Just in time for you to vote on gutting it via I-976, the Seattle Transportation Benefit District issued its fourth Annual Report on what it’s doing with your $60 vehicle license fee and 0.1% sales tax. It’s long but there are lots of pretty graphs. Some takeaways:
More bus service
The percentage of households within a 10-minute walk of “very frequent transit” has grown from 25% to 70% since 2015, well on the way to the 2025 goal of 72%. (More housing construction in frequent transit corridors, as well as U-Link and its associated restructure, have also undoubtedly helped).
Impressively, a sixth of households can walk to 2 or 3 very frequent routes, and 12.8% can walk to four or more. From five very frequent routes in 2015, Seattle is now up to eleven. It’s not hard to see how Seattle has bucked national ridership trends.
79% of the cumulative STBD budget has paid for more bus service. A small fraction of this pot went to Ride2 and Via shuttles, Trailhead Direct, the Downtown Circulator, and (with matching funds) Route 630 to Mercer Island.
Equity and access
The second largest block of appropriations (7% of the cumulative budget) has gone to getting ORCA cards in the hands of people. About 2/3 of this is the “ORCA opportunity” program that issues cards to public school students, and the remainder funds a variety of outreach programs.
When Metro didn’t have the bus base capacity to provide all the buses Seattle wanted to buy, the Council authorized STBD spending on speed, reliability, and safety projects. From nothing through 2018, STBD capital spending has climbed to a little over 10% of the 2020 budget. Some of SDOT’s transit spot improvements (painting bus lanes red, plus more measurable improvements) are funded this way.
The report is not clear about how much matching funds were necessary to supplement the $6.6m allocation in 2019. The 22 projects this year for which the STBD gets partial credit are welcome and cost-effective, even if they’re small-ball.
2020 and beyond
The program has an $77m budget in 2020, partially thanks to accumulated reserves from previous years. $55m funds service on traditional Seattle routes, a steep jump from $44m in 2019. $10m is for capital projects, student ORCA cards and Via/Ride2 are each $4m, and all the other programs and administrative costs compose the remainder.
Reassuringly, the STBD should exit 2020 with about $23m in funds remaining. This opens up some options for renewal. There is a timing problem in that everyone would prefer a county-wide measure, which needs the strongest possible electoral tailwinds in November 2020 to pass. Were such a measure to fail, the reserve would allow Seattle to fund service through the March service change and student ORCA passes through the end of the school year. In theory, a city measure in early 2020 could pick up the baton. Leaders at both levels haven’t decided much about the strategy here, but budget decisions are happening now that create relatively painless options next winter.
Unless, of course, I-976 passes.