A Word on Revenue Projections

Historic Revenues through January 2013
Historic Revenues through January 2013

An unfortunate consequence of the relentless simplification in campaigns is the reduction of revenue projections to a single number. Metro had to settle on a representative figure – 17% cuts – to produce a tangible example of what the cuts would look like, which left it open to some unseemly Times editorial board nitpicking and a trivial update from Metro.

In reality, the revenue projections which spawn these service estimates originate with King County’s Office of Economic and Financial Analysis, and like all projections they actually reflect a range of possibilities. According to County Budget Director Dwight Dively, any revenue projection from that office is “at the 65% confidence level. In other words, there is a 65% probability that actual revenue will be at least as much as is forecast.  This was a policy adopted by the Forecast Council.”

This isn’t a pro- or anti-Prop. 1 point.  Metro’s priority is to preserve current service level, so it’s entirely reasonable (and responsible) that King County would err on the side of caution. In any case, the chances are quite high that revenue will either exceed or fall short of projections, that’s the nature of projections. If Prop 1 fails, the cuts might be above or below 17%, with more weight on the low side. Similarly, if the measure passes Metro might come up a little bit short, but it’s twice as likely that there is some scope to build up a rainy day fund, make long-deferred capital investments to reduce operating costs, or add service on the most overcrowded routes. This is a good “problem” to have.

In any case, this isn’t about “lies” and “promises.” Any agency with highly variable revenues can’t make precise predictions about how much it will be able to spend. The only way to avoid this uncertainty is to join Metro’s lobbying for predictable revenue sources like Motor Vehicle Excise Tax and the Vehicle License Fee that is on the ballot next week.

News Roundup: Taking to the Streets

A BBQ on 2nd Ave
A BBQ on 2nd Ave

This is an open thread.

Ride Services Measures Collecting Signatures

In response to Seattle’s new law on taxi-like services — formally legalizing them, placing limits on vehicle numbers, and creating new insurance and safety requirements — The Seattle Times reports Transportation Network Companies (TNCs) are funding a referendum ($) to repeal the law, under the name “Keep Seattle’s Ride Options.”

[The campaign must] collect at least 16,510 signatures by the end of Thursday [April 17th], the day before the regulations are to take effect… If enough signatures are gathered, the city would be immediately blocked from enforcing the new rules and couldn’t enact them unless voters reject the referendum.

It is not yet certain if the rules are even subject to referendum. Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, part of the (correct) Council minority who wanted the safety requirements without the camps, told me unequivocally that he does not support the referendum because “it is important to retain the safety and insurance regulations which the referendum would repeal.”

There was no serious debate about the safety rules, which are there to protect consumers and move to regulatory parity with the taxi industry. The Council has given every indication of being open-minded about revisiting the problematic caps next year. I have more faith in them than a group of companies that are evidently seeking to avoid oversight altogether.

On the other hand, Initiative 111 is focused on repealing the caps, reducing the $50,000 registration fee to $500, and tweaking some of those safety rules. For what it’s worth, that effort is led by Elizabeth Campbell, who has been associated with very problematic initiatives in the past. Initiative 111 wouldn’t delay enforcement of the existing statute in the meantime. But are the tweaks to those regulations a cause for concern?

Tom Rasmussen says he hasn’t “read the language in Initiative 111 and because of that I can’t say that I support it,” but he “would support an initiative that repeals the driver cap but retains effective safety and insurance regulations.”  An Uber representative says they’re “not supporting” I-111, preferring the referendum because “we want to give Seattle a chance to get this right.”

It’s Still A Category 4-and-a-Half Hurricane

Today, Metro released an updated service cuts proposal in very rough draft form, in response to unexpectedly strong economic growth which brought about a modest uptick in sales tax revenue.  The updated proposal cuts 50,000 fewer annual hours, heading off 1.4% of the previously estimated 17% cuts. During a briefing which Metro provided to the Transportation, Economy, and Environment Committee of the King County Council, Councilmember Rod Dembowski aptly said of the new proposal: “instead of a Category 5 hurricane, we’ve got a Category 4-and-a-half hurricane.”

That seems about right.  A 15.7% cut is a lot of pain.  Route-level details are below the jump. Continue reading “It’s Still A Category 4-and-a-Half Hurricane”

February 2014 Sound Transit Ridership Report – Off the Chart (Again)

Beast Quake 2 - Image from Pacific Northwest Seismic Network
Beast Quake 2 – Image from Pacific Northwest Seismic Network

I first created my charts and started writing these reports a year and a half ago.  Back then I set the upper limit for my growth chart at 16%.  At the time it seemed pretty reasonable.  In the fall of 2013, the most Link had ever grown from one year to next was 15% and at any time the growth rate would have to level off to the ‘mature rate’ of 2-3%.  Well I was wrong.  Unlike every other system in North America, Link has somehow not only managed to keep up double digit growth into its 4th year of operation, but Link’s growth is actually accelerating.  Last December I had to bump the top of the chart up to 18%, now I have to extend the upper limit to 20%.  True, there was a little event back in February that impacted the numbers, but even taking that day out Link was still in double digits.  At this pace Link is trending to catch up to its original projections even with the Great Recession severely impacting ridership in the short term.

February’s Central Link Weekday/Saturday/Sunday boardings were 30,250/18,805/14,474, growth of 19.2%, 4.4%, and 11.9% respectively over February 2013. Sounder’s weekday boardings were up 11.2% with ridership increasing on both the North and South lines.  Total Tacoma Link ridership was down 7.6% with weekday ridership declining 6.3%. Weekday ST Express ridership was up 7.4%, with most growth occurring on East King and Pierce County routes. Complete February Ridership Summary here>

At 29,609 average daily riders for the last 12 months, Link has already surpassed its projection of 29,600 average daily riders by Dec 31st 2014 (see page 112)

Yes, you read that correctly.  By February Link had already met its projected YEARLY ridership growth for 2014. 

As mentioned last post, February’s report not only has the pages of cool charts from January’s report but also a short analysis/context blurb for each chart.  Well worth checking out.  My charts below the fold. Continue reading “February 2014 Sound Transit Ridership Report – Off the Chart (Again)”

Yes, Metro’s Deficit is Real

metro recession

Every so often, a local anti-transit or anti-tax group will write a hit piece against Metro, alleging, for a variety of reasons, that the agency’s financial crisis is made up. These pieces invariably rely on creative graph-making, conflating Metro’s primary tax-funded service with externally-funded contract service (such as that provided to Sound Transit), or making some other obvious error of fact. In this post, I’m going to present Metro’s raw data for sales tax collections and services delivered for the last decade, and explode a couple of myths in the process.

Myth #1: Metro’s revenues have increased each of the last three years. The agency has loads of money!

The chart above will be familiar to anyone who’s taken an interest in Metro’s finances, but seems to elude Metro’s drive-by fiscal critics, who’s data mysteriously always begins in 2010. It’s true that Metro’s sales tax collections have increased each of the last three years, and will increase again this year, but that omits the crucial fact that revenue fell off a cliff between 2008 and 2009, bottoming out in 2010, for a total drop of about $72 million.

Despite this plunge in revenue, the total amount of service Metro provides has dipped only very slightly. Instead, over the last three years, that hole has been filled with a combination of fare hikes and operational cost savings, along with about $344 million of one-time cash transfers, notably including $180 million from axed capital programs and $41 million from operational reserves.

Those measures, taken at the behest of elected officials, whose directive to Metro was to preserve service at all costs, are now exhausted, but an ongoing gap of about $75 million/year remains between what Metro needs to continue offering its current level of service, and what Metro’s sales tax is bringing in. Closing that gap will require either a major cut in the quantity of service Metro delivers, or new revenue, which, along with helping the dire state of County Roads, is what Prop 1 will do.

metro mvet sales

Myth #2: We keep voting to give Metro more money. Surely the agency must have lots of of it by now.

Continue reading “Yes, Metro’s Deficit is Real”

Protect the Poor. Vote Yes.

Real ChangeWhen it comes to protecting the poor, there is no more trusted news source than Real Change News. Real Change has published an editorial that efficiently lays out why King County Metro is in the financial difficulty it is in, and explains why those who have the interests of King County’s poorer denizens at heart should vote Yes on King County Proposition 1.

Transportation cuts are themselves regressive, depriving poor and disabled people, senior citizens and young people of necessary transportation. Many low-wage earners simply can’t afford a car, and they have no other way to get to jobs, school, medical appointments and other basic needs.

It bears repeating that Metro has no back-up funding plan for the low-income fare program if Proposition 1 loses. Losing that program could cost each potential low-income qualifier up to $864 per year.

Please vote to protect the poor. Please vote Yes, and postmark your ballot by April 22.

Sounder Service to Mariners Returns Sunday

Sounder MarinersSounder trains will once again serve Sunday afternoon Mariners games for the 2014 season, starting this Sunday when the M’s and the Oakland A’s slug it out for first place in the American League West Division. There will also be Sounder service to the afternoon Memorial Day game against the LA Angels, since commuter service won’t be running that day.

The departure times for weekend Sounder event trains are available here.

The full Mariners season schedule is available here.

Note to baseball fans flying in from out of town: Sounder is not the train you are looking for. What you want is Link Light Rail, which takes you from the airport to downtown Seattle, via Safeco Field. Be sure and buy a train ticket or an ORCA card at the station vending machines, and be prepared to show it to the fare enforcement officers during your train ride.

The full list of scheduled weekend Sounder event service dates for 2014, so far, is available here.

In addition to serving weekend afternoon Mariners and and Sounders games, Sounder and the Emerald Downs Pony Express from Auburn Station will team up to serve Emerald Downs.

Afternoon South Sounder counter-peak runs are at a good time for getting to weeknight games. Sound Transit keeps extra ST Express buses, and super-frequent Central Link trains, on stand-by to get home after the games.

Buses that run by Safeco Field include King County Metro routes 21, 41, 101, 106, 124, 131, 132, and 150; and ST Expresses 522, 545, 577, 578, 590, and 594. Metro 150 will get you back to Kent Station. ST Express 578 will get you back to Auburn Station, Sumner Station, and Puyallup Station, but you have to get back up to 2nd Ave Ext S & S Jackson St to catch it. ST Express 594 will get you back to Tacoma Dome Station and Lakewood Station.

Central Link connects to some bus routes that don’t have to slog through the game traffic, and get you back to Sounder stations, including Metro route 180 from Seatac/Airport Station to Kent Station and Auburn Station, and ST Express 574 from Seatac/Airport Station to Tacoma Dome Station. No, the 140 from Tukwila International Boulevard Station to Tukwila Sounder Station doesn’t run late enough, but hopefully the F Line will. (Wouldn’t it be cool if stand-by 180s and 574s were waiting at the Link stations, departing as they filled up?)

BTW, If you want Metro buses to continue to run late enough to take fans home from baseball games, you might want to vote for King County Proposition 1. There may be far more important reasons to vote Yes, but I just wanted to throw that one out, too.

Angle Lake Construction Photos


Atomic Taco/Flickr

[UPDATE: Cellphone waiting lot photo now actually shows the new lot.]

On Wednesday Sound Transit invited media to see the 365 foot long gantry being used to construct the guideway between SeaTac/Airport Station and the future Angle Lake Station. The 400 ton gantry hoists pre-cast concrete segments, each weighing 35-45 tons, in to place. The spans between columns are typically 150 feet long and a crew of 12 can be construct a span in 2-3 days. Approximately 80% of the columns in the 1.6 mile extension have been constructed to date.

The spans shown in the photos here are the two southernmost ones. Angle Lake Station will be a center platform station, so two separate spans come out of the station and merge in to one, which will eventually continue to Kent/Des Moines Road.

In August, construction will begin on the 1,050 stall garage, sited just north of the station.

In a somewhat related story, SeaTac’s Cell Phone Lot moved last week to a location on S 170th between the Airport Expressway. The lot has 200 spaces, up from 130 and trades mediocre tarmac views for a panorama of the Airport Link extension alignment.

More photos below the jump.

Continue reading “Angle Lake Construction Photos”

Better Connecting Harborview and Downtown

Map of ideas described in post
Map by Oran

About two years ago, I wrote a post comparing the speed and reliability of two transit pathways between downtown Seattle and Harborview Medical Center, James St and Yesler Way, using data from the Metro routes that currently travel on those corridors. That data showed what anyone who’d ridden those buses already knew: the buses on James St, which directly serve Harborview, are packed to overflowing, but crippled by appalling slowness and unreliability for much of the day, partly from being so busy, but primarily from all the cars on James St queuing to access I-5. By contrast, buses on Yesler run fast and like clockwork, partly because they’re less used, but crucially because Yesler is a very lightly-trafficked arterial with no direct highway connections.

Harborview and the surrounding area, which includes numerous other medical facilities, and the Yesler Terrace housing project (soon to be rebuilt at much higher density), comprise a major ridership center just beyond the periphery of downtown, cut off by a huge hill and a freeway. Better connecting that area to downtown should be a priority for Metro and the City of Seattle, and the combination of James’s incurable congestion, and Yesler’s almost equal directness and near-total lack of congestion, suggest that moving trolleybus service from James to Yesler is the smart way to do so.

Moving the James St trolleybus service entails building new trolleybus wire on streets that have never had it previously, as well as operating buses on a couple of short sections of 8th and 9th that have not previously had any regular Metro service, so implementation will require significant study and civil engineering work. This being Seattle, getting anything built will be a multi-year process, but, happily, this process has at last begun: in last year’s budget, the city allocated $150,000 for a study of transit service on Yesler, which will include a conceptual design for trolleybus overhead wire, expected to be complete by the end of the year. No funding is available for engineering or construction, but SDOT hopes the conceptual design will better equip the city to pursue more funding.

More after the jump.
Continue reading “Better Connecting Harborview and Downtown”

News Roundup: Not Nearly Enough

This is an open thread.

Save Seattle Jobs. Vote for Prop. 1.

Aurora Congestion
Congestion on Aurora Ave. N. Photo by Oran Viriyincy.

The city of Seattle is a crowded place.  Anyone who sits in traffic (in a bus or a car) on I-5, Denny Way, Spring Street, or any of Seattle’s numerous other bottlenecks knows that.  People want to be here because there are great jobs and culture, diverse and fascinating people, and lots of fun things to do.  To take advantage of those strengths of the city, people put up with the congestion and delays we see every day on city streets.

But people are only willing to wait so long.  Eventually, as the wait gets worse and worse, people peel off one by one to live, work and play elsewhere.  There is a certain level of congestion and delay beyond which each person is unwilling to go, both because the loss of time begins to cost too much and because quality of life begins to suffer.  And you can’t increase the acceptable level of congestion by fiat.  How much congestion each person will tolerate is an individual decision.  So reducing transportation capacity doesn’t usually increase congestion.  Instead, it usually causes people to avoid the area where capacity was reduced.

Having lots of people in the city (whether they live here, work here, or just visit) is most of what generates and keeps jobs in the city.  People in the city buy goods and services from local businesses and create innovative new businesses of their own.  Without as many people, all those local businesses’ market would shrink, and the city would lose jobs.   In other words, each person who decides not to live, work, or play in the city because it’s too congested is costing jobs in the city.  To keep and add jobs, we have to keep people coming into, and moving around, the city.

The road network in the city is at capacity.  The most dramatic evidence of that: an oversupply of parking exists in downtown Seattle, yet parking-lot operators can’t fill more spots by reducing prices.  The reason is that more cars simply can’t get into the city.  It’s not a single roadway that is at capacity; it’s many of them, throughout the city, as any bus rider or driver knows.  It would take tens of billions of dollars, and result in untold destruction of buildings and city neighborhoods, to expand the road network sufficiently to allow a significant number of additional people to drive into and around the city with the current level of congestion.

Since it’s extremely difficult and destructive to add roadway capacity, and you can’t increase the level of congestion in the road network (or people will just leave), the only remaining way to get more people into and around the city is transit.  (Building more housing also helps get them in, but doesn’t help them move around.)  And transit, even gold-plated transit, is far cheaper for a given amount of capacity than roads built through the middle of cities.  Many more people can move through the same space if each one is not surrounded by 15 feet of steel.  That is why all medium-size and large cities — even ones built with far more car capacity than Seattle — heavily subsidize public transit systems, and see transit as vital to economic development and jobs.  Transit capacity, in a very concrete way, determines the potential for economic development in any developed city.  And actual transit ridership correlates very heavily with actual economic success.

Here in Seattle, Metro has the bulk of public transit ridership.  In 2012, Metro carried 115 million passengers in King County, while Sound Transit carried approximately 28 million passengers in the same period, over a much larger service area.  (Other public transit agencies serving Seattle carried negligible numbers in comparison.)  Both Metro and Sound Transit are essentially at capacity, especially during peak hours, when many of the busiest routes are regularly leaving people behind.  We have no other way to replace even a small part of Metro’s capacity.  Reduce it by 17 percent, and people — along with the jobs they bring — will leave.  They won’t keep jamming themselves into car traffic, because the resulting congestion will be too much for them.  Instead, they’ll just go somewhere else, which is the worst outcome for all of us.

Passing Prop. 1 will keep these Metro riders, and the jobs they bring the rest of us, in the city.  The sales tax and license fee Prop. 1 imposes, while imperfect, are a small price to pay for that benefit.  Please mail your Yes ballot by April 22.

ST Picking New Pictograms

cc_constellationThe Link station pictograms are a fairly self-evident accessibility feature, but the origin of these pictograms an almost entirely obscure riff on the concept of constellations, as we reported way back in 2008. Now it’s time to make the pictograms up for all the new stations between Northgate and Angle Lake:

Sound Transit is developing pictograms for future Link light rail stations. A pictogram is an icon that conveys meaning through its pictorial resemblance of a physical object. Pictograms are used on Sound Transit’s Link light rail station signage and way-finding materials. Paired with station names, they help identify stations and the surrounding neighborhood. Pictograms serve as station identification symbols for non-English customers, primarily those that use a non-Roman based alphabet.

Sound Transit would like to begin the process by getting input from you. Please take a moment to share your ideas by completing this questionnaire.

ST reports that it is “phasing out” the constellation program, in favor of simply picking a sensible pictogram.

Why Would We Want Metro to Emulate Pierce and Community Transit?

We’ve heard some odd, and often contradictory, arguments from the No on Proposition 1 campaign. One real head-scratcher is that Metro should have acted more like Pierce Transit and Snohomish Community Transit.

Let’s check in on Community Transit. Here is CT’s 2014-2018 Transit Development Plan. As Martin reported, CT made 160,000 hours of service cuts (37% of service) from 2008 to 2013. The service restoration plan based on sales tax revenue going up only brings back 45% of that service between now and 2019.


The plummeting of annual boardings from 12 million in 2008 to 9,096,544 in 2013 is shown on page 59:

Continue reading “Why Would We Want Metro to Emulate Pierce and Community Transit?”

The Times Doesn’t Know How to Increase Efficiency

The gist of the Times‘s no on Prop 1 editorial ($) is that King County should not replace the expiring tab fee, but instead avoid cuts through the magic of vaguely-specified cost controls. Suggesting that after years of efficiency-oriented service changes, administrative belt-tightening, and multiple fare increases, the deficit can be willed away by more of the same demands a detailed plan to show the numbers, but the Times betrays its fundamental unseriousness by providing only generic union-bashing and right wing talking points about trimming fat.

Their first vague solution is to “reduce labor costs.” Of course, the County can’t simply do that by fiat; it has to be collectively bargained. Personally, I think it would be great for riders if the Amalgamated Transit Union agreed to further cuts in total pay and benefits beyond what they’ve already conceded, and there likely are fair ways to do that. But the Times doesn’t say what compensation level would be acceptable to call off their jihad on transit. How should pay and benefits go down? How much can Metro reasonably recover? Is it enough to avert cuts? Without answers to these, this point is generic union-bashing.

Their second “solution” is to raise fares. A 25 cent fare increase yields about $6.6m annually. With a $60m annual budget gap, that implies a fare increase of $2.25, to $4.50 off-peak/$4.75 one-zone/$5.25 two-zone, if there were no decrease in ridership. Setting aside entirely the social impact on riders, at those prices Metro will have trouble competing with driving on subsidized highways with subsidized gasoline to subsidized parking spaces, and so it won’t actually plug the revenue gap. By suppressing ridership, it is likely to increase Metro’s cost per rider.

Their third source of savings is that old chesnut, “administration.” What positions should Metro eliminate? Public outreach? Service planning? Transit security? The people who clean bus stops? How many millions will that save? Metro’s administrative staff roster was slashed in the early 2000s as part of the cuts arising from I-695, notably including elimination of more than half of the community relations staff, who solicit customer feedback on service changes, and the entire long-range planning team. Where’s the fat to be cut? Again, the Times has nothing useful to say, it merely regurgitates generic talking points.

If the Times board were serious about increasing efficiency, they might start reading STB, where we’ve spent years figuring out how to reduce cost per rider:

Continue reading “The Times Doesn’t Know How to Increase Efficiency”

Municipal League *Supports* Proposition 1

The No on Proposition 1 campaign has stepped in it once again with an op-ed piece that twice cites critical analysis of King County Metro by the Municipal League of King County.

There are two problems with this picture:

(1) The Municipal League gave Metro a glowing review in a report it issued in 2013;

and …

(2) The Municipal League has endorsed King County Proposition 1.

The 2013 report is a useful document regardless of the Proposition 1 campaign, and includes some additional recommendations that will probably enjoy a lot of support among this blog’s readership.

Here is the report’s summary:

1. Performance Measurement and Reporting. Metro has made significant strides in sharing its statistics with the public by posting them on its website http://metro.kingcounty.gov/ under the tab About Metro/Accountability.

2. Service Allocation Policy. The newly adopted Strategic Plan and service guidelines seem to provide a promising framework for allocating service based on route productivity and ridership demand, serving those most dependent on transit, and providing geographic value. [emphasis added by this author]

3. Strategic Plan for Public Transportation. The new Strategic Plan for Public Transportation 2011-2021 is a more forthright and easier to understand plan than the previous plan discussed in our 2008 Municipal League report.

4. Clarity and Transparency. Metro has made significant changes and improvements to its reporting which is included in many forms on the King County Metro website, http://metro.kingcounty.gov/. We do offer additional suggestions for improvement in the discussion below [the full report].

Metro’s transparency stands in stark contrast to an opposition campaign that has set up fake front groups that gratuitously/Orwellianly include the word “transit” in their names, is led by a real organization that has been exposed for fake support for buses, and is taking the words of a prominent watchdog organization out of context to make it look like that group is opposing, rather than supporting, King County Proposition 1.

Explainer: Why We Need to Save Metro

On April 22, there will be a special election to fund King County Metro. Below is an updated version of a post I wrote a year ago explaining the context. You can also read the STB editorial board’s arguments in favor of Prop. 1.

What are we voting on April 22?
We’re voting on King County Proposition 1: a 0.1% sales tax and a $60/year car fee (with a rebate for low-income individuals) to fund roads and transit in King County over 10 years. 60% of funds raised would go to buses, and 40% to roads.

Why are we having this vote now?
King County Metro is facing a serious budget shortfall in 2014. This means that they’ll need to cut service by 17% to break even. 600,000 service hours will be cut.  65 routes would be deleted, and 86 would be reduced or revised. All in all, 2/3 of Metro routes would be affected.

Wait… didn’t we just do this two years ago?
Sort of, but it was temporary. In 2011 King County passed a $20 “congestion reduction charge” on all vehicles registered in the county. This bought us $25 million a year as part of the deal that also ended the Ride Free Area, but it will expire in 2014.

How bad is it?
There’s a $60M gap in 2014, and a combined $1.2B between 2008, when the recession began, and 2015.


Ok, that’s bad. Can’t they just, you know… trim the fat?
Well, they have been.  In 2008 they reduced operating expenses, gutted the capital fund (which pays for important stuff like running new trolleybus wire, etc.), and increased fares. That bought $30M.  It also arguably made the system more efficient. Then in 2011, they passed the CRC and got the unions to take a pay cut, saving tens of millions more.  WSDOT came through with $32M in mitigation money to deal with Viaduct headaches, but it also runs out in 2014… two years before the Viaduct opens. This mitigation money helps add additional trips to crowded West Seattle routes.  Riding in from West Seattle will suck even more when it goes away. (Update: the mitigation money has been restored for now.) All told, Metro has cut $726M from the budget since 2009. There are probably a few  routes that could  stand to be cut, but doing so now would do way more harm than good.


Oh, and “cutting the fat” ain’t so easy if you’ve ever been to a community meeting where cuts were proposed.  People get angry, they call their Councilmembers, and Metro backs off. Everyone seems to think the fat is in some other neighborhood.

(All that aside, Seattle’s a growing city with a healthy economy and a low unemployment rate. Metro should be increasing service, not cutting it, as Metro’s General Manager Kevin Desmond argues here.)

What about raising money from the fare box?
They’ve done it multiple times.  There’s only so much blood you can squeeze from a stone. Back in 2006, when peak fares were just $1.50, Metro predicted fares would rise just 75 cents by 2016.  As it turns out, peak fares are already at $2.50 and will probably rise again soon.

Okay, how about all that money spent on light rail and streetcars?
Those were built by different agencies (Seattle DOT, Sound Transit) with different funding sources. Sound Transit has a diversified funding base, including a Motor Vehicle Excise Tax or MVET along with a sales tax. That means Sound Transit can weather the recession a bit better.  Also, Sound Transit spends a lot of its money on capital projects like new light rail lines, which (a) can be spread out over more years if necessary, and (b) tend to get cheaper when there’s a recession and construction firms are hungry for work.

Okay fine, but what about the “Transit Now” tax we passed in 2006?
That was great! It got us RapidRide and a bunch of other stuff. But because it was a sales tax, it shrunk during the recession and ended up raising less than projected.  Since those funds were earmarked for RapidRide as the voters approved them, they can’t be moved into another bucket to save costs.

Wait a minute, this is craziness… Why are Metro’s finances in such bad shape to begin with?
Back in 1999, state voters approved Tim Eyman’s I-695, which would have gutted transit funding across the state by eliminating the state’s ability to charge an MVET.  I-695 was declared unconstitutional, but then-Governor Locke and the legislature were so scared of being run out of Olympia that they killed the MVET themselves the following year.  That blew a $500M hole in the state transportation budget. Here in King County, Metro lost an estimated $125M over the 2003-4 biennium, which we replaced by increasing the sales tax from 0.6% to 0.8% (and eventually to the legal maximum of 0.9% in 2006 with Transit Now). But there are two problems with a sales tax: it’s regressive, and it’s tied to the economy. Once the recession hit in 2008, everyone cut back on spending and sales tax revenues went in the toilet. It’s not just Metro: transit agencies all over the state, including the Washington State Ferries,  haven’t really made up for the money they lost after the MVET went away.

So what can we do about it?
Ideally we’d bring back MVET funding, at least here in King County. The thing about an MVET is that it’s progressive and predictable (versus a sales tax, which is regressive and volatile), since it’s based on the current value of all the cars in the county.  This would get us back to a healthy mix of tax revenue so that no one source can send the budget into a tailspin. However, the legislature declined to give us this authority.  What we can do instead is vote on a sales tax and a flat fee on cars, which is exactly what’s on the ballot April 22.

You’ve convinced me. How do I vote?

Look for your ballot in the mail.