In 2014, Seattle residents voted 62% – 38% to raise taxes to prevent cuts to King County Metro Transit Seattle routes after a Countywide transit measure had failed just months before. A rebound in County revenues has allowed Seattle to instead use the money to add more transit service and ease overcrowding.
As the measure is set to expire at the end of 2020, Seattle is looking to partner with King County to pass a region-wide transit measure.
“Every time we add a new bus we get a bus and half worth of people that want to ride,” said Seattle Councilmember Mike O’Brien in an interview with the Seattle Transit Blog. “We don’t have to convince people to ride transit, we just have to deliver it and they want to use it.”
The measure generates about $50 million a year through a $60 annual vehicle license fee and 0.1% sales tax. That influx of cash pays for roughly 270,000 hours of additional bus service annually.
“When we did it the first time, a few years back, we intentionally set a relatively short-term horizon because partners throughout the County had said, ‘we know we failed in April, but please don’t foreclose Seattle joining with the rest of the County at some future date,’” O’Brien said.
And if the County does want to partner with Seattle on a future transit measure, O’Brien wants to support it.
“There are transit needs throughout the entire county, and Seattle voters are very pro-transit,” O’Brien said. “There are some very transit-dependent communities outside the city of Seattle that would really like to see more transit and they could use the help of Seattle voters to carry a county-wide initiative.”
The office of Rod Dembowski, King County County Councilmember and Chair of the Regional Transit Committee, didn’t return a request for comment.
If the County is interested in pursuing a county-wide measure, the conversation needs to begin this year, O’Brien added.
“But what we can’t do is wait until the end and have a county vote at the last minute that may not pass, and not have room for Seattle to come in and do something,” O’Brien said.
At the latest, to keep current service levels, a measure needs to pass by November 2020.
“There’s no way I can envision the city doing anything but at a minimum renewing what we are doing — we need that transit service,” O’Brien said. “If we had to cut $50 million worth of transit service out of the city it would be devastating.”