King County Battery Bus Announcement
Claudia Balducci

King County Councilmember Claudia Balducci has started work on a potential countywide, dedicated transit funding package to augment or replace the Seattle Transportation Benefit District (STBD.) That tax package, which is comprised of a sales tax increase and car tab fee, is set to expire at the end of 2020.

Balducci says that the funding would be spent on implementing the ambitious Metro Connects program, the long-range plan that the agency and Council released in 2017.

“There’s a lot of stuff in Metro Connects that a lot of communities want, that will help with their transportation needs and their economic development and growth plans,” Balducci says. “But we haven’t identified the funding to serve all of that yet.”

Balducci is working with Metro and other elected officials to determine how much additional funding would be needed to fully implement Metro Connects. with more concrete plans coming in May or June. According to the motion that started the planning process, “the King County executive [will] report on the status of the regional planning effort by May 31, 2019.”

Further planning and stakeholder input would come after the report, during the rest of 2019. Eventually, the Council would write and approve initiative language that would appear on the ballot in 2020. However, if the county wide process doesn’t bear fruit, Seattle could still prepare its own measure to replace the STBD.

“We’re going to have a discussion this year and early next, about whether there’s a way to make a regional bus service funding proposal. I don’t know what that looks like yet, whether it’s a TBD or something else,” Balducci says.

Balducci launched the countywide process with the intention of giving the Seattle City Council leeway and time to design an initiative that could supplement a countywide measure, or stand in for the lack of one.

“It’s complicated, we would have to figure out how we do this in a way that honors the fact that Seattle does have a renewal they have to do,” Balducci says. “We don’t want to get in the way of that. Ideally, it would all merge into one, but there’s timing and complexities around that.”

Voters approved the STBD in November 2014. In April of that year, a countywide transportation benefit district failed at the ballot box. But Balducci says that the STBD’s success has opened the way for the countywide measure.

“It’s been very successful for Seattle. It pays for a lot of service that Metro would not otherwise be able to afford to provide. These lines get great ridership. They’re in high demand.”

This post has been updated.

22 Replies to “Balducci working on countywide transit funding package”

  1. It would be interesting to see what happened if a county-wide measure replaced the Seattle one. Would all of the service that Seattle funded – up to that hypothetical future point – remain in place? If so, some of the new county-wide revenue would be eaten up by that service starting on day 1. This would creat an immediate regional equity issue that could force the next tranche of investments (like 250,000 annual service hours) to go to not Seattle.

    Complexities, indeed.

    1. It depends on the difference between Metro’s 2025 and 2040 plans in Seattle and the Prop 1 service hours. My overall impression is that Metro Connects will offer more frequent service and access to more destinations from any point, but it’s hard to quantify it because there are so many other changes. And much of Metro’s plans are predicated on the Link extensions, especially in north Seattle. A lot of service hours are going to articulated buses on the E, 26, 28, 49, 70, 74, 76, and the other expresses north of 55th that will be redundant with Link. Those corridors will still need local service but won’t need extra peak buses for overcrowding and will get more freedom in their routing; e.g., to skirt downtown on Boren or SLU, or to turn to the U-District, etc.

      If a numbers-adept transit analyist is looking for a project, it would be worth comparing the Prop 1 service-hour increase vs Metro’s 2025 increase to see how much more (or less) service we’d get with the county plan. Those Link and RapidRide G (Madison), H (Delridge), and Roosevelt restructures will occur regardless of whether a county prop or city prop pass. But in the absence of those they’d be revenue-neutral, meaning fewer frequent routes and maybe deleting the weakest proposals (e.g., N Harrison/E Aloha, Lakeview/Delmar, 19th Ave E).

  2. Hope this passes, but I’m wary of the we-all-go-down together possibility. Cities that approve the measure should be allowed to purchase service even if it fails countywide. It’d be a shame if Seattle service levels got cut because voters elsewhere decided against the measure.

    1. There’s nothing I saw in there that precludes Seattle (or any other jurisdiction) from approving their own measures should this one fail – as already happened in 2014 – or augmenting it if it passes.

      1. Hopefully this goes on the ballot with enough time for Seattle to pass its own initiative if it fails, before the existing Seattle TBD vanishes.

  3. “From there, the Council would write and approve initiative language that would appear on the ballot in 2020.”

    I think you mean proposition language. There’s a big difference between the two terms.

  4. This is an excellent development for social equity. Seattle continues to push its lower income residents out to the suburbs, especially South King.

    While the Seattle TBD is great and was necessary after the county-wide failure at the last vote, it doesn’t address the important needs of getting workers living in, say, Kent or Auburn where they need to go.

    Especially shift workers. Late night service has improved in Seattle, but service workers on a late shift are basically screwed in the rest of the county.

    1. South King County has the most underservice. Its population is over 800K, and many are lower-income blue-collar workers, students, and immigrants. At the same time, they’ve voted against several Metro/ST measures saying they’re too poor for more transit taxes, so they’ve done it to themselves. Still, any increase in service should focus on Seattle first, South King County second, and the Eastside third.

  5. I like the idea of a county-wide proposal in general, as the need for good transit service goes beyond the Seattle city limits. However, Seattle does need to be careful and make sure that a shift from a city TBD to a county-wide TBD doesn’t dilute their tax dollars and end up reducing the amount of bus service within the city. Or worse, leave the city with massive service cuts, when the residents of Seattle are outvoted by anti-transit voters elsewhere.

    There needs to be some sort of guarantee that Seattle will get the same level of bus service with a county package as they would with a city-only package. And, there has to be enough time to get a city-only package on the ballot should the county-wide package fail.

    1. All the TBD money Seattle approved in 2014 couldn’t be used by METRO for more service, so much of it now is going to pay for ORCA cards for the disadvantaged and youth. Durkan just made that announcement, in her State of the City address.

  6. The subarea equity revenue projections based on the actual ST3 tax receipts will show so much unanticipated E. and N. King money that the funds for the additional bus service METRO wants will be available after 2020.

    1. Some readers here may not understand that Sound Transit pays METRO to provide bus service throughout the three-county region.

      1. Metro generally operates STX service within King County. STX routes in Pierce and Snohomish are generally operated by PT and CT, respectively.

      2. ST doesn’t operate buses; it contracts them to Metro, PT, and CT. (And CT subcontracts them to First Transit.) But that doesn’t mean Metro is getting enough profit from its ST-owned routes to expand Metro service.

    2. Mike: Sorry if I was unclear. METRO could operate lots of additional “Sound Transit branded” buses — beyond the levels promised in ST3 — starting immediately. Sound Transit could use the huge amount of tax revenue from King County subareas that exceeds what it expected when the ST3 revenue projections were developed.

      1. If there are spare ST buses. Metro’s bases are full so it can’t buy more buses until the next base opens, which will be in a few years. That’s why Metro can’t fulfill all the Prop 1 funded service.

  7. This is all well and good but don’t forget that Eyman has an initiative (I-976) going to the ballot this November. It would not only remove car tab fees for ST3 but would gut and prohibit all local transportation benefit districts. It has a good chance of passing in an off year election and would seriously threaten future transportation funding packages.

    1. A good preamble to my comment. I am very grateful Badassuchi is putting together an emergency plan to save King County Metro in that tragic event. Hope it doesn’t happen, but quite frankly I am not seeing the level of urgency we saw to get ST3 to the voters and passed. Without ample enthusiasm on our side, we are gonna be run over by the car lobby.

    2. That would be devastating if it passes; it would return us to a year 2000 level of service. Goodbye most 15-minute frequent routes; you’re back to 30 minutes; and forget about later additions like the 50 and 31/32.

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