or more property tax.

    I would also advocate a state-wide equivalent of the Net Investment Income Tax for state infrastructure projects.

      1. I have advocated this for years and years in STB, SLOG and elsewhere…

        Property tax should fund transit and other services and infrastructure…not sales or tab fees.

    1. There is much more merit to a slight increase in property tax to fund transit.

      1. It taxes commercial and office buildings in a fair way and a large portion of the revenue will come from non-residential property. Transit is a huge benefit for Downtown Seattle companies that own buildings. With property tax, it’s not just car owners paying for transit. With the car tabs, they weren’t bearing any of the cost to keep their office rental space demand as high as it is.

      2. It falls on home owners and not renters. Many renters cannot afford to own a home, and struggle with any tax increase. It’s really a struggle if they are forced to live miles from Seattle in a place with lousy bus service so that they pretty much need a car to get around. Now, sure some owners will pass the increased cost to renters but that increased cost is likely to be pretty unnoticeable on an annual tax bill that is adjusted for valuation anyway.

  13. Congratulations, Mr…..I mean Ben, for reacting to Tuesday’s events for immediately getting into action. I forgot what you told me. You’re not really from Seattle, are you?
    A couple of things, though, Martin.

    Your “Dream dies with the rest of the county” paragraph bothers me a lot worse than the vote count, as evidence that the enemy has won. Effective psych warfare goes not just for the ideas people think about, but specifically targets the ideas you think with. Armor-piercing round through the fuel tank and right into the ammunition here.

    What the map- incidentally, one of your best, thanks, Oran- says to me is that the main determinant of how an area voted is how well the people there have weathered conditions since 2008. A lot of the animosity loose in those rosy areas stems from their residents’ sense that they have never recovered from of the industrial and timber collapse of the ‘seventies- and that nobody in Seattle cares or ever will.

    The inner pink ring, like Bellevue? I’d like to talk with the people who’ve been packing the 550’s and the other I-90 service so tight they could sink the bridge. But this service hasn’t been in place long enough that it’s part of widespread habit. And this is also an area where people have not only been used to cars-only travel, but in general at present depend least absolutely on transit.

    I suspect this area would have voted darker red in the past. And in ten years will be beyond sky to navy.

    The Central Puget Sound Region has a credible threat to secede from Washington State- though no matter how mad I get, disaster to try and exercise, and worse to succeed. But the reason Seattle voters need to be ready to help our many allies in the suburbs is that virtually nobody lives, or can live, their daily lives in Seattle anymore.

    Or out of it. The percentage of the electorate that even voted indicates the percentage of seriousness with which the result should be taken. Since people vote rather than plat maps, two thirds of the next round could easily be ours. One reason the Union won was that a very large number of Southerners were anti-secession but didn’t dare say so.

    The Confederacy was a coup that bluffed its way to power. Pretty much like our own opponents. So best strategy would be to move ahead with Mr., I mean Ben’s plan, but in a way that treats places outside Seattle as residence of many current passengers and source of final win.

    Mark Dublin

    1. > But the reason Seattle voters need to be ready to help our many allies in the suburbs is that virtually nobody lives, or can live, their daily lives in Seattle anymore.

      Ahem, politely, no. Seattle voted strongly “yes” in favor of transit and roads that would benefit the entire county. The rest of the county, with exceptions in Redmond, Shoreline, and Vashon Island, said “piss off.” I’m disinclined to take the opinion of anyone who lives outside of Seattle at this point. Seattle voters stepped up and got slapped down. Perhaps my stance will soften, but not this week.

      I love ya, Mark, essay-length screeds and all, but you’re not in Ballard anymore, and that means no longer getting to benefit from, well, being in Ballard.

      1. To be clear, they said Hell No to flat car tabs to fund transit. Some of the regions that voted No this time have voted Yes to past Metro funding propositions that were just sales tax increases.

      2. Substance before personal, but really hope “lakecityrider” isn’t on either your birth certificate or the CD’s of your country-western band.

        The rest of anybody didn’t even vote in this election, so nobody knows whether they were thinking about relocating sanitary waste, as you suggest, transit, major sports, or a blank thought balloon from a Robert Crumb comic. If you want, go ahead and fill it out.


        Love ya too, lake, but careful about threats to deny me Ballard benefits- whose loss I’m trying to save Ballard from. Like Michael Moore did with the gated community, there could be sudden check point to keep you from getting out of lakecity.


    2. Your “Dream dies with the rest of the county” paragraph bothers me a lot worse than the vote count, as evidence that the enemy has won.

      It may or may not be evidence that they’ve won a battle, but it’s not evidence that they’ve won the war. The article presented it as a theoretical possible future, not a done deal. However, maybe it’s good for the suburbs to reevaluate what they want, as some Seattlites have done for years in suggesting to revive Seattle Transit. There are several other types of improved suburban transit that heretofore have not been considered, but maybe some good ones will emerge. JB’s idea of city-supported shuttles to transit centers is worth considering, and these could be run by Metro or somebody else.

      Perhaps the best outcome would be for the cities to finish their transit master plans (which are all evolving to frequent corridors like Seattle’s TMP), coordinate them within subareas (Eastside and South), and present them jointly to Metro, along with any locally-funded steps toward implementation. That would strongly influence Metro to reorganize that way, and would also force the cities to figure out how they’re going to finance the transit they want. And how they’re going to convince all their residents to support it.

      “I suspect this area [Bellevue] would have voted darker red in the past. And in ten years will be beyond sky to navy.”

      Yes. But at the same time, red was not as extreme then. It was essentially bourgeois, as they were.

      What happened in the US was an ahistoric period where desegregation caused white flight to the suburbs, and the inner cities became too poor and politically weak to advocate for the services that should have accompanied mid 20th-century technology and prosperity. It’s not as clear-cut in Seattle because both segregation and white flight were less than in other large cities. But in the 1990s the universal pattern started reasserting itself, with middle-class people moving back to the cities. Cities intrinsically require government services (like transit), organization, and taxes, so they inevitably turn blue. (If the word “government” offends you, substitute “coordination” to accommodate libertarian alternatives.) Suburbs like Bellevue are, in fact, the swing areas of the country. But they’re inevitably turning blue for the same reason. Bellevue and Redmond thought they could escape poverty, crime, homelessness, and drugs — the “old-city problems” — but that didn’t happen. Gated wealthy communities can only remain exclusive if they’re very small, and even there people succumb to drugs or lose jobs or get sick… or become egalitarian or marry “those people”. Cities just require government period so they’re turning blue.

      (And those who can’t stand it are moving to exurbs or rural areas — incidentally the same areas that most voted no on prop 1. Whether the exurbs will remain deep red, or whether they’ll even remain populated above their historic rural level, is a longer-term question on which I have no idea.)

      1. Mike,

        Whether the exurbs will remain deep red, or whether they’ll even remain populated above their historic rural level, is a longer-term question on which I have no idea.

        Have you noticed that gas is already pushing $4/gallon today, and it’s not even May 15? The drivers’ lobby (e.g. the Republican party) can sit back in their easy chairs and say “fracking will protect us” from the global squeeze on fuels, but it won’t! While it may remain illegal to export crude oil from the contiguous 48 states, it certainly isn’t illegal or even discouraged to export refined gasoline.

        As Europe recoils from the Russian snake they’re increasingly going to be buying crude from the Middle East and southeast Asia, in direct competition with China and Japan. And they’ll be buying gasoline from the Gulf refineries by the tankerload.

        Gas will near $5/gallon this summer and probably exceed it next summer. The exurbs with their ridiculous culture of big trucks and 100 mile commutes are toast.

        Sure, there are still a few “back to the landers” out in extreme east and southeast King County, and they’ll be able to make it. But the developments being thrown up in Enumclaw and Maple Valley will largely be empty in five years’ time. Or, their residents will be praying (and voting) for Metro service.

  14. I’d just like to say good luck, we’re all counting on you.

    I hope the 306 and 312 could have their service preserved through this (though I think it’s up in the air right now which of these will be cut/reduced, if at all). Otherwise, we’re going to have some crowded buses up in the north shore.

    1. Actually, Chris Legeros from KIRO TV and I looked at his commute yesterday and it looked like one of those will be cut entirely. :(

      1. BTW how is the 80% determined? Is it by service hours spent in Seattle or by ridership in Seattle? I know several routes like the 77, 306, 312, 345, 347, 348, 372, 373, etc. where a portion of the service hours are spent outside Seattle but a fair portion of the ridership is within the city limits. The 372 is probably the most extreme example as most of the ridership is in the segment between 125th & Lake City Way and the UW (to the point of crush loads and pass-up) but virtually empty out on the Woodinville tail.

      2. In that case (the 372), it might easily be better to use this money to add turnback trips to Lake City: they’d serve the Seattle ridership and be much cheaper to run.

      3. Unlike most routes, the 372 was actually scheduled to gain service in the cut proposal (albeit at the expense of killing the 68 and 72 completely). I could absolutely get behind the idea of turnback 372 trips to Lake City, especially on weekends when the 372 does not currently operate at all. In a couple years, it will become all the more important as people look for ways to connect to Link.

  15. Could Metro implement sub-area equity, similar to Sound Transit? It’s probably currently unreasonable due to the small chunks you’d have to cut the County into and determining funding originating from those areas.

    But if Metro moved solely to a property tax fund, it’d make it a lot easier. Don’t vote for the tax? Your area loses service.

    1. We can’t direct them to do so with a city measure, but this ends up with a similar outcome.

  16. What about the idea of adding a cent or two more for improvements to bus infrastructure? Things like adding off-board payment at certain locations, nicer shelters, signal priority, concrete bus pads (preserve the roads), more trolley wire, etc? And as Stephen said, make implementing some of those TMP corridors a goal as faster & more efficient creates additional savings. Add some sex appeal.

      1. I mean when writing it, the most conservative view of how much we can use without impacting the city’s emergency reserve is 0.22 – which happens to be just enough to reverse these cuts.

  17. Holding out the olive branch for Burien to join in funding more service on the 120, which desperately needs the extra service, but is likely to be kept standing-room-only most of the day for the foreseeeable future, would be nice. The same goes for Shoreline and some of its routes. I hope there is a way to work with neighboring cities to fund local routes that serve far north and far south Seattleites. There are so many ways in which those of us living closest to the city limits suffer from political boundary effects.

    I do like the idea of the expiration matching Link station openings, to make clear the eventually-duplicative express service is getting a bridge to station opening days, not a permanent reprieve. Do you really need to specify the dates, or can you just say something like “within one year of the opening of Northgate Station for service” and “within one year of the opening of Lynnwood Station for service”? That would help make clear why this is a bridge, and not a permanent tax increase.

    I do hope the city council acts quickly to simply put a measure like this on the ballot. It is desperately needed to prevent the total breakdown of Metro’s already-at-seating-(and standing on most routes)-capacity commuter peak-hour network, and to not leave odd-shift-hour workers stranded.

    One note on funding amounts: The Northgate Station pedestrian bridge is still $15 million short of the funding it needs this year to keep ST from axing it from the station plan. Can this initiative help with transit capital projects (RTA signage, that pedestrian/bike bridge, etc.), especially ones that speed up bus routes?

    1. If there’s money left over after reversing cuts, the measure will fall back to funding additional service as needed.

    2. We just say the measure is in force for six years – that’s about all we can do. That puts it ending collection in 2021. We don’t know exactly when North Link will open. Hopefully early. ;)

    3. Brent, I agree, some popular routes like the 120 risk getting cut unless the suburban cities like Burien, Shoreline, Renton, Lake Forest Park, Tukwilla, Kenmore, etc. are willing to step up and replace their portion of the service hours cut. I hope other cities in King county are willing to step up with supplemental funding of their own and that the various cities are able to work together to keep service that doesn’t stay neatly within political boundaries.

    4. Put something on the ballot in Shoreline? Judging by the result of Prop 1, a sales tax proposition in Shoreline to fund Shoreline bus service (perhaps on the basis of paying “incremental cost” to extend bus routes from the border through Shoreline) might pass.

      1. It would take so little money to supplement one or two routes that the cities may be able to do it without a tax increase. Especially since these routes are far more important to the suburbs than to Seattle, since they are the majority of their city’s bus service and their highest-ridership corridors.

      2. Shoreline was on the fence. According to SeattleMet’s figures, the 32nd LD shot down Prop 1 by 52%. …far tighter than most areas in Seattle…even the neighboring 46th.

        I wouldn’t be surprised if it shows up on the ballot, since City Council has been fairly pro transit. They are also cautious when trying to increase taxes, since there is a large and vocal fixed-income (retiree) population in town. Oddly enough, the biggest cut was the 304. …it more or less parallels the 301.

  18. I just got through reading 14 national and international newspapers. One of the papers was the New York Times. One of the articles in the Times was “New Labor Contract Will Cost M.T.A. $525 Million.” Ben, are there any safeguards in your initiative to prevent initiative money from being used to fund salary increases?

    1. There’s no way it could directly. It’ll be the city purchasing hours from the county.

      1. Is there any way that these purchased hours can be specifically allocated to exact Metro routes? Regardless of the pro-tab vote in the city, there is a lot of hostility toward Metro, and giving them access to a pot of money for them to do as they will may bring out a lot more no votes from folks who may have homes valued at $750K or more, risking them costs a lot more than the $60 – $180 in car tab costs.
        At least giving them a firm list of what they are buying may help.

      2. Absolutely, and that’s how it would have to be done. The city will be buying specific runs on specific routes. It’s been done before and there’s already a system in place for it

      3. Yes, the city does that with their existing contracts with Metro for service.

    2. Sam,

      If you want to do an initiative for Bellevue transit service that specifies that “None of the funding from this proposal may go to funding increased pay or benefits for any county employee,” go for it!

      1. I’m not saying I’m against raises. It’s more about truth in advertising. Because if someone votes for “saving service,” then later much of that new initiative money goes into salary increases, they might feel misled. But Brent, thank you for remember I live in Bellevue.

    3. Costs and salaries go up. Inflation, a hundred other factors. Legally, you also can’t do certain things there either, as even initiatives (and their language) are subject to things like Federal labor laws. I mean, you can pass anything and put it into the books, but if it might run afoul of state or Federal law and be tossed or ignored, what’s the point? Better to just focus on the plumbing and practicalities.

  19. Question about the language of the bill. Can the council create new bus routes? Or just buy service on existing routes? It would be better if they could just buy service on existing routes so that organized political groups (I.e. Those that want the 42 back) don’t try and tap into this money.

    1. The flip side of that idea is that it would lock us in to preserving certain known-inefficient routes that could otherwise be updated to work better.

    2. The majority of the council won’t resurrect the 42. However, the “Save Route 2” contingent may get their way. And one wonders what Sawant would do. And how the upcoming council districts might change things.

  20. Thinking as a devil’s advocate, the initiative will have to have a very explicit definition of the 80% requirement. (Imagine the NO campaign’s “a poorly written initiative” charge.) Will the 80% be defined by route miles, service hours, platform hours or number of riders?

    The NO campaign will still be calling for better management at Metro. Metro’s books are murky (at best) and the mandate to purchase service from an un-reformed Metro may be overly costly. Many of the routes in Seattle are paying a larger percentage of their operating costs than the suburban coverage routes. Why should Seattle pay the cost of a rural coverage route for urban core service?

    Also, with the upcoming cuts, it’s possible that Metro’s operating costs will actually increase if depreciation is a large part of the hourly cost of bus service. There will be few service hours but still a lot of new buses at the bases and that may result in a higher depreciation charge if the older buses are scrapped.

    Again, playing the devil’s advocate. Attack the message, not the messenger.

    1. In addition, people will be wondering where the 80% requirement comes from – is it just a number that sounds good, or is there an actual reason why it isn’t 75% or 85%? And what routes would meet that requirement and what wouldn’t? (The 5? The 120? The E-Line? If they don’t, can we add trips that turn back at the city limits?)

    2. Those attacks did not get traction in Seattle. The best way to respond is to emphasize the importance of bus service to a functioning city and a high quality of life. Voters who make their decisions based on things like operating costs and efficiencies are small in number, not enough to swing the outcome of an election in the city.

    3. Frankly I’m not too worried about this passing. First remember that Prop. 1 with wildly unpopular and regressive vehicle license fees passed by roughly 10% in the City of Seattle in a low turn-out special election with a relatively conservative electorate. Property taxes are seen as a more progressive form of taxation and renters rarely oppose them. Turnout will be much better in November as there will be congressional races, legislative races, and possibly a minimum wage initiative on the ballot. The better the turnout the more liberal and transit friendly the electorate will skew. Finally the election is after the initial round of cuts coming in the September shake-up. Voters will have a taste of just what the cuts mean to them.

    4. We’ll be responding to all of that when it happens. 80% is because that’s what we believe we can pass.

  21. This is fantastic. If I’m understanding this right, Metro will have to complete its cuts prior to this ballot passing (which it competely will — the biggest barrier is getting it on the ballot in a form that passes the legal sniff test.) Is there an opportunity to ditch poorly performing routes that have hung around for political reasons during the short dark days of Metro in Seattle and add the service back to routes that are more efficient?

    West Seattle and Ballard… I’m looking at you (and saying you need more buses.)

    1. No, only the first round of cuts would be implemented by the time we voted on this. There are 4 rounds of cuts, and the earliest will focus on peak routes.

      1. That’s not a bummer. People like their peak expresses. With crushloads, people will be crying for a return to normal service. Plus, riders will know further cuts deeper would be looming in February. And, tada! No cuts February, instead restoration and potential expansion.

      2. I think you missed what I was saying bummer about Stephen. It will certainly be good advertisement for the measure to have peak disappear then reappear, though I would hope someone would figure out a way to keep that service going rather than disrupt if its clear this is going to win (which I think it is.)

        What I’m saying bummer about is that there are routes in Seattle that don’t perform well but have been kept alive via politics. I was hoping this would be a chance to put a stake in those then buy back hours where it really matters. Sounds like that isnt going to happen.

      3. “Metro proposes to phase the service reductions over the next four service changes: September 2014, February 2015, June 2015, and September 2015. … starting with those routes and time periods with the lowest relative productivity, followed by restructures of multiple routes in eight areas, and then reductions to routes with lower relative productivity.” (Service Cut Plan Revised, in the “High-Level Summary” PDF.)

        Phase 1’s cuts are 57% peak, 28% off-peak, and 14% night. So it’s not quite “focusing on peak routes” but they are the majority. On the other hand, it may just be that a few peak runs have a disproportionate number of service hours, or that a disproportionate number of peak routes exist, which is skewing the numbers.

        The reorganizations are in phases 2 and 3. Phase 2 will be done by November. So it all depends on which reorganizations are in phase 2 and which are in phase 3. Hopefully Metro will put the better reorganizations first, the ones it has tried to do in the past.

        It’s most likely that the notoriously unused routes — like the 25 and 61 — will be in phase 1, and thus will be long gone by November. After that, support for them will evaporate like it has for the 42. At most, Metro could possibly do “something” to supplement service on south Eastlake and on Fuhrman Avenue, without reviving the entire 25. I don’t see a lot of Ballardites clamoring to restore service on 32nd, although the part north of 85th has more of a case for “something”. But they aren’t riding the 61 much now anyway.

      4. Sorry, I contradicted myself. Only phase 1 will be done by November. So none of the reorgs will be done yet. That makes it even more critical that the Council wouldn’t interfere with good reorgs. Kshama Sawant, the 2 must move!

  22. I must admit to being wary of this proposal at first. Of course I want bus service preserved, but having Seattle strike out on it’s own seems like it could backfire in some unforeseen way.

    If it is structured to “bridge the gap” until North Link opens, when service can be carefully and methodically reorganized around Link, I think it has a lot going for it. Voters in the area are rightly skeptical of taxes that “expire” – Many taxes are said to expire but end up being reauthorized anyway. (See Stadium Taxes for one egregious example). If you can pound home that these taxes REALLY are designed to expire in the future when Sound Transit’s resources come online and enable a vastly more efficient bus network, you’ll do well. That said, voters have a right to be skeptical about expiration clauses, even if they agree with the underlying service that is paid for by those taxes.

    1. I think that, even if this isn’t perfectly crafted, it’s far more likely to pass both now and in the future. Seattle has a higher proportion of renters than the rest of King County who will be more likely to vote yes because they don’t pay property taxes. Their rents will increase much more rapidly than what this levy charges anyway just due to supply and demand. This is probably the most equitable, surefire thing that can be passed at this point.

      1. Renters DO pay property taxes. Why wouldn’t rental owners just pass every dollar in costs down the line?

      2. Thank you, Velo.

        As I said above, “Their rents will increase much more rapidly than what this levy charges anyway just due to supply and demand.”

        If a landlord owns a $500,000 house his property taxes would increase by $110 per year. Even without the property tax levy, the rent for the house will likely go up significantly more than $110 per year just due to the market currently in Seattle for rentals.

        It’s not that you don’t get it passed on to you as a tenant; it’s that the market-based forces will cause your rent to increase far more than this levy.

        You won’t feel the mosquito bite because you got clubbed over the head at the same time.

      3. Seattle rents only started escalating very recently, in 2006, and they went through the roof only in 2011. Before then, landlords were still making a profit and covering their expenses. So if the real-estate boom and the post-crash apartment boom hadn’t occurred, they’d still be making a profit even if rents had only kept up with 2% inflation since 2000. (Which would make them 24% higher than 2000, plus that compounding fraction) So they’re making out like bandits now, and this proposal’s tax burden is such a tiny drop in the bucket that it’s irrelevant in rents.

        (Of course, I’m ignoring the population increase with the second tech boom (Dotcom II), but the increase wouldn’t have occurred without the boom.)

      4. Rents are largely set by supply and demand – many owners who rent their property out will just eat the property tax.

      5. This is an interesting question, and I think the answer is fairly complex. First of all, the idea that a business “passes on the tax” to a consumer is a bit misleading. If you suddenly raise the tax on a pack of cigarettes by a dollar, most businesses will charge a dollar more. But this is because they expect every other business to charge a dollar more. They know that if they raise their prices two dollars, then the other business will undercut them. Likewise, they know that they can’t make any money if they don’t raise the prices. Rather than raising the cost of a pack of cigarettes 50 cents, they would be better off just selling other goods. Both of these elements are key, and play a part with the property tax question.

        Being a landlord is an unusual business. Landlords who seek to make the most profit have to balance two things: rent and vacancy. If they raise the rent too much, then vacancy goes up. This is true regardless of cost. So, if suddenly the cost of doing business goes up (because of extra taxes, or higher wages) then it really doesn’t matter. The decision to raise (or lower) rents is based on vacancy.

        Like the shop keeper, some might decide that they can’t function if they don’t raise the rates. But then what? If they sell, the property is still taxed. In a sense, this lowers the value of it (why buy a million dollar property in Seattle, when you can buy a million dollar property in Shoreline, and pay less in taxes). The possibility exists that the bank takes over. Again, this lowers the cost of the property, but the bank will turn around and sell the property to someone else (who can make money by charging less rent). In other words, if you raised property taxes really high, then some owners would face foreclosure because they paid too much for the property (and can’t raise the rents to pay for the higher costs). Successful owners in general are hurt, because the building that used to really profitable is now a little less so. But this wouldn’t raise rents. As as has been said, if the greedy landlord can get away with raising rates, then he would have already.

        But not all landlords are greedy. So, there exists the possibility that some landlords will raise rents on some tenants who are already paying less than market rates, just because of the added cost.

        Then there is the question as to how this alters development. Our property tax system is based on the value of the land as well as the value of the structure. So, maybe a land owner will hold off on developing that parking lot, knowing that he will pay more in taxes. Then again, the landlord may feel the need to develop the land sooner, since taxes are taking a bigger bite every year. I’m not sure how those two factors balance themselves out. My guess is that it encourages development. The cost of building is still fairly low compared to the cost of the lot. This is definitely true in the more expensive parts of Seattle.

        Overall, with the numbers we are talking about, I don’t think this will have a noticeable effect.

  23. I’m wondering how this interacts with or affects the 2016 initiative that Seattle Subway (and you, Ben) are hoping will fund additional HCT in the city limits. That’s hoped to be a property tax as well, no? Are you worried about some transit initiative fatigue? Or, since that’s 2 years later, and after U Link opens, maybe the city really will be in the mood for more.

    Can’t wait to sign it and vote yes. Nothing I’d rather my property taxes went to. Wish it was for more.

    1. I think it helps – if we don’t show Seattle voters are pro transit, we’ll have a much bigger lift in 2016.

  24. I’m not sure how I feel about this initiative, although I will withhold judgement until more details come out.

    One of my initial concerns is that Metro doesn’t have anything like ST’s policy of sub-area equity. I’d be very concerned that having Seattle step up and fund city service with city dollars would just allow Metro to re-jigger their current funding split and move existing Metro dollars more towards non-Seattle service.

    And there is a built-in incentive for the KC council to do exactly that. The KC council has district elections, and only 3 of the 9 districts are majority Seattle districts. That leaves 6 districts where the “raid Seattle” mentality would actually play very well, and where the incumbent would be out of reach of Seattle voters.

    Generally speaking, I’d prefer a different approach. I’d attempt to stave off the first rounds of major cuts until early 2015 by moving the fare increases and some minor cuts forward into this year. Then I’d re-run another, smaller, more focused, Transit Only measure in November when more progressive (and rational) voters tend to prevail.

    Such a Transit Only measure would be sure to pass. But a property tax increase? I’m just not sure….

    1. I think the chances of this measure passing if it is on the November ballot are very good.

      While the county could just re-allocate funds currently funding Seattle service to the rest of the county the political fallout would be huge unless it was limited to routes heavily used by Seattle residents such as the 120, 255, 271, etc.

      I doubt either Rod Dembowski or Joe McDermott will screw over their Seattle constituents that way. Of the remaining council members Dave Upthegrove is VERY unlikely to play into those sort of divisive politics. Jane Hague is generally pro-transit and her district has many cities that may try to fund lost service hours such as Bellevue and Kirkland. Kathy Lambert is a bit more of a question mark but has been somewhat pro-transit of late and doesn’t generally engage in “screw Seattle” games.

    2. I think that the optics of ‘raiding Seattle’ would be horrific when the suburbs need our votes for literally everything else. They know they can’t get away with it.

      1. Agreed, to raid Seattle would be playing with fire politically. Especially considering the interests of many suburban cities are more and more in alignment with those of Seattle.

        It would also set a really bad precedent regarding service hours purchased by third parties. I don’t believe Seattle is the only city currently purchasing additional service hours, and I doubt it will be the only one attempting to restore some of the serv

      2. … attempting to restore some of the service cut by purchasing additional service hours.

      3. The first rule of Washington politics has always been, “it’s East vs West and everyone against Seattle.” Nothing has changed.

        There needs to be backstop before I can support this.

  25. Thanks Velo and Joe S. for explaining about the property taxes and renters. Unfortunately this is a huge misunderstanding– I’ve already seen comments on another blog and on an article on either the Seattle Times or the P-I sites saying renters don’t pay property taxes. A bunch of us jumped in to correct them, but I think many people have that misperception and it’s hard to change.

    1. Renters basically don’t pay property taxes, because rents are set almost completely by supply and demand (income).

      1. So then, you’re saying people are right when they say to us “You’re voting for this because you’re a renter, and you don’t have to pay property tax?” This is really upsetting, because I’ve been told this before and also I’ve seen it in the comments of newspapers, blogs (Especially the West Seattle Blog) and other places. Now I feel bad for voting for things that I think are a good idea, because apparently I have no stake in them and I’m voting to spend other people’s money? Should people who rent not have a vote? Now I really feel bad.

        I’m not trying to troll, I’m really serious about this. I chose to rent, but I have felt guilty when I vote for taxes. I don’t own a car either. Am I and others like me a drain on society? We pay rent; we pay sales taxes and income taxes, etc.

        Even though we don’t pay it per se, I can’t believe that landlords would be able to make any money if they didn’t charge us enough rent to cover property taxes, among other things.

      2. Although maybe I’m taking what you said too literally. The thing is, this has been something that the no-new-taxes people like to throw at renters who vote for taxes for things that are needed, especially if the renters themselves use the thing being funded.

      3. So, if the idea that a renter doesn’t have the basic democratic right to vote on a property tax increase because they don’t ‘directly’ pay it, then why don’t landlords do what the airlines do, and charge extra fees.

        I personally would love to have a landlord give me an itemized list of ‘where my rent money goes’, so that I could make an informed decision.

        I think that would be extremely enlightening.

      4. Landlords are making bank right now. They could raise rents 2% and still keep up with expenses, but they’re raising them 8-10% instead, and have done so for the past three years. In a different era when the vacancy rate is 10% and taxes are going up steeply and the landlord can’t raise rent or you’ll move next door, then you can feel bad about voting for tax increases. But you might save your grief for independent local landlords rather than corporate-investor owners.

    2. Property taxes include non-residential property as well. That’s a large chunk of the property tax revenue. The large proportion of revenue that comes from non-residential property won’t get directly passed to the residential renters.

      1. Hmm, and some of these properties have employees and clients who take the bus. So they’ll get something out of it too.

  26. My first question would be, if we transit advocates run a Seattle based initiative of any type, who’s going to campaign for it.

    We lost the last two votes because no one showed up to play on the YES side. If we run another vote, regardless of venue or specifics, is the yes side going to have any radio presence? TV presence? Something besides a couple of wordy, strangely Seattle-centric (for a countywide vote) mailers? Is anyone in any group stepping up to fund and manage an organized campaign?

    That, more than anything, is what burns me out these initiatives and propositions.

    1. Not sure how much of a campaign this is really going to need. It is almost a “put it on the ballot and it will pass” sort of thing. That said it is likely to get help from a number of local elected officials and various non-profits.

      As for paid media, that is generally a waste of money for a local initiative campaign unless your opposition is well funded enough to run ads. TV is VERY expensive, even radio isn’t cheap. Targeted phone calls, direct mail, and precinct walking are the most effective way to get the message out along with free media.

      1. You’re right, we don’t need broadcast advertising, but we at least need people going on local talking-head interview shows and making the case. We need real GOTV strategies.

        All we’ve had for the past 2 votes are a token bit of direct mail with dull material. And for both of those votes, it seems like there’s been a “we don’t need to campaign it” attitude. When there’s a tax or fee involved, voters are instinctively reluctant. If no one tries to explain the benefits for them, even in a generally progressive town, the best you’re going to get is a 45/55 loss like this.

        What are advocates going to do that will make this not just a repeat of Prop 1 in 2011? Is there a strategy this time? It sounds like Ben and Friends of Transit are committing to get it on the ballot. Once it’s there, then what? That’s what scares me.

        Although the district-by-district maps for this countywide vote look good for a Seattle-centric version of it, I’m having a terrible sense of deja-vu. Never take it for granted.

      2. Volunteers door knocked, phone banked, and did all of the things one usually does for a campaign for prop 1. Sounds like you were not a fan of the mailers, but they did follow a fairly tried and true progressive causes playbook.

        The basic problem with Prop 1 was the prop itself. That 40% for roads didnt even have specific road projects to hang its hat on. It convinced no one and the extra $40 in tabs it brought sunk this on the Eastside and kept voter enthusiasm relatively low on the Westside.

        That said, prop 1 still won by a landslide in Seattle and we won’t have to listen to people concern troll about regressive taxes on the no side. Its also during a mid term congressional election instead of a special ballot which will help with the GOTV. I’m not saying it’s a shoe in, there will have to be a campaign and that campaign will have to sell this to voters — but I would gladly take bets on it passing.

      3. Lack Thereof, I’ve been on three TV interviews and three radio shows in the last 26 hours. We’ll be fine. :)

      4. Keep at it, Ben. Keep at it.

        Always remember:

        “When the campaign staff and reporters become physically ill over the repetition of the message, only then have you begun to penetrate the public consciousness”

  27. Argh. Another time-limited proposal… Can’t we put something in place permanently, and change it later, if it no longer applies, or needs to be tweaked?

    Also, and this is from a guy who works in Kirkland and lives in Seattle, I think any route that operates substantially outside of the the Seattle city limits should not be saved on Seattle’s dime. They voted against buses, so they should have to live with the consequences, which should include their businesses & citizens moving to more transit-friendly locations. If Kirkland wants the 255 to run more frequently, so that Kirkland businesses can get Seattle residents, or Kirkland residents can get to UW/Downtown jobs, then they need to pony up.


    1. “Can’t we put something in place permanently” — Due to state politics, the answer is no. King County tried to play the hand it had now Seattle is trying to play its hand.

      I don’t think buses that are significanly suburban would be saved by this – 80% Seattle excludes a whole lot of them (I assume we’re talking miles.) The 255 wouldnt qualify.

      1. In my place just outside City Limits on the 120, I could see this kind of thing hurting me.

        AM inbound is set to be cut from 7.5 min frequency to 10 min frequency under the prop 1 cuts. I can see Seattle “buying back” the 7.5 minute headways as far as Westwood or Roxbury, and then Metro implementing it by having every-other bus be a turnback, dropping those of us out on Ambaum from 7.5 minute headways all the way down to a midday 15, instead of the planned 10.

        Hopefully either Seattle will be generous and restore the whole route, or maybe Burien and Seattle can come up with a joint agreement to share the cost of restoring the whole route.

      2. Don’t worry, Lack. In the recent revised cut list, the 120 is saved. No changes at all; probably due to WSDOT coming through with more viaduct mitigation money.

      3. Lack: Also, be saving your pennies, so you can eventually either move into Seattle itself, or go to New York City, San Francisco, Washington DC, or some other city that values your presence & tax-dollars as a transit-riding resident.

      4. Jeff: I used to have an apartment in the city. The rent got too high. Now I have a mortgage and I don’t have to worry about rent hikes any more.

        If Seattle manages to add units faster than Amazon adds jobs, hopefully I’ll be able to move back someday.

      5. > In my place just outside City Limits

        I realize that I’m being selfish, and Mark Dublin tried to set me straight in a reply above here, but I can’t help it. Sorry, but it’s time that Seattle started looking out for itself since it’s apparent that the Greater Seattle Region has minimal interest in “Greater Seattle.” Regardless of the taxing method, Seattle residents said “sure, we’ll pay that so the region can benefit” and the rest of the region said “nope.” Perhaps we can do this vote again, on a regional basis, in a way that is more favorable to the region-wide voters. That wasn’t an option for Prop 1, so the County Council held its nose and asked for voters to do the same.

        Living in a particular place comes with its benefits and its downsides. Transit, apparently, is going to be funded for the short-term by Seattle, for Seattle. Since I pay taxes to and live in Seattle, this benefits me. It’s a choice that I consciously made in that I wanted to support a city that agrees with me on most things. Hopefully others will be able to make that same choice for themselves and get the same result.

      6. The point is that Seattle has an unusual number of city-suburban routes which are not like the 255 and not like the 49. In San Francisco, the suburban routes are run by different agencies, and they are all either expresses or run on Mission/San Jose Avenue (like Aurora). In Vancouver, the trolley 21 transfers to a diesel route at the city boundary (like the E and Swift). But we have routes like the 120, 131, 132, 5, E, 345, 346, 347, 348, 372 that have substantial local city portions and substantial local suburban portions. People in north Seattle aren’t just going downtown, they’re also going to Shoreline, and vice-versa. So if you downgrade the entire route, it harms the city dwellers as well as the suburbanites, and the city dwellers who are visiting the burbs. And some of these are the most productive routes in their areas.

  28. At least there will be a higher percentage of people (hopefully) voting this time. And since it’s only for Seattle and Proposition 1 did well in Seattle, seems like it should do better. Can’t take it for granted though.

    1. Even with the same people voting the same way, this would pass by a good 10%. :)

  29. This is a great initiative, but, really, Metro should be raising fares for express routes, both inside and outside the city. Most of the expresses deadhead in the peak direction and they require a larger fleet than one which would be sufficient to support the “all-day” network. That means extra capital expense for buses that are used only four to six hours per day instead of eighteen and drivers who work split shifts or one peak trippers.

    I am not saying the express service is not important. Its is very important because it makes the over-stressed road network perform to the pitiful degree that it does. But it’s a service that its users can afford, and it costs more per passenger mile than the in-city all-day routes. Fares should be differentially higher than the current “peak” surcharge.

      1. @aw,

        Yes, there are certainly “reverse” commutes to Bellevue and Redmond from Seattle. But aren’t the large majority of those cross-lake trips already on ST? The Metro peak-only expresses that still operate are Park’N’Ride expresses, which by definition have no reverse travel.

    1. There’s another big cost associated with the peak routes, and that’s part time labor. A part time hour is way more expensive for Metro than a full time hour, because of the benefit math involved.

      However, the flip side is that many would argue peak time use should be encouraged for traffic reduction, so it is worth more heavily subsidizing and raising the price of it should be avoided.

      And I can’t really think of many in-city express routes, the fast majority of them are 2-zoners.

      1. 7x, 15x, 17x, 18x, 19, 29/62 (okay, that’s two-way), 7x,37,55,56x, 57, 21x, 113 (with a very tiny tail into White Center), 77 (with a tiny tail into Shoreline), 64, 28x, 48x, 74, 76. And then, don’t forget extra peak service on regular routes.

        They’re still around.

      2. How is part time labor more expensive because of benefits. If it is Metro is totally screwed up. Almost no business pays medical for less than 30 hours/week and hours are carefully watched so that the threshold isn’t exceeded. Surely Metro isn’t paying into a pension fund for part time employees; please tell me that’s true.

      3. The express routes aren’t that expensive to run. They are very average compared to the regular eastside routes at least. Dead heading is short since buses start from places close to their terminus (like East Base) and to get there they make good time on the freeway because they are traveling reverse peak. The runs themselves are chock full feeding jobs in Seattle and as noted most are well utilized; not packed but better than average mid-day suburban runs. Now, if you’re talking runs out to North Bend, Bonny Lake, et al then yes those long distance routes should be paying a premium.

      4. Bernie, I think the reason most transit agencies charge as much as they do for suburban express service is because they can. If your employer pays for your transit pass what do you care what your fare is? Even if not you probably won’t object until the round trip fare is close to the cost of parking.

        By gouging the commuters other transit agencies are able to have lower all-day fares on regular routes than metro.

      5. Bernie,

        The expensive deadheading in the morning is not when the bus goes from the base to the start of the route. It’s when it goes from downtown back to the start of the route and makes another loop and then when it completes its last inbound run it has to return to the suburban base. For every revenue run there is a complete opposite direction deadhead run.

        It’s exactly the same in the afternoon except the buses make the long trip between downtown and the base at the start of service rather than the end.

        No, they’re not as expensive to operate as coverage routes in the boonies, but those coverage routes are all going away sometime in the next year.

      6. I can’t speak to routes outside of my small vision on the world but from the point of view at S. Kirkland the reverse commutes are about 50% full coming out of Seattle (Metro 255 and ST 540) vs 100% inbound. The farther out you get the worse it gets hence my nod to North Bend, Bonny Lake justifying a higher rate. My guess is the rate that makes those routes “pay” would be high enough that people already driving would go to P&R lots closer in; hence eliminating those routes once the financial truth is revealed.

      7. Bernie,

        While, yes, the 540 is a peak only tripper, the 255 is an all day core service route. Both of those routes happen to resemble expresses because they run on the freeway to cross Lake Washington (it’s the only way…..). But in reality, both are actually “local” service; the 255 runs on surface streets all the way from Bellevue Way and 520 to the Brickyard P’n’R and the 520 from downtown Kirkland to the same on-ramp. I’ve never ridden the 520 so I don’t know if it makes all the stops that the 255 does — it may be sort of BRT-is — but they do follow the same path, and it’s emphatically “local” service.

        Even though they do serve Park’n’Rides (255 four! of them) they are not Park And Ride expresses which is the sort of service that is almost always one half empty, out of service backhaul.

    2. I agree instead of “peak/off-peak” fares, metro should charge the kind of fares for peak expresses seen elsewhere. Somewhere in the $4-$6 range seems to be the norm.

  30. I will vote for the property tax increase in Seattle. If, the increase does not cover service to the outlying areas. Seattle Only.

    -Jimmy Turbo

  31. As logical as this proposal is, the accountability concern needs to be addressed. Otherwise, the NO campaign will just harp on accountability – a central theme of the last vote. I think that to have any referendum without some sort of oversight that is front and center of the proposal and the campaign, it’s going to be attacked and harder to pass.

    I have to point to the Los Angeles funding model, where the local revenue for transit gets directly by local cities. They have some say-so on whether it should go to Metro or to a local shuttle or some other service. The LA transit model has its bad points, but at least Metro there knows that they are on a shorter leash when it comes to spending locally-generated revenue. LA and other cities there have privately-contracted shuttle services on top of Metro, for example.

    I also worry about issues of “fairness” when it comes to service allocation in different parts of town. Who is making sure that the various parts of town get their fair share? Aren’t we letting the operator make that judgment call today?

    In sum, can we have an independent Seattle Transit Funding Oversight board to require and monitor efficiency, effectiveness and equity with our tax money?

    1. Who is making sure that the various parts of town get their fair share?

      Presumably, SDOT (or some department thereof). The City of Seattle would be buying service trip-by-trip, route-by-route, from Metro. Must as they did under the Transit Now program, but without the county-level matching funds Transit Now offered.

      Creating a new oversight board would be a redundant waste of money, because all that falls under the purvue of the recently created State Auditors Office! And it’s already part of the Mayors responsibility to make sure SDOT is spending their money wisely. But I think you have the spirit of the Seattle Process down pat.

    2. I’m beginning to see an outline of how it would be decided.

      Councilmember 1: OK, we have X hours. Where should we add service?

      Councilmember 2: The 2 of course, because it has the most vocal supporters. And then the 12, because it has the second-most.

      Kshama Sawant: The 2 is an important social-justice route.

      Councilmember 1: OK, how many hours do we have left after those?

      Councilmember 2: I have no idea. Let’s ask SDOT…

      [SDOT pulls down the Transit Master Plan and compares it to the cut list. It consults a Metro planner for advice on how different changes would impact the network, and makes a list of the largest priorities in each part of the city. It gives the list to Mayor Murray, who gives it to the council.

      The councilmembers assess how the changes would impact their future districts and thus their reelection chances. They make little tweaks, but when one councilmember makes a ridiculous proposal in Rainier Valley, and the West Seattle members try to hog a disproportionate number of hours, the rest of the council says no, and the final structure is close to SDOT’s recommendation.]

    3. This measure would just restore cuts. There’s no accountability issue there.

  32. I’ve said before that I’ll support Ben in any attempt to raise taxes in Seattle and I stand by that statement := Seriously I think this is a smart move for many of the reasons already mentioned in this post. Kicking in after the cuts have been made could be a blessing. Hopefully the cuts will be cover to eliminate virtually all of the stupid loop de loops, duplicate service and just dumb routing (but we’ve always done it this way!).

    One big issue for me though is the inequity in the assessment of commercial vs residential property in King Count. Residential assessments are typically very close to market value. Commercial OTOH is often in the 25-50% of real value. Even after a sale where the purchase price recorded is far in excess of the assessed value it doesn’t change. DT land owners are not paying anywhere close to the cost of the high cost of providing the bus service that make their location viable.

    I’d say attach a clause that levels assessed value with sale value after a purchase but it would get the measure thrown out on the “more than one issue clause”. But this seriously needs to be addressed.

    1. Instead of a clause forcing the adjustment of commercial assessed values, why not a clause setting the rate for commercial properties at $0.33/$1,000.00 of assessed values, ie Resedintial properties will be taxed at $0.22/$1000.00 of Assessed value, All non residential properties will be taxed at $0.33/$1000.00 of assessed value ?

      1. I believe state law requires residential and commercial property to be assessed at the same rate.

      2. An assessment should be just that, an appraisal of fair market value. I’m sure the not talked about reason is that correctly assessing commercial property would be a disincentive for business to move or stay in the State. Like we give Boeing a pass on the completely stupid B&O tax. They’d have left decades ago is they had to pay that at the same rate every mom & pop business does. But in the case of the property tax assessment there is a solid reason to actually tax the property owners that benefit the most from government spending at a higher rate. Might some move to the suburbs? Sure, and that’s not such a bad thing.

      3. It sounds like you aren’t happy with the county assessor. Maybe you should take up the issue with his office, or support someone else. Personally, I don’t think there is a problem.

  33. Okay, so I am actually pro-transit, but sympathize with people who cast their “no” votes from outside of the city. My neighborhood has zero transit provided by Metro. We do have a peak-only bus financed jointly by the City & Sound Transit, and operated by Pierce Transit (even though we are in King County). I’ve also had a helluva time getting a family member qualified for Access (people not returning phone calls, “losing” paperwork, etc). Why should somebody living in a place not served by Metro pay for the service? Being pro-transit, I think it is time for Metro to become a special-purpose tax district (similar to Sound Transit) and remove outlying areas like Enumclaw and North Bend where transit is not popular and where service cost is extra-high.

    1. >> Why should somebody living in a place not served by Metro pay for the service?

      For the same reason that people without kids should pay for schools. We all benefit when children are educated, and we all benefit when people and goods can move well. Good transit is part of that transportation system. Government services aren’t all about you (I don’t own a boat, but I support the Coast Guard).

    2. Anonymous has a point in the last sentence though. Maybe Metro should exclude the outermost ring from its service area (Duvall, Carnation, Snoqualmie, Maple Valley, Black Diamond, Enumclaw), as Pierce Transit has done. Those areas can arrange their own shuttles to transit centers as they wish. But that would require rechartering Metro because it’s a county department rather than a transit benefit district like PT is.

      However, I don’t know if Anonymous’ area is in the outer ring, or how far it really is from the nearest bus stop. We can’t go swiss-cheese excluding areas inside the Woodinville-Redmond-Issaquah-Covington-Auburn ring. They decided to be lowest-density single-family, and that means they can’t support all-day bus service.

  34. Is it even legal to put a tax levy on the ballot by initiative? Doesn’t that have to be put on the ballot by the Council? I know at the state level all the initiatives say the appropriation is subject to action by the legislature and then the legislature never funds them.

    1. It should be. Initiatives have the same ordinance power legislative bodies do.

      1. Reading your initiative I think I see why it might be legal. You are only lifting the levy lid. It will still be up to the City Council and Mayor to actually pass an ordinance that imposes the tax. They could ignore it or impose it at a lower rate or for a shorter time. My guess is that they might impose it for two years to put pressure on the legislature. They could always extend it as that initial time period closes since you have authorized it for six years. My one concern is that there will be many levy issues on the November ballot and we will have been through a brutal battle over the Parks District in August. People may well get levy fatigue.

  35. Second question – how do you calculate and use the 80% rule. Example – the 131 to Burien TC from downtown Seattle. It spends 30 minutes north of Roxbury (the City limits) and 16 minutes south. That’s only 65% in the city. But it becomes a 26 and goes another 32 minutes in the city. So for the total route it is 79.5% – close enough to 80%. Would the 131 be financed? Might some runs terminate at Roxbury?

    1. Good question. That’ll be up to Council’s interpretation of the measure. You can read the text online at!

  36. Over 200 comments and no one wants to actually address bad management of the Metro network as a reason Prop 1 was voted down? Okay, I will. (And I voted for Prop 1, and my immediate Mount Baker neighborhood loses 3 of 4 buses and all weekend service once all cutbacks are taken.)

    Metro suffers from too many kinds of buses. Think of the efficiency of Southwest Airlines, that only flies 737s. Their fleet is so much easier to maintain that Delta’s or United’s, or especially American’s. Likewise, Metro has bought all kinds of cool green buses. But the complexity costs dearly. Drivers can’t be expected to be good at driving all buses, and mechanics can’t be expected to fix anything in the yard.

    What if Metro only had three kinds of buses? Accordions for the Rapid Ride and express routes, no-emission overhead trolleys for the hilly routes already installed, and low-emit diesels for everywhere else? Forget natural gas, hybrid, standard gas, etc. Can we talk about that before, or at least while, we seek a new way to raise taxes, again?

    Just ignoring mismanagement as a reason for the No vote is not thinking about the whole system.

    1. My understanding — which may be incorrect — is that they’re basically aiming for a fleet with only a few types of buses, all either trolly or hybrid. Right now there’s a mix as old buses get removed from service and replaced by new ones, is all.

      It’s not clear to me that the hybrids have increased operating cost over diesel-only buses. Do you have information that shows otherwise? They’re *much* quieter pulling away from stops, which I consider a substantial benefit.

      I don’t think Metro is running any CNG buses. Isn’t that just a Sound Transit thing? Pretty sure all the Metro buses run diesel.

      1. CNG buses are a Pierce Transit thing. There are some ST CNG buses for PT operated routes.

  37. One thing I read that I didn’t realize was that the Metro union contract is coming up for negotiation. It was postulated that one reason for voting no was that would force Metro’s union to agree to a softening of work rules, etc. that drive up Metro’s costs, while a yes vote would direct money right to the union. What do people think about that? For this initiative, how do we know that we will get all the bus service we thought we were paying for and not less because some of the money went to additional raises, etc. for bus drivers? Would it be better to wait a year to allow these cuts to force a more sustainable union contract?

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