Yesterday Dan laid out the impacts of I-976 on Sound Transit. Now let’s talk about Metro and Seattle. Unlike with ST, the situation is both simpler and more dire. KC Exec Constantine has already pledged a lawsuit, and Mayor Durkan is expected to follow today on behalf of the city.
Metro calculates it will lose over $100M in state funds over the next five years. These are primarily capital grants from the state’s mobility fund that go to projects like RapidRide and other speed and reliability improvements, as well as funds to support Access vans.
The Seattle Transportation Benefit District is funded by a combination of sales taxes and the $60 vehicle license fee or VLF. (The older $20 councilmanic TBD goes away as well). If the VLF goes away, SDOT estimates a $32M budget hole.
If no new revenue is found, SDOT would have to start buying less bus service as soon as next spring. The roughly 350,000 service hours funded by the STBD comes in two main flavors.
Weekend, evening, and night owl service (77% of hours) enables the car free living that is actually putting a dent in our car ownership rates. As SDOT’s report states, in 2015 there were only five routes in Seattle that met the definition of ‘very frequent.’ today there are 16.
Peak routes (23% of hours) add capacity and get people out of their cars traveling downtown. With buses still at crush capacity, reducing service here would probably lead to more driving and congestion during rush hour.
Neither is appealing to cut, which means it’s time to talk about new revenue sources. The best answer would be for the state legislature to backfill the $1.5B multimodal account with new revenue, making Metro whole.
Alternatively, King County could seek its own TBD, which it has yet to rule out doing. There were a host of unfunded projects and revenue hours in the Metro master plan even before I-976.
To replace the lost SDOT funds, the city council could put a measure on the ballot to double the TBD’s sales tax from its current 0.1% to 0.2%, which would make the TBD whole (though this would be a bit more regressive and prevent the county from doing its own sales-tax-based TBD). The city could also get more aggressive about bus priority in an effort to stretch dollars further. More creatively, SDOT could choose to accelerate the congestion pricing timeline to create new revenue opportunities.
Long story short, absent significant new funding, bus service in Seattle will deteriorate, and Metro’s capital program, which recently found its footing after being gutted in the last recession, will also face significant cuts.