Voters in the Intercity Transit district, which roughly covers the cities of Lacey, Olympia, Tumwater, and Yelm, will soon decide on Proposition 1, a ballot measure that would increase sales taxes by 0.4 percent in order to fund transit services. Intercity Transit currently levies a 0.8 percent sales tax, which makes up 79 percent of annual revenue.
The sales tax increase would raise about $16-$20 million annually and would be used to patch operational costs that were originally paid for using ever-shrinking federal grants (which makes up 8 percent of the agency’s annual budget). It would also be used to launch new services, including routes to underserved areas, improved frequencies, expanded evening and weekend service, and perhaps lead to a bus rapid transit system.
Intercity Transit has been drafting its long-range plan, entitled IT Road Trip, for two years and has solicited feedback from riders and local organizations. A recent survey of PTBA residents showed widespread support for public transit service and a majority of respondents supported a sales tax increase to fund new transit services.
This year, the state legislature approved an exception to the PTBA’s 0.9 percent sales tax allowance, allowing the agency to increase its sales tax to 1.2 percent if approved by voters. This would put it level with Community Transit, which had its own exception approved by the legislature ahead of a successful ballot campaign to fund new services.
If the sales tax increase is approved, Intercity Transit plans to implement longer operating hours beginning next year, then move to improving frequency and service to northeastern Lacey in 2020 after the I-5/Marvin Road interchange is rebuilt by WSDOT (and turned into this monstrosity). In 2021, Night Owl service would begin on weekends and use on-demand shuttles to connect Downtown Olympia to three nearby areas. In 2022, commuter services to Tacoma would become more frequent and a new express route from Lacey to Yelm would debut. By 2026, the agency hopes to build its first bus rapid transit line, replacing popular and already near-frequent routes on Martin Way between Downtown Olympia and Lacey.
If the sales tax increase is rejected and another funding source is not found, Intercity Transit states that about 15 percent of existing service would be eliminated in 2019. Under one option, the agency would eliminate all weekend service to preserve existing weekday service. Another option would see the deletion of various routes, including the popular DASH downtown shuttle, and a reduction in inter-city commuter service to Tacoma (which would be outright eliminated on weekends).
The “yes” campaign, led by Thurston for Better Transit, has racked up endorsements from the 22nd district’s representatives and senator, The Olympian newspaper, and city councilmembers in each of the four major cities within the PTBA.
So far, there has been no sign of an organized “no” campaign, but an against statement was submitted to the local voter’s pamphlet and can be summed up as being singularly focused on taxes and even throwing in a mention of Sound Transit (which, as a non-PTBA, has nothing to do with the issue).