The Seattle TBD funds more frequent service on Metro 120 (image: Zach Heistand)

A reduced Seattle Transportation Benefit District (STBD), extending the existing 0.1% sales tax but not replacing the lost vehicle licence fee revenues, appears headed to the November ballot. If approved, it will fund youth ORCA and low income programs at existing levels. But Seattle will purchase much less bus service than in previous years, and much of that will be directed to West Seattle while the West Seattle Bridge remains out of service.

The plan to take a measure to the November ballot was announced by Council Transportation Committee Chair Alex Pedersen at a Council meeting on Monday. Existing taxes expire in December, and a November ballot measure must be filed by August 4. Further details are expected within the next few days, and may be refined further by the Council, but the broad strokes spending plan has become clearer. Either a four- or six-year renewal is possible, perhaps because some favor a revived countywide measure in 2024.

The current STBD taxes were approved in 2014 at a time when Metro was still facing cuts after the last recession and a countywide vote on new taxes for Metro had failed. As the economy and tax revenues boomed, the STBD revenues were plowed into adding more service in Seattle, eventually increasing to 350,000 service hours annually, or about 8% of King County Metro’s pre-COVID network. 70% of Seattle households were within a 10 minute walk of 10-minute transit service in 2019.

As Metro ran up against capacity constraints, other programs were added. In Fall 2018, the ORCA Opportunity program provided every Seattle public high school student a free unlimited ORCA cards for the entire year. In 2018, the City Council also amended the legislation to allow capital investments, mostly spot improvements to allow buses to operate more reliably. A series of low income programs have been funded, most recently an expansion of the ORCA lift program to provide free travel for very low incomes.

In 2019, statewide voters approved I-976, reducing STBD tax revenues by roughly half if the initiative is upheld by the State Supreme Court. A court-ordered refund of vehicle fees collected in 2020 is possible. Sales tax revenue expectations were further diminished by the COVID pandemic and recession that began in 2020. Rather than the $55 million in sales tax and vehicle license fees budgeted in 2020, a 0.1% sales tax extension is anticipated to yield an average $26 million per year over the next four years.

The ORCA Youth and Low Income programs are planned to continue at current funding levels. That squeezes everything else. Capital spending is likely to be reduced from about $9 million to $5 million annually. The current $4 million of support for first/last mile service will end.

A renewed STBD will continue low income and youth programs, but reduce expenditures elsewhere from the pre-recession, pre-COVID, pre-I-976 plan (image: SDOT)

Boosted by reserves and unspent balances from earlier years, the STBD had planned $55 million in bus service, or 350,000 hours. The renewed STBD is likely to invest about $7 million in the citywide frequent transit network initially. That will emphasize service at 15 minutes headways rather than 10. Another $6 million or so could fund 40,000 bus hours in West Seattle, or could support more frequent water taxi service. Depending on the timeline for re-opening or replacing the bridge, the spending plan envisions those dollars being redeployed to citywide service.

Cutting Seattle-funded bus service is a difficult choice, particularly when Metro is making its own deep reductions. It’s a sharp swing from the expectations of Seattle voters in 2014 when the STBD was sold as a bus service funding mechanism. But the unpalatable alternatives are a regressive sales tax increase in a recession, or the elimination of critical programs for students and low income households.

97 Replies to “A smaller Seattle TBD for the November ballot”

  1. Terrible idea. Pedersen has no idea how METRO service hours will be redeployed in light of the fact that demand for rush hour service to and from downtown Seattle and Bellevue will be a fraction of what the current forecasts show.

    Neither Metro nor Sound Transit even has transit demand forecasts reflecting our high unemployment downtown that will persist in the recession and the fact that work from home will continue for tech, white collar, and yes government employees. Pedersen certainly has no data indicating Metro will need more money to serve upcoming transit demands. We know Amazon doesn’t want more bus service to SLU — it has left its buildings there and is operating HQ1 remotely.

    Pedersen’s proposal is disgusting: imposing regressive sales tax for the sake of higher taxes on people who can least afford it now. He could tax businesses to pay for more transit, but he wants to tax in a way that would hit the unemployed and minorities harder than rich whites, to pay for . . . well, he doesn’t know.

    Any other CM’s promise to support this abusive concept?

    1. You are making an elite projection (https://humantransit.org/2017/07/the-dangers-of-elite-projection.html). Commuter trips to downtown are a small subset of overall transit service. Trips to tech companies downtown are even smaller. Even in a downtown, people need transit service — even if affluent coders work from home.

      You are also confusing service with demand. Transit is not like donuts — you don’t just make a bunch based on how many you think you will sell. It is a service, not unlike maintaining roads. There are far fewer people heading out of West Seattle these days. This reduction will continue as long as the pandemic still exists. It will continue as the recession continues. So does that mean we shouldn’t fix the West Seattle Bridge until after the recession? That is absurd, and pretty much what you are proposing.

      Except it is worse than that. Riders in West Seattle *can* get to the rest of the city by bus reasonably fast (in much the way that Ballard riders do). Those that drive *can* get to the rest of the city as well — it just takes longer. If you cut bus service, you remove mobility for people. In the case of West Seattle, it could mean leaving people on the curb, with no decent way of getting into town. The extra buses are simply to relieve the crowding that is inevitable, as people find riding the bus dramatically faster than driving. If you don’t add more buses, then riders are left on the curb. That will force some to buy a car they can’t afford, and add to the inevitable gridlock that will eventually exist in the area.

      While a regressive tax is not ideal, it is nothing compared to the hardship that comes from lack of mobility. Some of the money goes into low income fares — that itself is more of a benefit for those struggling to make ends meet than the minimal increase in sales tax (that doesn’t apply to food or rent).

      1. ” Commuter trips to downtown are a small subset of overall transit service.” All of Rapid Ride, all of Sound Transit’s intercity routes, and the frequency of rush hour routes to and from downtown are the evidence I have that service hours are heavily slanted towards daily commuters. With high unemployment persisting and remote working the new normal there will be far fewer daily commuters to downtown Seattle and Bellevue.

        What transit demand forecasts are you looking at Ross? What are the transit demand forecasts you think CM Pedersen is looking at? They are based on pre-recession jobs and commute frequency assumptions — assumptions that no longer hold water.

        If Sound Transit can’t make decisions because it lacks information then there is no way the Seattle City Council — which has no authority for operating a bus system — has good enough information about when additional service hours will be needed to justify seeking a sales tax increase that would be locked in for years.

      2. Again, transit demand is irrelevant. I don’t know how many times I have to write that. If I catch a bus, it makes no difference whether it is full, half-full or quarter full. What matters is how often it runs. More money means more service which means less waiting. You really have it backwards — if a bus runs often, then ridership is higher — it isn’t the other way around.

        As was clearly stated in this essay, that is what the money pays for. There is no mention of commuter service. To quote a few parts of this essay:

        70% of Seattle households were within a 10 minute walk of 10-minute transit service in 2019. … The renewed STBD is likely to invest about $7 million in the citywide frequent transit network initially. That will emphasize service at 15 minutes headways rather than 10.

        Got it? It is about all-day frequency, not the number of express buses headed downtown. Because the number of express buses headed downtown are a small subset of the overall system.

        All of Rapid Ride, all of Sound Transit’s intercity routes, and the frequency of rush hour routes to and from downtown are the evidence I have that service hours are heavily slanted towards daily commuters.

        Seriously? That is absurd. I’ll start with RapidRide. First of all, RapidRide routes are a small set of the trips for Metro. Second, not all RapidRide lines run downtown (the A and B line don’t run downtown). Third, on a route like the E, ridership is not dominated by trips downtown. Fourth — and most importantly — even with RapidRide, a small subset of the trips are commute oriented. Just look at the schedule! There are 135 trips on the E from Aurora Village to downtown. Only about 35 of those will get you downtown before 9:00 AM. The vast majority of trips are the rest of the day.

        What is true of RapidRide is true of the Metro system as a whole. As for other agencies, that is irrelevant, but what the hell, I’ll go into those as well, since you like making easily refuted claims with no evidence to support them. First of all, those agencies have far fewer trips than Metro. Second, Sound Transit is geared towards intercity trips, so it stands to reason that they are going to go to downtown Seattle. Third, once again, most of the trips occur in the middle of the day. Consider trips to Snohomish County. There are four buses: the 510, 511, 512 and 513. Three of those are commuter only. Yet the only bus that runs all day (the 512) has more trips than the other 3 combined. One direction, the 510 and 511 have about 20; the 513 about 10. The 512 has about 60. This is for a weekday. The commuter buses don’t even run on the weekends, while the 512 runs all day. In terms of trips per week — it isn’t close — most of them occur outside rush-hour.

        For Community Transit, the same is true. If you actually look at how many trips the 400 series (express) buses take, they are small compared to other routes (like the 201/202, which run all day). CT does break down ridership, and again, commuter ridership makes up less than a third. Given the higher ridership per hour during rush hour, it stands to reason that the commuter trips account for far less than a third of all service.

        The point being that even agencies that are heavily skewed towards rush-hour commuter service still spend more effort providing all-day service. This is common throughout the country. As this report states*, less than 1/3 of the transit trips are commuter based. Obviously rush-hour commuter trips to downtown are a smaller subset. As this article states, adding service in the middle of the day has the best chance for ridership growth.

        The point being that if there are dramatic cuts to service (due to lack of funding) all-day service will suffer, which means that riders suffer and ridership will go down.

        Oh, and since you obviously know the future and know exactly how long the downturn will last, do you mind telling me what stocks I should short? I assume you have done the same, and put your money where your mouth is — or is this just idle speculation, like a drunk in the bar claiming that the Lakers will definitely, absolutely, win the championship this year because LeBron is awesome. Yep, I think it is the latter (you would have better luck making the case for the Lakers).

        * See page 10 of this document: https://web.archive.org/web/20160317020220/https://traveltrends.transportation.org/Documents/B2_CIA_Role%20Overall%20Travel_web_2.pdf.

    2. It’s a tax CUT for you compared to the current rate. The reason it’s happening now is (A) the current levy expires in December, and (B) presidential elections have a significantly higher chance of passage because pro-transit/liberal voters tend to vote only in presidential elections while anti-tax/conservative voters tend to vote in all elections. The next presidential election is 2024, which is too long to wait.

      Nobody knows what exactly the downtown commute/shopping/tourism level will be in the future, but it takes several months’ lead time to ramp up service significantly because Metro has to schedule the routes and hire and train drivers. So the funding needs to be in place when a demand surge occurs; otherwise buses will be overcrowded and pass people up, as happened in 2015 as Metro struggled to rehire people in the sudden recovery and U-Link hadn’t started yet.

      Metro is already adjusting to a lower downtown commute share. Most of the suspensions/reductions were peak expresses and peak relief runs, and Metro’s 85% farget is expected to shift resources from peak service to all-day frequency and from the Eastside to South King County (which has severe underservice and many transit-dependent essential worker on off-peak shifts). When it restored some peak expresses last month, it only restored a few most productive/critical ones. That will doubtless be Metro’s and Seattle’s framework in the recovery, so you don’t have to worry about excessive service.

      Before the TBD, the 5, 8, 10, and 41 were half-hourly evenings. The 11 was half-hourly Saturdays. The 40 and 120 were hourly evenings. The 49 had gaps in its 15-minute evening service. Those are just the routes I’m most familiar with. The night owls were on city life support after Metro withdrew funding from them in the 2014 recession cuts, and will be gone if the TBD isn’t renewed There were fewer standby buses to maintain reliability during congestion and breakdowns and relieve overcrowding. This is the kind of service level we’ll go back to if the TBD isn’t renewed. (Although less peak-hour expenses will offset it somewhat.) That level is not appropriate for a city population that has grown significantly since 2015, social distancing is desirable, and making transit convenient enough that people will drive less and own fewer cars, to decrease air pollution and demand for large parking lots. 15-minute or better frequency is the #1 factor in making people willing to choose transit, once you’ve dealt with the fundamental problems of having a route at all, making it reasonably fast, and reasonably safe.

  2. It’s definitely disappointing to see the city not even trying to get car tab revenue into the TBD proposal but, given that we weren’t able to spend all of the existing revenue on service hours, hopefully this will mitigate some of the cuts Metro was planning for in the fall. Given that we won’t need as much peak service (at least initially) and the opening of a number of Link stations in the next couple years, hopefully Metro can leverage ST more effectively as well.

    1. Mitigate cuts? Ridership is down 70% and it won’t come back to forecast levels.

      METRO should make cuts to overall service hours, and redeploy service hours away from the rush hour to/from downtown routes. Until then any talk of sales tax increases is just wrongheaded and obtuse.

      1. The TBD proposal is for at least four years and won’t be on the ballot until November. Do you think that ridership will still be down 70% in November, despite Metro already reporting an uptick? Do you think that ridership will still be down in 2024, when the proposed TBD will need to be renewed again? Even if ridership is down into next year, Metro will need more service than before to maintain physical distancing, even if the distancing is relaxed to 3′ as is being proposed for Trimet.

      2. The social distance on Metro is already, in practice, less than 3′. Some of the buses have do-not-sit-here seat markers, but very few rows are blocked out.

        I still see half the passengers without masks, breathing on people in the rows in front of them. I see no plan, and have heard of no plan, to get masks into the hands of those breathing freely onto their fellow riders.

        Metro will get more protective bang for the buck by getting masks out to all the riders and attaching plexiglass plates to the tops of seats than by rolling out enough service to achieve 6′ of separation. Heck, they’ll also get more protective bang for the buck by getting more lane priority and keeping all-door boarding by making the whole fleet proof of payment (with enhanced pushing of mobile ticketing, like, say, offering a discount over cash). The FEOs can carry a supply of masks to hand out while educating passengers on how to ride in a manner that keeps their fellow riders safe.

        In the meantime, installing plexiglass shields next to the operator seat ought to enable more seating to be opened up at the front, relieving some of the immediate overcrowding pressure.

      3. Ridership is down 70% and it won’t come back to forecast levels.

        That is completely irrelevant, even it was true.

      4. According to the PI, “preliminary estimates from King County Metro, bus ridership has decreased by 45% compared to the same time last year. . How is that irrelevant? The assumption is ridership will start to increase slowly as businesses open, mask wearing is enforced, etc. So why have maximum service during the period of lowest ridership (especially summer with no sports, festivals, etc.) and then cut back in December when ridership is trying to recover? That seems bassackward.

      5. According to the PI, “preliminary estimates from King County Metro, bus ridership has decreased by 45% compared to the same time last year. . How is that irrelevant?

        Because this article is not about ridership. It is about service. Other than the lost revenue (which is minor for Metro) loss of ridership is irrelevant.

        We are in the middle of a pandemic. Of course ridership is down. I haven’t been on a bus in months. But once it is over, people will ride buses again. But the greater point is that it doesn’t really matter. Imagine the worst — imagine that because of the recession and the newfound love of working from home, ridership gets hammered. So what? There will still be people who want to get around, even if the buses are a little less crowded. Again, you all have it backwards. Bad service leads to low ridership. Low ridership shouldn’t lead to bad service.

        You don’t run a bus every ten minutes because you are trying to avoid crowding. You do so because it is a hell of a lot better than running it every half hour. It is a service, not a commodity.

        But hey, try that argument out on West Seattle. Tell them they shouldn’t fix the bridge because of the pandemic, and the ongoing recession. After all, driving is way down — so what if they have to drive miles out of their way. See how that goes.

      6. Low ridership shouldn’t lead to bad service.

        It absolutely does and should. That’s why routes like the 249 were axed. Maintaining frequent transit that nobody is using when resources are in short supply is crazy. Right now it wouldn’t matter if you had buses running every three minutes. People just aren’t going as many places as the were before. The reason in this environment to increase frequency should be to maintain social distancing. It matters a lot if the bus is full. The talking point has been “essential service”. That’s getting healthcare workers and such to their jobs. Who cares if someone has to plan their grocery shopping on the hour instead of every 10 minutes. 6X the frequency costs 6X as much but the ridership gain is minimal.

      7. Don’t conflate a reasonable baseline of service in medium-density areas with empty buses in areas that are too low-density and car-minded to generate even that level of ridership. The worst empty buses in Seattle are already gone; they were deleted in the 2014 cuts.

        “Won’t come back to forecast levels”, which forecast? If you mean 100% of pre-covid service, nobody expects it to. If you mean Metro’s and Seattle’s current guesses, how do you know whether ridership will be higher or lower than that? Are you just pulling assumptions out of your imagination and asserting they will be right?

        Even Metro’s bottom tier of coverage roues meet the value milestone of 10 riders per service hour. The only ones that may not like the 74 local and 78 are a tiny number of routes and service hours, and they are the most likely routes to be suspended for longest.

      8. So, again Bernie — do you think they should fix the West Seattle Bridge, since driving is obviously way down?

        The point is, there is a huge difference between a route that under-performs *other routes*, and a general cut of service because ridership is down. The former means putting service into areas where more riders will be (a classic ridership versus coverage move). The latter means cutting service for those riders who still depend on transit.

        Running Link every half hour is *not* a smart move, and neither is making dramatic cuts in service for the next four years, because someone thinks that transit ridership will always be like it is in the middle of a pandemic. So what if only half the people enjoy decent transit — that is still a lot better than everyone having crap. (Oh, and once the pandemic is over, ridership will be much higher than half of what it used to be. Ridership didn’t get hurt that much during the last recession — https://kingcounty.gov/depts/transportation/metro/about/accountability-center/performance/ridership/annual.aspx — and we are a lot more urban now).

      9. “Who cares if someone has to plan their grocery shopping on the hour instead of every 10 minutes.”

        No 10-minute route exists so that one person can go grocery shopping any ten minutes. They are only on the highest-volume corridors like Roosevelt and the U-District where an above-average number of people are making trips all day. These routes often have periods where there are only a couple empty seats below Metro’s maximum, and sometimes hit the limit.

        There’s an ideal minimum frequency, and there are extra runs beyond that to keep buses from being too full. As you increase frequency from 60 minutes to 30, 15, 10, and 5, each level makes more trips viable and makes more people make marginal decisions to choose transit. The sweet spots are at 15 minutes and 10 minutes. 15 minutes is the minimum level for good daytime/evening service on the major corridors like Roosevelt and secondary corridors like Renton Ave S. That’s where you get a robust level of choice riders, and the network is not too inconvenient. 10 minutes is even better, while 5 minutes is ideal. (In Moscow and St Petersburg, all subways/streetcars/buses run every 5 minutes daytime, 10 minutes after 8pm, except in the outer edges of the city where they go down to 20 minutes. That really makes it easy to get around and contributes to high ridership.)

        There are differing opionions on whether a 10-minute or 15-minute midday minimum is appropriate for routes like the 67, D, and E. Again, 15 minutes good, 10 minutes better. But 15 minutes probably draws more additional riders compared to 20 or 30 minutes, than 10 minutes compared to 15. But still, we want a high-quality transit network like Europe or Chicago or Vancovuer. So we should treat 15 minutes as a minimum critical step, and 10 minutes as an important next step. Anything above that, like 7-minute or 5-minute peak service on those corridors is just to avoid overcrowding. The 5-minute all-day ideal remains, but Seattle/King County politicians and voters aren’t ready to consider that yet.

        Transfers also play a role. 15-minute frequency is good for one-seat rides, but it can get pretty bad with transfers. The principle of replacing routes like the 43 with transfers between the 48 and east-west routes, or to-from the 62 on N/NE 65th Street, breaks down when each route is 15 minutes. You get off the bus just to see the second route pass before you can get to it, or it left a minute or two ago, and you have to wait almost the full 15 minutes. A 2-3 seat ride with two 10-20 minute transfers and a 10-minute walk at each end can easily add up to 30-45 minutes of walking and waiting. How would you like to do that to go to the grocery store or work?

      10. 6X the frequency costs 6X as much but the ridership gain is minimal.

        That is simply not true. The relationship between frequency and ridership is extremely strong (https://humantransit.org/basics/the-transit-ridership-recipe#frequency). To quote from the article:

        overall and in general, high frequency correlates with high productivity, despite the high cost of the frequency.

        Got it? Even though it costs a lot more to run buses a lot, ridership increases a lot as well, especially if it is applied system wide — the exact thing we are writing about here.

        (If you really want to dig into the numbers, there are citations here worth checking out: https://pedestrianobservations.com/2019/02/25/frequency-ridership-spirals/).

      11. Fixing/replacing the West Seattle Bridge has nothing to do with transit frequency. For starters it’s an entirely different pool of money. It’s like saying we need more frequent transit for the few because we built a 3rd runway at Seatac. Yeah, huh?

        The question is how much bang for the buck do you get in the next 6 months to a year using scare transit resources. If frequency is needed on routes to prevent overcrowding and it results in increased use then great.

        More money means more service which means less waiting. You really have it backwards — if a bus runs often, then ridership is higher

        First off, there isn’t more money, there’s a lot less money. People just aren’t taking trips. More frequent service isn’t going to get someone to ride a bus to a job they no longer have. Great bus service isn’t going to get people to go to cancelled sporting events or bars that are closed. One of our representatives (forget which one) made this same mistake during the great recession claiming that with people out of work they need increased transit service now more than ever which was just plain wrong. There’s a minimum level of service where people just say the heck with it but trying to lure people back with great service while dismissing the people that now have zero service doesn’t make sense.

      12. Even though it costs a lot more to run buses a lot, ridership increases a lot as well, especially if it is applied system wide
        System wide we’re axing coverage to large areas. Even in boom times you can’t blanket increase coverage. If transit turned a profit that would be a great thing to do. But it’s always constrained by the amount of public subside it can generate support for. Let them eat cake?

      13. Fixing/replacing the West Seattle Bridge has nothing to do with transit frequency.

        Of course not. It is an analogy. Come on. Your argument — if I can paraphrase it — is that we should cut funding to transit for the foreseeable future, because transit ridership is down. Correct me if I’m wrong, but that is what it looks like to me.

        If so, then why doesn’t it apply to bridges? Why spend an enormous amount of money on a road project, when driving is down?

        The obvious answer is … wait for it … BECAUSE IT WON’T ALWAYS BE DOWN! This is a four year project. For all we know, the pandemic will be over six months into the new funding cycle. Yet you want to cripple funding — and ridership — for years and years because of something that is no longer a factor.

        Fair enough, but if that is your theory, then it should apply to roads. That means we should spend as little as possible, since the current trends suggest that driving is completely out of fashion these days. Everyone is working from home I guess.

        The question is how much bang for the buck do you get in the next 6 months to a year using scare transit resources.

        No it’s not. That is a completely different issue. Bring that up on an open thread if you want, but that has nothing to with the issue covered in this post.

        The question is whether it makes sense to pass this tax, and if not, what to do instead (no tax or more tax). This tax is for FOUR YEARS. How we spend that money during what is hopefully the last few months of the pandemic is a completely separate issue. I think we should spend as much as possible, even though during the first few months of 2021 (when this kicks in) ridership will remain extremely low.

        One of our representatives (forget which one) made this same mistake during the great recession claiming that with people out of work they need increased transit service now more than ever which was just plain wrong. There’s a minimum level of service where people just say the heck with it but trying to lure people back with great service while dismissing the people that now have zero service doesn’t make sense.

        Wrong! Absolutely wrong. First of all, I’ve presented evidence that there is a correlation between service and ridership. There is nothing in there that suggests that it matters whether that is in good times or bad. It doesn’t matter. But absent other factors (like the price of gas, or the quality of service) you have it backwards. Transit ridership goes up during a recession. People aren’t buying cars, so they take the bus.

        But again — that is irrelevant! It doesn’t matter. Even if your completely unfounded theories about ridership — which have been refuted multiple times with numerous studies — were true, it doesn’t matter. Even if ridership takes a big hit, and reaches 80% of the levels of a couple years ago — dramatically below the worst numbers from the last fifty years outside the current pandemic — it doesn’t matter. Those 80% deserve good bus service, which requires adequate funding.

      14. “Even though it costs a lot more to run buses a lot, ridership increases a lot as well, especially if it is applied system wide”

        System wide we’re axing coverage to large areas.

        Oh, stop with the pedantic bullshit. You missed the point entirely. The “system” we are talking about is transit in Seattle. That is the topic of discussion. Nothing more, nothing less.

        The point is, if we pass this tax, there will be a minor cut in Seattle service. If we don’t pass anything, there will be a huge cut in Seattle service. You think that won’t effect ridership at all. That is simply not true, and study after study has made that clear. We are at over a dozen comments now, and you have yet to present a study, or even a random Fox News commentator to support your idea. Maybe it is time to realize that the facts contradict your crazy ideas, and give up.

      15. if I can paraphrase it — is that we should cut funding to transit for the foreseeable future, because transit ridership is down. Correct me if I’m wrong, but that is what it looks like to me.

        That’s not my position at all. Transit funding is down. Cuts for the foreseeable future are inevitable. A year, two years, four years, we really don’t know yet how deep the funding cuts are going to be. I think the proposed extension of the TBD sales tax is a good middle ground. It’s not a big ask and being sure you get something and come back for more later makes sense.

        The issue is how to allocate the available resources. The TBD money funds should be whatever benefits the citizens of Seattle the most ; it’s their money. I don’t think more frequency on routes that already have adequate coverage is the way to go. It may get the same people to ride more often. It may get a few more choice riders but personally I don’t think that justifies eliminating other peoples service entirely. I’ve said there are good reasons to increase frequency on some routes if they are at capacity. Should all the money be put into bus service or should some go into low fare subsidies? Personally I think there’s a case for low fare subsidies. How much I don’t know.

        The difference between fixing the West Seattle bridge is that that’s a binary decision. You either have it or you don’t. There certainly should be a discussion about what future configuration makes sense. Less GP lanes in favor of transit only or HOT lanes for example. Should it be a combined light rail and vehicle traffic bridge? Certainly worth looking at options even building a tunnel vs bridge. Asking if it should be built is like asking should we just scrap public transit entirely. Of course not, nobody is asking for that.

      16. “Who cares if someone has to plan their grocery shopping on the hour instead of every 10 minutes.”

        It’s actually a lot worse than that. You can time your trip from home to the store to match an hourly bus, but you can’t time the trip back home. Even if the schedule happens to work out on paper, there’s just too many random delays. For instance, you could get stuck in the checkout line behind a slow customer. Or, when eating at a restaurant, the waiter could simply take longer than usual to deliver the food or charge your credit card.

        When service is hourly, it is inevitable, that some are going to get back luck and be forced to wait close to an hour. And that’s assuming that you can get where you’re going on just one bus. If you have to transfer, the problems compound, as it is not possible to implement a timed connection between every possible pair of intersecting bus routes.

        Hourly service nearly guarantees that virtually anyone that can afford other options won’t ride it. And, in the long term, it will lead to a loss of political support for the transit system. Start reducing buses to hour in the middle of the city, expect louder and louder cries to open the bus lanes up to cars in the name of “social distancing” until the city obliges.

      17. It’s actually a lot worse than that. You can time your trip from home to the store to match an hourly bus, but you can’t time the trip back home.

        True, 60 minutes vs 6 minutes are extremes. The point I’m trying to make is that giving someone that has 15 minute frequency 6 minute frequency vs eliminating someone else’s access entirely isn’t fair or productive. In Seattle there are a lot of alternate routes people can use if they are able to walk a few blocks. If you’re not, and transit dependent any service is better than none. It might be better to concentrate the available hours during two peak periods than spread it over the entire day.

      18. Even with the full TBD renewal, nobody is getting buses at 6-minute frequency. Before COVID, we didn’t have any bus routes at 6-minutes frequency, except for brief periods during rush hour.

        The TBD renewals is about running buses every 15 minutes all day vs. every 15 minutes during the weekday/daytime, 30 minutes Saturday/daytime, and hourly evenings/Sundays.

        For people that ride buses outside of 9-5 commute trips, it matters a lot.

      19. … The issue is how to allocate the available resources.

        No its not! Your points are interesting, but completely irrelevant. The issue is this tax.

        This is not an open thread. We are discussing the merits of a tax — nothing more, nothing less. Any other item should relate to that subject, otherwise it is irrelevant.

        This thread of this post started when aldo precipe wrote that “we should make cuts to overall service hours” because “ridership is down 70% and it won’t come back to forecast level”.

        This is a reasonable argument and one that addresses the issue at hand. It is simply wrong, and I went into great detail as to why.

        I wrote that ridership is irrelevant (to this issue), even if his forecast is true. As I wrote up above, it doesn’t matter if ridership levels fail to reach expectations — we shouldn’t cut transit funding. So that is the argument of the thread. Not what routes we should have; not whether more money should be put into weekend service; not what I should eat for dinner. The issue is this tax.

      20. The point I’m trying to make is that giving someone that has 15 minute frequency 6 minute frequency vs eliminating someone else’s access entirely isn’t fair or productive. In Seattle there are a lot of alternate routes people can use if they are able to walk a few blocks. If you’re not, and transit dependent any service is better than none. It might be better to concentrate the available hours during two peak periods than spread it over the entire day.

        That is obvious. You are discussing the trade-offs inherit with any transit network. Numerous studies have been done about particular aspects of transit service, and entire books have been written about the trade-offs (Jarrett Walker wrote an excellent one). This is a good summary: https://humantransit.org/basics/the-transit-ridership-recipe.

        You’ll notice that I linked to this earlier, while noting the merits of good frequency. But that web page does not only discuss frequency. Walker would be the first to note that simply focusing on frequency would be a mistake.

        But that is a straw man. No one is saying we should only focus on frequency. We are saying that if everything else is the same — if all the other routes exist — then improving frequency improves ridership. Again, numerous studies show this to be true.

        As far as the subject at hand, it really doesn’t matter. We aren’t really discussing the details of the network, but rather the funding. Talking about frequency is just a shorthand for the overall strength of the network. When cuts are taken, it is quite possible they result in lost routes as well as lost frequency. Both are bad. Both should not happen, which is why we should reject aldo’s ideas, and push for this tax, if not a bigger one.

      21. Aldo, I’d love to get a hold of whatever crystal ball you’re looking in to. If anything, historically people go back to doing pretty much the same thing after natural disasters. People are quick to forget. You can never predict trends *after* the disaster by what happens *during* the disaster. And Covid-19 is unfortunately FAR from over.

    2. It’s definitely disappointing to see the city not even trying to get car tab revenue into the TBD proposal.

      I agree. It is tough because the state supreme court still hasn’t ruled on I-976. It isn’t clear whether they will be able to increase car tab taxes until they do. Clarification on this issue is essential before any measure is crafted.

      I wonder if they could pass a new proposal on top of this one in a couple years (when, hopefully, the pandemic is over and demand is increasing). Given the overall support for transit, I could see it passing in an off year election (or even a special election). I can’t say the same about the county, which is why it is a shame they didn’t try to pass a county wide (sales tax) measure this year.

      1. If I understand your position it’s “go big or go home”? Go for the .2% sales tax and push for car tab revenue to back fill the loss in other funding. With no polling numbers or data I would have to agree that in Seattle the .2% number would pass. IMHO, people that are going to vote yes will do so regardless of the rate and the same holds true for those who are going to vote no. That’s based on the pre-Covid Seattle. It’s hard to say what the mood will be come November. Pushing for a car tab tax might be a West Seattle Bridge too far. I say that because safe or not a lot of people have switched from transit to using their cars and the original TEA sentiment. If what I’ve read in other posts about the council being able to enact this without a vote of the people then strategically the best play is to hold the cards close the vest until after the election.

      2. With no polling numbers or data I would have to agree that in Seattle the 0.2% number would pass. IMHO, people that are going to vote yes will do so regardless of the rate and the same holds true for those who are going to vote no.

        Exactly. I also don’t think that attitudes have changed that much. Other than funding for police, no one wants to make any cuts. The council is busy trying to find new and interesting ways of taxing people (some are regressive, some aren’t). When people talk about “defunding the police” they mean shifting money from the police to other agencies. No one is talking about giving people a tax break by cutting police funding.

        The point is, a 0.2% tax simply keeps existing funding. The sales tax goes up (0.1%), but the car tab tax goes away. Service remains the same. Students still have their ORCA cards. Low income adults have a cheaper ORCA card. It isn’t a radical proposal, and one that would likely pass quite easily in Seattle.

        It becomes pretty simple: Vote Yes to keep the buses running. Vote No if you want to lay off a bunch of bus drivers and tell kids to hitch a ride to school. The vast majority of Seattle residents would vote Yes.

      3. The point is, a 0.2% tax simply keeps existing funding. The sales tax goes up (0.1%), but the car tab tax goes away.
        I can’t read the minds of the City Council and frankly a bit surprised they wouldn’t ask for the max 0.2% One reason might be that the car tab tax isn’t settled and likely won’t be by the filing deadline. If there’s a campaign claiming it’s simply a replacement for lost revenue and the car tab tax is upheld (which I think is likely) it could create a backlash that results in a goose egg for transit. I’m just postulating why the council would take the conservative approach.

    3. The smaller proposal actually adapts pretty well to aldo precipe’s concern about overservice and others’ concern about a ridership surge that Metro can’t meet. A partial renewal preserves some baseline service, and as the recovery grows and medium-term ridership levels become clearer, we can have a second measure tailored to that additional need. It may be car tabs or something else.

      We should tell the city council to be prepared for a supplemental measure in February in case ridership increases robustly, or in case I-976 is invalidated by then.

  3. Well, since it’ll be up to the voters, anybody who doesn’t like it knows what to do. Just so before you mail it in, you carefully taste your ballot envelope for traces of caviar, doubt-free proof of Russian meddling via envelope licking.

    Since we literally can’t predict hour to hour, main concentration really ought to be on max flexibility. Speaking of which, what a great picture of “Max Flex!” 6932 looks like a really industrious short-furred otter! Wonderful image for the road in front of us this morning.

    Mark Dublin

    1. “Max flexibility” by locking in a sales tax increase? Orwell warned about your kind.

      1. It’s not a sales tax increase – it’s a continuation of the existing 0.1% TBD sales tax.

      2. How did the perception of Orwell change from somebody who advocated socialism but warned against Soviet-style totalitarianism, to somebody who warned against even a minimum wage, universal healthcare, or universal housing?

  4. Does anyone know how Metro allocates fare revenue for route planning from ORCA passes? I know the ORCA system allocates taps to different agencies, so I’m guessing that Metro proportionally allocate taps to different service areas (or maybe specific routes?). I’m wondering because the TBD-funded ORCA passes are a big chunk of the new TBD, and it would be nice if the TBD could re-capture the “unused value” (or whatever the accounting term is) of the ORCA Youth and Low Income passes for Seattle routes rather than putting it into the general Metro revenue pool, since I’m guessing that at least some of these passes are only used infrequently. Obviously if a high school student decides to go to Redmond for a joyride on the 279, allocate that tap to the East Side, but we should have some mechanism to keep as much revenue/service as possible in Seattle, like we do for the existing criteria for funding service hours on routes.

    1. I don’t think Metro allocates fares to different regions or routes. They look at route metrics to determine cost per rider which determines somewhat what routes to keep. There used to be a funding allocation that slowly increased eastside service but I don’t know if that is still being used. If Seattle taxes themselves to fund low income ORCA cards it’s up to Seattle to determine if that’s a good value. If Seattle schools don’t’ return to in class instruction then providing bus passes to students is obviously of less value.

      1. Yeah, I guess I should have been a little more specific. Since the ORCA pass budget in the TBD proposal is the same as the current budgeted level, it seems like either the current TBD is underpaying Metro for the service, or the new TBD will overpay Metro (at least in the first year). I think the latter is more likely given current ridership, especially since SPS students are unlikely to be riding the bus to school as much (either because they’ll only be going to school part-time, or parents are reluctant for their children to ride transit), so it would be nice to at least recapture the overpayment as service hours for Seattle rather than all the service areas.

      2. Metro traditionally has had a service-hour target in each subarea (a district like “Northeast Seattle” or “Southeast Seattle”), and during restructures has kept service hours in the subarea. 70% of Metro’s operational funds come from taxes, so fare revenue isn’t that much and reallocating it to one route or another wouldn’t make a dramatic difference. The county council keeps the fare at 20-30% of expenses per county policy.

        Passes only generate expenses when people actually ride a bus, so if students ride little, the fact that they have a pass has little impact. Metro adjusts routes based on ridership and coverage goals, so ridership by students factors in to this the same as ridership by everybody else. Only the special school routes are most directly effected (numbered around 6xx or such). If students ride little, the pass income from the city will sit in a savings account and Metro can use it for general service. Oh, you’re worried about this process shifting money from Seattle routes to suburban routes? You can raise that issue with the city and Metro. It may already have a restriction that it can only be used for Seattle service, since it’s not general revenue.

        As to which Seattle routes Metro should allocate that too, I heave that up to Metro, because Metro has the wisest planners and administrators compared to local cities and Sound Transit. Metro was blockheaded for decades but it has had some really good ideas in the past eight years, starting with the 2012 restructure (RapidRide C and D).

      3. “Metro adjusts routes based on ridership and coverage goals”

        I meant, Metro adjust routes as ridership goes up and down, and for certain coverage goals. For instance Cleveland High School is in south Beacon Hill. That neighborhood needs coverage service regardless of whether the school is open. and a few staff need to come to the school for various reasons even when it’s closed. So Metro targets 15-30 minute minimum service to that neighborhood. And that’s the same level of service it had when the school was open.

      4. Yeah, that’s basically it. In any other year, I would say the R in ORCA means it should be considered a regional pass with the funding going to the region’s transit agencies. Given that the proposed baseline service hour funding for the new TBD is going to be something like 15% of the size of the current TBD, though, and with other transit cuts in the works, I think Seattle needs to make sure the money it raises predominantly benefits the city. It will also help encourage the county to make plans for its own TBD, which I think was one of the goals of the service hour restriction for direct funding of a route (IIRC 60% of a route’s revenue hours have to be within the city to qualify).

      5. I think Seattle should cancel the free student passes but for a different reason. Before the free passes, students could still get to school on Metro. I assume there’s a sliding scale for low-income students so that they can at least afford to go to school, which the state has a constitutional obligation to provide. The free passes were to lighten general the burden on low-income families, and to incentivize students to become lifelong transit riders. That’s a luxury we can’t afford when the minimum 15-minute full-time frequency I outlined above can’t be maintained. I’m going to write to the city and tell them to can the passes and keep service hours up.If low-income students need help, then give them free passes.

      6. That is a reasonable proposal, but I don’t think it would be worth it.

        Let’s say you gave students who qualify for free or reduced lunch a free pass. That is quite reasonable, and it means that rich kids don’t get a free pass.

        Except that still costs some money (the savings aren’t huge). You also have edge cases — people who don’t qualify for free or reduced lunch, but don’t have a lot of money. There are plenty of people who haven’t filled out the paperwork, or situation is complicated (parents are divorced and the one they spend time with is short on money). In the past, schools used to give out bus tokens (a student would just walk in and they would give them one). I don’t know if they were still doing that, but they would likely do that again. This just pushes the responsibility onto teachers and schools, who don’t have money.

        This is a relatively small amount of money — I wouldn’t mess with it and I doubt the council will either.

      7. RossB, the ORCA Youth/low income pass program is relatively small now at $7 million, but the proposed TBD renewal only invests a total of $7 million (down from $55 million) into service hours, so the two funding arms are going to be equal in size. I think Mike’s idea of means-testing the student passes is a good one at least in the short-term, even though we’ll miss out on its potential of generating lifelong transit riders.

      8. @Skylar — I don’t know the details, but the table shows $4 million for “ORCA Opportunity Program”. I assume that is putting ORCA cards in the hands of students. There is also $3 million for “Low Income Access, Planning and Analysis, and VLF Rebate”. I think that is something completely different (obviously VLF Rebate is meaningless if there is no car tab tax).

        So I’m going to assume this costs $4 million. Somewhere between 34 – 41% of the middle and high school students are on free or reduced lunch programs*. I’ll split the difference and go with 37%. That means that means-testing would save $2.5 million, more or less. Can you buy much service, city-wide, for $2.5 million? In a word, no. I really think that is a minuscule amount of service, and not worth fighting for, especially since it is highly likely you will lose.

        * Scroll down on this: https://seattleschools.org/cms/One.aspx?portalId=627&pageId=25571114

      9. “VLF Rebate” is probably the money the TBD will have to refund to car owners if I-976 is upheld. The word rebate sounds familiar so it probably relates to wording in the initiative. Still, the number is surprosingly small, if $3 million includes the car-tab refund and other things too.

      10. The VLF rebate is a program that allows income-qualified car owners to receive a $20 refund on their VLF fees. As such, it can go away when the VLF goes away. If the Court orders a repayment of the VLF collected in 2020, that would go to everybody who paid and would cost on the order of $25 million, and would presumably come out of the STBD’s reserves.

      11. Yeah, the VLF rebate goes away once the car tab tax goes away (I think I wrote that).

        It is the other part of that sentence that I’m unsure of (“Low Income Access, Planning and Analysis”). I’m not sure what that is. Like the VLF rebate, I don’t think that is related to the ORCA cards for students, which is why I came up with $4 million as the baseline, not $7 million (as Skylar had). Subtract out a third (for those on free or reduced lunch) and you save a measly $2.5 million by cancelling the program. As much as it seems crazy to give well-to-do kids from Roosevelt a free bus pass, I can live with that. Anything we can do to encourage kids to delay driving (or drive less) makes the city a safer place.

  5. Who said there’s GOT to be a sales tax increase? Isn’t that why it’s an election and not a decree? Bet it’s news to you that “1984” was just “1948” re-arranged.

    [ot]

      1. I’m confused. This is for 0.1%, but the limit is 0.2%. Can they just ask for 0.2% instead?

      2. Yes, they can put a measure together asking for the full .2% sales tax authority the Seattle TBD is entitled to. Apparently, as least as far as this component is concerned, the council is aiming for the status quo.

      3. Right, except that because of the cut in car tabs revenue, it will be a cut in service. Keep in mind, this is coming from Alex Pedersen, the most tax averse, least transit friendly member of the city council. Pedersen opposed the “Move Seattle” proposal, which is probably the closest thing to renewing this levy. He opposed it not because he had trouble with SDOT, or particular projects, but because he didn’t want to raise taxes. So it shouldn’t be too surprising that Pedersen, of all people, wants to see an effective reduction in transit service for the city.

        I don’t think it should be that hard to convince the rest of the council to push for more money. Most want to spend as much as possible. Herbold is probably to the right of the rest of the council. But Herbold is not nearly as far to the right as Pedersen, and with much of the money going to her district, I doubt she would oppose doubling the amount of money in the package.

        I hope the STB board takes up this issue. I hope they push the council to adopt a bigger package. 0.2% would be a lot better.

    1. Also, I’m not sure why the city is only looking at a 4-year renewal. The statute allows for the sales tax portion to be assessed for a 10-year period with one renewal for another 10-year period. After that, the city would need to seek assistance from the state legislature for additional authority.

      1. As mentioned, a four year renewal puts it back on the ballot in 2024; a presidential election year. That draws the biggest number of voters and the assumption is it’s the best time to come back with a bigger ask.

      2. Thanks Bernie. Yeah I already understood that part of the narrative. But 2020 is also a Presidential cycle as well (obviously). Plus, it’s unclear to me from my reading of the statutory language whether a subsequent renewal is even allowed (despite not maxing out the two 10-year periods). I think I’ll check on the relevant associated WAC to see if there’s more detail on that particular matter.

      3. This is a presidential year but the climate for tax increases with such high unemployment is poor. Especially for transit when ridership is in the tank. Transit measures rely largely on the “good will” of people who don’t ever use it. Now you’ve got a large percentage of people who did use it but aren’t either because they’ve lost their job, the’re working from home or it’s perceived as being unsafe. So the play is to get what you can now and hunker down until the next presidential cycle.

      4. This is a presidential year but the climate for tax increases with such high unemployment is poor.

        Citation please.

        In a city like Seattle (left leaning, well educated) my guess is it is the opposite. Obviously in an ideal world we would spend more and just run a deficit. But that isn’t possible. So the alternative is to spend more and tax more, or spend less and tax less. From an economic standpoint, we should spend more and tax more, even with a regressive tax like sales (especially since food and rent aren’t taxed). You are putting way more people to work while those who buy knick-knacks from Amazon chip in. It is not an ideal tax, but it is better than the alternative.

        Anyway, my guess is a sales tax to pay for transit would pass overwhelmingly in this city now, six months from now, or pretty much any time in the foreseeable future. The county, on the other hand, is a different matter. In that case — you want to aim for a general election, and way too many people are likely to buy in to the Seattle-Times-editorial-board BS that raising taxes during a recession is worse than the alternative.

      5. “the climate for tax increases with such high unemployment is poor.”

        It’s a tax CUT. If people are managing to pay the current level now, it will be even easier to pay the reduced level.

        The idea that it’s a tax increase because the current levy is scheduled to go down to 0% in January is absurd. This isn’t a one-time capital project, it’s an ongoing long-term need like libraries and 911 service. The reason it isn’t permanent is state law requires levies to be renewed every few years to make sure voters still want them. (Or at least that was Eyman’s rationale.)

      6. I think the hope is that in four years, the county will step in and have their own tax. The county had plans for this, but then the pandemic hit (https://seattletransitblog.com/2019/02/20/balducci-working-on-countywide-transit-funding-package/).

        I don’t know if the city can have the sales tax above that. It would probably make sense for the county to pass that measure, and the city to pass something above that, using car tab revenue (once that mess is sorted out).

      7. Bernie, yeah I get all of that. But that’s just a perception issue that the council and the mayor SHOULD be prepared to deal with NOW regardless of those other economic factors, if this funding source is indeed important to them. To me, it shouldn’t require any more political capital from these elected leaders than, say, a levy lid lift request would call for at such a time, for example. Hell, one could even argue that the latter would require even more of a political spine at a time like this (due to the more nuanced argument involved).

        “…but the climate for tax increases with such high unemployment is poor.”

        And there’s the rub. If the sales tax component is kept at the current .1% rate and is simply extended for a new period of time (a four or six-year term as explained in the OP’s piece), then such a tax increase doesn’t come into play. Hence, the political leaders who ultimately support such an extension have a much easier argument to make.

      8. “In a city like Seattle (left leaning, well educated) my guess is it is the opposite.”

        That’s probably right, a transit-preservation measure can pass in an off-year election. The TBD did in 2015. But it’s an additional risk we shouldn’t accept. We should have certainty that our transit service will be preserved, and not leave it to an off-year election and cross our fingers. Transit is a basic service that should be part of every city’s baseline. Not a, “Well, if it fails, it doesn’t really matter.”

      9. “It’s a tax CUT. If people are managing to pay the current level now, it will be even easier to pay the reduced level.”

        It’s not a tax cut, nor a tax increase, as some others have implied. The proposal, as I understand it from Dan’s piece, is simply an extension of the current .1% sales tax levy. This component of the Seattle TBD’s funding just keeps the status quo for another 4 or 6-year period.

        As far as the vehicle fee is concerned, folks need to remember that the city has the ability to assess a TBD fee on vehicles up to $50 per non-exempted vehicle without a public vote, i.e, this funding mechanism can be achieved thru a councilmanic adopted measure. Of course, this all depends on the outcome of the I-976 challenge currently before the WA Supreme Court.

      10. …. Hence, the political leaders who ultimately support such an extension have a much easier argument to make.

        Yeah, sure, but that is another way of saying “voters are stupid, they don’t understand this stuff”. Which is actually a very strong argument. Voters, in general, are idiots. But it is important to understand how politics works *in Seattle*. Seattle sits far to the left of the rest of the country. There are two main publications that influence voter behavior — The Seattle Times and The Stranger. But on tax measures, the Seattle Times is ridiculously consistent — they don’t like ’em. You could have a tax measure to end poverty, war, famine and disease and they would still oppose it. They have lost all credibility when it comes to ballot measures, and only influence down ticket races (like school board).

        The Stranger, despite being a left-wing rag, has a history of being more nuanced. Without a doubt they would support a tax increase, and without a doubt, they carry more influence.

        If a Seattle politician doesn’t understand this, they aren’t long for this world. If you are a Seattle politician, you support tax increases — especially in a general election year. To do otherwise is to label yourself an out-of-touch loser, and you might as well plan on joining the private sector. Because next election, a half-way decent candidate will take your job.

      11. It’s not a tax cut, nor a tax increase, as some others have implied. The proposal, as I understand it from Dan’s piece, is simply an extension of the current .1% sales tax levy.

        Don’t forget the car tab revenue. The point being, on the ground, this is a cut. Bus drivers will be laid off. Service will be reduced. Neither is a good idea during a recession.

        So yes, the sales tax piece would be extended as is. But because the car tab tax goes away, it is, effectively, a cut. A sales tax of 0.2% would be much closer to an extension.

      12. Sorry, but it just isn’t correct to call it a TAX cut. Sure, call it a funding cut. Call it a cut in fees. That’s all fine and dandy. But the elimination of the TBD fee, either because of I-976 being upheld or due to that portion of the measure not being renewed, does not result in a tax cut of any sort.

        These are fees collected by the DOL on behalf of the relevant TBD. I believe Seattle even has an interlocal agreement with the DOL for this purpose for its TBD. Because these are not excise taxes, DOR is not responsible for their distribution. The fees are collected by the DOL and remitted to the state Treasurer for distribution to the appropriate TBDs on a monthly basis.

        Here’s another way to look at it. For example, if the state were to lower the vehicle licensing service fee from $8 to $4 per annual issuance/renewal, would one then claim that he got a tax cut on his tabs? Imo, that would be an odd (and incorrect) claim to make.

      13. Sorry if a vehicle license fee is not defined as a tax. The TOTAL AMOUNT people will be paying will go down if the sales tax is extended and the care fee is not.

      14. Sorry, but it just isn’t correct to call it a TAX cut. Sure, call it a funding cut.

        Now you seem to be arguing about semantics. Most people consider the car tab as a tax, not just a fee. I-976 official title is “Limits on Motor Vehicle Taxes and Fees”. In there, it has the bullet item: “Repeal authorization for certain regional transit authorities, such as Sound Transit, to impose motor vehicle excise taxes.’

        The point is, whether it is officially a fee or a tax, it is effectively the same thing.

        So this is, effectively, a tax cut. The sales tax remains the same, but the car tab tax is repealed. A sales tax of 0.2%, meanwhile, would actually be a tax shift. Some people would pay more, some would pay less. But the overall amount of tax revenue would remain roughly the same.

      15. “…but the climate for tax increases with such high unemployment is poor.”

        And there’s the rub. If the sales tax component is kept at the current .1% rate and is simply extended for a new period of time (a four or six-year term as explained in the OP’s piece), then such a tax increase doesn’t come into play. Hence, the political leaders who ultimately support such an extension have a much easier argument to make.

        Yeah, sure, but only in the short run. It reminds me of my youth. Back in the day, Seattle had trouble passing school levies, in part because they required a 60% majority (and also because the city was much more conservative back then). The school board decided to propose a small levy, and run a campaign about a “no frills” school budget. The levy passed. Then, almost immediately, they started laying off teachers. Teachers went on strike. They carried signs saying “I am not a frill”. They even marched on my house, as my mom was head of the school board at the time. (My mom took them cookies, and they had a nice chat. The protesters felt bad, and were only told to march there by the union.) The point is, this was really bad for the school board. Passing a levy, and then immediately making tough cuts is bad.

        It would be worse now. This is a very left leaning city. If you pass a budget, and tell everyone “it is the same tax” and then immediately make cuts, you will unearth a firestorm. There will be plenty of people saying “Wait a second — we voted to keep funding the same — WTF!”.

        Now, in this case, there may be cuts anyway (simply because the county will be making cuts, and sales tax revenue will be down). But making cuts while saying “we did all we could do” is quite different than saying “we decided to go with the half-ass measure, since we didn’t trust Seattle voters to pass an additional sales tax of a tenth of a percent”.

        I’m sorry, but that seems like a very weak argument. We are talking about a very tiny tax. I know, it all adds up, but I just don’t see this as being painful. If I have to buy clothes for my kids, and end up shelling out a hundred bucks, I pay an extra dime. If I buy a fancy new couch for $1,000 dollars, I pay an extra buck. If I buy a new car for $20 grand, I pay twenty bucks. These are minuscule amounts that aren’t worth haggling over. Most people wouldn’t notice, or care.

        They will notice if they lay off a bunch of bus drivers, or kill off a bunch of routes. There will be plenty of people complaining, as “their” bus route gets killed. It is stupid to go with the half-ass approach. The city should go for the full amount.

      16. Many Americans are fuzzy on the distinction between a tax, excise tax, fee, and other payments to the government that aren’t a straightforward fee-for-service (like an electric bill), and just use the word “tax” for all of them.

      17. “Most people consider the car tab as a tax, not just a fee.”

        That’s not been my experience at all. No one I know calls their vehicle license renewal notice a “tax bill”, and rightly so. They just say “My car tabs are due this month. Now what did I pay last year?” Then if they’re curious enough they pull out their records and compare the fees with their last renewal.

        “I-976 official title is “Limits on Motor Vehicle Taxes and Fees”. In there, it has the bullet item: “Repeal authorization for certain regional transit authorities, such as Sound Transit, to impose motor vehicle excise taxes.’”

        Yes, we all know that the RTA tax on vehicle license registrations was a target of the Eyman initiative, but that’s not particularly relevant to this discussion regarding the TBD fees, including Seattle’s.

        “So this is, effectively, a tax cut.”

        No, it simply isn’t. It is the (potential) elimination of a component fee, no different than the legislature lowering or eliminating any of the other fees assessed for a vehicle license issuance or renewal, such as the one I mentioned earlier. And this isn’t just semantics; these things matter when it comes to tax implications under our federal tax code. For example, currently the RTA tax added to the other fees for a vehicle license within the ST district is a deductible item on federal income tax returns due to the fact that it is a value-based excise tax. For the individual filer, none of the other fees associated with vehicle licenses, including TBD fees, are treated similarly.

        As always, I appreciate your thoughtful reply. I also enjoyed reading the anecdotal portion of your comment regarding your mother’s involvement with the local school district. (I moved to Seattle in the late 1980s so I remember the 60%-approval era of various failed levy requests.) Nevertheless, I stand by my previous assertion: eliminating or not renewing the TBD fee does not result in a “tax cut”, effectively or otherwise. These are not tax revenues at play here*. It simply reduces the funding for the underlying district and lowers the licensing fee expense for owners of non-exempt vehicles within the relevant district.

        Similarly, should the Seattle TBD ask the voters for its full authorized sales tax authority with a new ballot proposal, and that request was approved by said voters, then that would indeed result in a tax increase for ALL purchasers of taxable goods and services within the jurisdiction. Non vehicle owners in said district would certainly see it as a tax increase, albeit a very small one.

        I’m not advocating for one proposal over another here. The implications for bus service for Seattle for the next four to six years are significant. Obviously a reduction of a funding source, i.e., the TBD VLF’s, is going to have negative consequences. With that said, let’s at least describe the requests involved with the possible levy proposals by the appropriate terms. The proposal outlined in the OP’s piece involves neither a tax cut nor a tax increase. The change to the funding mix, as well as the resulting financial impact to the district (which is really what your argument boils down to), doesn’t change that basic principle.

        *If you read the STBD annual reports, you will see that the district is very clear about how they refer to their two primary funding sources (VLF revenues and sales tax revenues), both in the reports’ narrative as well as in the financial details.

  6. All in all, this seems to be a reasonable approach. I see the opening of Northgate Link to be a major transit mindset change for all residents north of the Ship Canal next year. By then, the post-COVID transit demand will also be more understandable and car tab legitimacy will be resolved. At that point, a more ambitious operating subsidy combined with route restructuring can be more easily sold to the wider public in 2022. (I tend to believe that ST3 passed partly because of the good vibes from opening U-Link just before the vote in 2016.)

    1. The opening of NG Link will be HUGE!! Just 3 more stations, but an approx 40% increase in station pairs and a huge increase in overall utility.

      NG Link will offer the first really god access to the U for people from the north. It will be an incredible improvement.

      Metro has a great opportunity to reduce service hours by feeding ridership onto Link instead. They need to take the opportunity, because ridership and revenues don’t support the pre CV-19 system.

      1. The problem being, to make high capacity transit effective you need more service hours, not less. Link dramatically increases the capacity of the system so you need all of the existing hours and then some to take full advantage of this. But the money’s not there. ST has it’s own money woes and until frequent service is restored it’s only potential capacity. And using the same number of service hours to force a transfer to an infrequent train just means worse service and a decline in ridership.

        Yes, the virus has it’s own calendar. So, I don’t see how Metro can plan a restructure around Link until we know what that is. Or, I should say “implement” a restructure. They can certainly plan ahead and the great thing about buses is they are flexible.

      2. Sound Transit has the money to run Link frequently, they’re choosing not to do it. As proof, look for further than the ST Express schedules. The 545, alone, is heavily overserved with the commuter market decimated and Microsoft shuttered. If push comes to shove, Sound Transit should be reducing frequency on the 545 to maintain service on Link, rather than (mostly) the other way around.

      3. Sound Transit is primarily a capital assets building organization. Providing bus service is only done to provide some level of service to the tax area they cover when rail, if ever, is far off in the future. They get lambasted from both sides when they over promise and under deliver; and rightly so. Right now reduced funding threatens the very existence of some promised projects. Running Link is expensive, really expensive. The costs have always been “hidden” by reporting cost per car instead of cost per train. The eastside bankrolled a tide sum because they didn’t have to fund operating costs. Once the train starts running there’s far less available for expansion. ST has to reduce service in a way that’s fiscally responsible. The biggest saving, what PT was forced to do during the great recession, is to eliminate Sunday service entirely. You get more hours back for weekday service than you lose on Sunday. Of course that puts pressure on Metro to revise some Sunday service as well. But reduced frequency does too.

        That said, I don’t think the cuts have been implemented very well. Cutting frequency on commuter runs that are running empty makes sense. Eliminating the 556 entirely seems odd when it connects BTC to Link with a much shorter ride than the 550. ST also hasn’t (to my knowledge) looked at simply changing any routes.

      4. Compared to buses, Link is very expensive capitol-wise, but once the trains and stations are all sunk costs, as are the security staffing inside the stations, the variable cost to put one more train in circulation is essentially the cost of the driver and the electricity – in other words, nearly the same as the variable cost to run a bus. Which means a bus-hour and a Link-hour are effectively fungible.

        The past few weeks, I’ve ridden Link and I’ve peeked in windows of the 545. The ridership figures aren’t close. So, of course, if something has to be cut, it is better to cut back on buses and keep the core rail system running. There is room for compromise, maybe Link every 12-15 minutes instead of 10 minutes and 6-minute rush hour frequency is probably unnecessary. But, Link every 20-30 minutes is ridiculous.

      5. “Eliminating the 556 entirely seems odd when it connects BTC to Link with a much shorter ride than the 550.”

        Not really. The 271 provides the same connection as the 556 does, and with reduced traffic and the 271 effectively running nonstop through Medina, the travel times between the two are effectively equal. I would argue that, in reaction to COVID, the 556 would represent one of the least painful cuts.

      6. All I’m able to look at is the ST numbers and they are sparse to non-existent lately. It seems logical that the marginal cost of running another train would be trivial but the numbers say not. It would be helpful if ST gave cost per train instead of cost per unit. But they don’t and the only reason for that is they are hiding how expensive it is per service hour to run trains.

        Other than that I agree with everything you say. The current service levels are the worst of both worlds and it makes saving bus service hours by transferring to Link pretty much unusable. Bottom line I come back to suspending Sunday service entirely and putting the substantial savings into restoring weekday frequency. Link is only cost effective if the trains have high ridership. Current frequency assures that won’t be the case so as Dire Straits sang, “money for ‘nothing”.

      7. The 271 provides the same connection as the 556 does
        Thanks for that info. I wasn’t aware of the 271 and Metro’s new trip planner is pretty bad. The option sucks for people commuting from Issaquah but for BTC to UW it works great. I’m looking at the option of going this way vs using the 550 to get to SODO. Travel time they appear to work out about the same but the UW to Link seems more reliable and offers more train time vs bus time. In fact all trip planner options using the 550 suggest transfer to another bus to get to SODO. With current Link headways the bus to bus probably is the best option. Currently driving is a no brainer but assuming a return to a new normal BTC to UW seems better.

      8. Bernie wrote:
        Running Link is expensive, really expensive.

        asdf2 wrote:
        Compared to buses, Link is very expensive capitol-wise, but once the trains and stations are all sunk costs, as are the security staffing inside the stations, the variable cost to put one more train in circulation is essentially the cost of the driver and the electricity – in other words, nearly the same as the variable cost to run a bus. Which means a bus-hour and a Link-hour are effectively fungible.

        I’m with Bernie on this. Generally speaking, running a train is more expensive than running a bus. You have the same number of drivers (one) but you also have fare enforcement (and security) on the trains. Cutting back the number of trains allows ST to cutback on officers, while still maintaining the same ratio of trains to officers. I believe there are other aspects to running a train that make it more expensive (related to maintenance) but I can’t find anything that specific. However, it is pretty easy to find reports showing that running a train is more expensive than running a bus: https://www.liveabout.com/bus-and-light-rail-costs-2798852.

        The trains usually make up for that by carrying a lot more people, or having small running-times (by being short and fast). But right now, Link is neither, and thus more expensive than a typical bus.

        That being said, ST should just pay the extra money, given the systemic importance of Link. If you cancel, say, the 586 (from Tacoma to the UW) then 200 riders are screwed. Cutting service on Link means that thousands of riders are screwed, including those that didn’t start anywhere near a station (e. g. folks from Kirkland who are trying to get downtown). If ST makes cuts, they should make cuts like that (as painful as they are) before cutting Link service.

    2. Those service hours are needed to build a better bus grid and improve east-west connectivity. Metro WILL reduce from its pre-covid estimate due to lower ridership and revenues, but we shouldn’t deliberately create underservice by presumptively deleting hours then and lose our once-in-a-lifetime chance to get a bit boost in redirected hours. It won’t happen again until Ballard Link opens.

  7. Good news. The RossB comments are solid. The TBD service buys were mostly quite good. Ride2 was a loser. The split of lines C and D led to a decline of productivity. In addition to opportunities in 2024, there is the opportunity to lobby the legislature for better local tax menus. We need Sound Transit to step up. The virus has its own calendar; no one knows it.

    1. “The split of lines C and D led to a decline of productivity.”

      Say what? The split gave critically-needed service to SLU, and reconnected Ballard with lower downtown and Pioneer Square, and increased north-south circulation capacity downtown. And their ridership went up significantly and they’re among the top 10 routes in Seattle. That’s a lot of productivity.

  8. Yes, service was improved in south lake union; SDOT was clever in providing transit priority; rides per line increased; rides per hour declined significantly; the last southbound stop of the D is on Terrace, north of Pioneer Square. The Westlake story does show that SLU streetcar is superfluous; routes 40, 62, and 70 also serve SLU.

    1. It’s interesting that the SLU streetcar is suspended and the First Hill streetcar is not. I would have expected the other way round, but it seems that the little engine that could is actually accomplishing something, and the one that Paul Allen thought was oh-so-necessary is, as you say, superfluous. I ride the First Hill streetcar occasionally from Uwajimaya to Pine Street for variety, and because it gets me slightly closer to home than Link.I rarely ride the SLU streetcar because i don’t go to SLU much, and when I’m going from Westlake to Whole Foods, the wayt for it and the fact that it stops at a stoplight every single block and has stations every two blocks, usually makes walking faster. With the First Hill streetcar it’s harder to walk because, as the name implies, there are hills.

      1. “It’s interesting that the SLU streetcar is suspended and the First Hill streetcar is not.”

        That is interesting indeed as I didn’t realize that was the case. Perhaps it’s due to all of the various medical establishments on First (Pill) Hill and the number of employees and patients still needing the streetcar service up and running to get them there? I’m just speculating though.

      2. It shouldn’t be a surprise. Amazon has gone from flooding S. Lk Union with employees to having virtually everyone work from home. And ridership on the Lk Union line was dismal to begin with. The hospitals are running at reduced levels since elective surgeries are being deferred and a lot of people are just avoiding going to a hospital out of fear of catching the Corona virus. A report I heard on the radio this week attributed 8,000 cardiac deaths (based on statistics) due to people not seeking care when they should have. But there’s still a lot more residential along the 1st Hill line and it connects to Link.

      3. Part of it has to be the alternatives. If you are trying to get from central downtown to South Lake Union, you can use the C, the 40 or the 70. At most you are talking about walking an extra block to a bus (or combination of buses) that is as frequent, or more frequent than the streetcar.

        On Capitol and First Hill, the only alternative is the 60. The 60 is not as frequent as the 70, let alone the combination of the C and 40. The 60 also meanders on its way to the other side of the hill, managing to be slower to get to Yesler than the very slow streetcar. While this may be exactly what some of the riders want, it means that the streetcar (by taking a straight path on Broadway) is a good alternative. Of course after that point the streetcar route becomes crazy, and riders can get off the train, grab a beer, walk a couple blocks and get right back on the same train.

        Anyway, it is the lack of transit alternatives that keeps alive the streetcar, as it is the only vehicle that runs frequently and straight on a good section of Broadway. Eventually, if the 49 is sent to Beacon Hill or Rainier Valley (as proposed in the long range plan) that streetcar will be as superfluous as the other one.

      4. “if the 49 is sent to Beacon Hill or Rainier Valley (as proposed in the long range plan) that streetcar will be as superfluous as the other one.”

        No, the streetcar’s unique benefit is between Broadway and Jackson Street, and between First Hill and Intl Dist Station. I’ve lived on Capitol/First Hill and shopped at the Asian grocery stores on Jackson for fifteen years, and the L-shaped route is a benefit. It’s debatable how large or justified the benefit is, but it does seem a bit excessive to transfer at 12th & Jackson or walk up the hill that’s steep in some parts, in such a big and dense inner city as Chinatown/Little Saigon. I would have preferred a trolleybus as less expensive, but that ship has sailed.

        A full north-south route on Broadway is an overlapping but distinct issue. Throughout most of Metro’s post-1970s history there was no half-hourly route between upper and lower Broadway. When the 60 was created it was routed to 9th at the request of First Hill residents/businesses. The 9 local went from the U-District to almost Rainier Beach for several years. The 43/44 use lower Broadway to get to the base, especially southbound in the early evenings, and this allows some riders to get from the U-District to First Hill conveniently, although not all-day. I have long argued for a restoration of the 9 local or a variation to Beacon Hill. Metro’s long-range plan does restore it to Beacon Hill. I assume that’s waiting for the RapidRide G restructure.

        But that still won’t replace the service between Broadway and 5th-to-8th in Jackson or the 7/49 interline (now only evenings, recently sometimes Sundays) or the old 14 (14/47, now completely gone because the 14 is paired with the 1).

  9. the ST board, led by Nickels, wanted a monument; they did not want sensible transit. there is and was a trolley bus turnaround loop at East Aloha Street and two-way overhead on Broadway, Boren, and 12th Avenue South, and South Jackson Street; ST2 could have funded very frequent ETB service instead of a streetcar monument. frequency and short waits are much more important than mode. ST2 capital could have been used for ST2 service. as it turned out, SDOT chose to have the streetcar deviate to 14th Avenue South making it slower and less reliable.

Comments are closed.