Seattle needs more bus service. Prop 1 will deliver it.

Yes for BusesSeattle is booming. According to the latest census forecasts, Seattle is now the fastest-growing large city in America.  Between 2000 and 2014, we added almost 80,000 residents inside the city limits. Judging by all the construction cranes dotting the skyline, we’re nowhere near finished.

Yet despite the population growth, bus service in Seattle hasn’t expanded significantly in years. King County Metro tried twice to expand service over the last 15 years. Each time, unfortunately, an economic recession forced the agency to pull back, leaving service levels basically where they were in the ’90s. This September, Metro was in fact forced to cut service when various post-recession stopgaps finally ran out.

It should come as no surprise, then, that many buses are packed. On the most popular routes, buses are frequently so crowded that they have to leave passengers at the stop. After 7pm, many Seattle buses are infrequent. This makes things difficult for folks who work nights and weekends, or who just want to ride the bus for something other than commuting to work. Meanwhile, volatile tax revenue and years of crisis have diverted staff focus from improving the system.

This November, Seattle residents will have an opportunity to finally address some of the system’s problems instead of play defense. Seattle Transportation Proposition 1 would raise approximately $45m per year inside the city through a sales tax increase and a vehicle license fee, both expiring by 2021. Low-income residents would get a partial rebate on the license fee. This new revenue would translate to about 260,000 hours of new bus service per year if there are no further King County cuts.

Initially, this fall’s Transportation Prop 1 was conceived as yet another last-minute effort to save existing service.  Fortunately, thanks to yet more belt-tightening at the agency and an improving economic climate, Transportation Prop 1 would instead expand service and improve reliability on dozens of Seattle’s core bus routes. More peak trips would be added to several routes, while others would see more service in the evenings and weekends. The legislation contains clear language that prevents Metro from using Seattle money elsewhere in the County.

Prop 1 isn’t perfect. We would prefer a countywide solution, but voters rejected that in April. Unfortunately, the money can only be spent on bus service, not on capital improvements like improving bus stations or adding new bus lanes. You will find no greater advocates for these projects than us, but we recognize that other measures can address these needs, and meanwhile demand for service is large.

A growing city needs a growing transit network. Proposition 1 provides the additional service the bus system needs.

The STB Editorial Board currently consists of Martin H. Duke, Frank Chiachiere, Matthew Johnson, and Brent White.

18 Replies to “Vote Yes on Transportation Proposition 1”

  1. I’d be careful about handing the opposition a paragraph about helping the desperate need for service with ballot language that won’t deliver it.

    First volley campaign workers will face- from both opponents and would-be supporters: “Buses stuck in traffic are same as buses not there. Why bother?” And worse: “Anybody who’d write ballot language ignoring this, why should I think they’ll fix it later?”

    Breeding a worse outlook: Might be easier to get those critical improvements out of a total disaster than a lame fix.

    Those “imperfections” could well deliver defeat, not by number of hostile votes, but absent positive ones. Like the Democrats lost the House in 2010, and rest of Congress in 1994. Having to fight, or work, with one hand holding your nose finally exhausts the strongest supporter.

    However, there’s a remedy for that condition, especially for the electorally undocumented with a whole hide-full of skin in this game: if you can’t stand present defects, get very active in the engineering and politics needed to render them the past.

    A region with our tectonic cycles should have a transit system that can keep running across decades of political and economic ones- the piece of transit infrastructure most in need of repair. Whatever happens in a few weeks.

    Mark Dublin

    1. The success or failure of ballot measures like this are less about messaging and marketing and more about turnout. Basically, most people are either pro or anti, and they’ll vote pretty consistently, since they’ll be attracted to whichever messaging/argument suits their preconceived position.

      We won 66% before, and we’ll probably have a more pro-transit electorate. It’s very difficult to lose that much support over seven months.. The people who ask the kind of questions you’re talking about are almost certainly going to end up in their natural camp, regardless of the answer.

  2. Number of comments on this posting is unsettling, especially after the amount of effort I put into unsettling likely voters.

    And I can’t even vote in Seattle! More important matter is not whether the measure passes in Seattle or not, but what’s needed both sides of the city line if it does!

    Mark

  3. Why is it expiring in 2021 and not permanent? Is it because of legal reasons or strategic reasons? Creating an automatic funding crisis in 7 years is frustrating seeing how hard it is to solve the current one.

    Also, were property taxes off limits for this funding package? Seeing as retail sales are not growing much (causing Metro’s current crisis), and car ownership faces some strong headwinds in Seattle, I don’t see either funding source as particularly sustainable. Real estate, on the other hand, is booming.

    1. It’s probably intended to expire at the time that Northgate Link opens, which would give an opportunity to restructure some routes for greater efficiency and perhaps eliminate some others.

    2. It was written as a temporary emergency levy, following its predecesor King County Prop 1, and following the tradition that levies only last five years or so. Until two weeks ago it was primarily to preserve service hours; nobody thought expansion was realistic. By 2021 several things will have changed: North Link will be running, the economy will either be better or worse, the legislature may have finally passed a transportation bill and given us better tax flexibility, and we’ll have time to evaluate a better long-term measure if we have to. This tax mix is not ideal: a flat $60 fee regardless of the size or price of the car or motorcycle. It’s OK for a stopgap, but if we want it to be permanent we should deliberate that specifically. And if Seattle is going to fundamentally change how it funds Metro (ie., more city funds), we should have a larger longer-term discussion about that.

    3. It is a legal reason, if nothing else. The law that permits Transportation Benefit Districts caps the life of a levy like this at 10 years.

  4. I couldn’t agree more with the Editorial Board’s conclusion here. Voting Yes will lead to real and significant improvements in bus service within the city, especially nights and weekends.

    1. If there’s not another recession. If there is, it will revert to its original purpose of staving off post-September 2014 cuts, and those extra hours will disappear. It’s important to mention this because people have complained that previous expansions have been swallowed by recessions, so we have to be clear that this might happen again. An advantage of this measure is that it explicity says its first priority is to fill-in existing hours, so nobody can say “I voted for Transit Now but didn’t get anything it promised.” (Which wasn’t really accurate the first time around but it’s how some people feel.)

      Although if the expansions occur and then a recession starts later, would the city really go back to the 2014 network to decide cuts? At some point the expansions become facts on the ground and it becomes ludicrous to cut back a productive expansion to backfill a route that had since been deprioritized.

      1. Expansions become “facts on the ground” almost immediately. I think there’s no chance that, if the expansions occur before cuts, the expansion service (some of which is really desperately needed) would be cut first.

  5. Prop 1 : The 10 year Trough for all the transit piggies to feed at

    Vote yes for spending other people’s money, your local commisar commands you!

    1. Minor correction, Big Don. Over this country’s history, the official responsible for asking Congress to grant him the ability to take other people’s money for things like wars, which used to be fought in trenches, not troughs, is called not a Commissar, but the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, President for short.

      Idea of the whole country’ citizenry each supplying their own supplies and weapons is in fact fairly old. Happened a lot with the Greeks of Socrates’ time. Same in Scotland up ’til 1700’s, but one alteration: officers’ property included whole divisions of tenant farmers who didn’t have any.

      Might be time to take this one out and brush it off. Nobody really needs an M-16 if he keeps his distance from the enemy. In the Civil War each soldier only had a single-shot rifle- same as those Kentucky hunters in the Revolution.

      Will be good if hang-gliders and ultralights work for close-air support. Because one Republic A-10, deadly and indestructible pencils out to eleven million dollars. Petty theft. An F-16 or newer is really grand larceny.

      A 1903 Springfield from WWI should be affordable to every individual. Five feet of wood and steel also makes a hell of a club. Bayonets can stay off the shopping list too. WWI Germans found that same short folding spade can be used both for sanitary excavation, and also sharpened to literally slice an enemy to dog food.

      Sorry pup. But hope at least other people chip in so you can still have your bowl without feeling guilty for stealing money just because the Commissar in Chief said so. Mr. President, SIT, boy, SIT! Which one of you is Don, anyhow?

      Mark

  6. We may not have expanded bus service since 2000, but Link is a major enhancement of our transit mobility. With more speedy rail connectivity coming, it’s only reasonable to anticipate that the role of bus service will change from serving all transit trips to only serving short trips or trips in corridors that won’t have rail. Because of Link, it may be more appropriate to not be expanding overall bus transit service and be putting our dollars towards high capacity, high frequency rail projects instead.

    1. Those of us who live in areas that will never see light rail or even streetcar service in our lifetimes greatly appreciate expanding bus service. I’ll mark it down right now: if a streetcar with the same or better frequency and connectivity as the First Hill Streetcar is going down 23rd Ave or MLK in the next 10 years, I’ll eat my hat.

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