Mayor Durkan and Seattle DOT today proposed a 6-year renewal for the Seattle Transportation Benefit District (TBD), which would go before the voter this fall. Councilmember Alex Pedersen, who chairs the transportation committee, will bring it before the City Council for approval, ending months of speculation about the fate of city bus service.

The slimmed-down TBD, which we previewed last week, TBD would fund about 50,000 service hours in years 1-4, rising to 80,000 in years 5 and 6, presumably as the economy improves. That’s far less than the 350,000 hours the TBD currently purchases, but SDOT hopes that it’s enough to maintain the baseline 15-minute network throughout the city.

Additionally, money is set aside in the first 4 years to provide increased bus and water taxi service to West Seattle. SDOT stresses that increased car traffic through the Duwamish Valley has had negative equity impacts, and there is a need to find high-capacity transit routes in and out of the peninsula.

The package assumes revenue collection starts April 1, 2021. Though the city could levy up to 0.2% sales tax, they’ve opted to stick with 0.1%. “Given economic headwinds, we wanted to keep flexibility,” SDOT director Sam Zimbabwe told reporters, when asked about the more conservative approach. the city could come back with a higher sales tax or a Vehicle License Fee, pending the litigation of I-976.

What started as a simple program for Seattle to buy transit hours from a revenue-constrained Metro has since morphed into a much more wide-ranging program that provides mobility assistance to low-income and disabled riders, ORCA cards for youth, and some capital funds. The new STBD attempts to continue that full basket of services at a reduced rate.

As a result, just under half of the revenue would go to support the Frequent Transit Network in Seattle, with a goal of maintaining 15-minute “all day” service from 6am – 7pm. (the original goal of the TBD was 10-minute service for 75% of Seattle households).

Zimbabwe also confirmed that the Via pilot program will end as the city retrenches and focuses on core bus service.

The city also has the opportunity to re-negotiate its contract with Metro at the beginning of this new levy, which may result in more or less service at the margin.

Given city voters’ willingness to vote for transit in the past, this should be an easy pass, even with other spending initiatives like Harborview expansion on the ballot. A more ambitious package may have passed as well, since, as Zimbabwe noted on the call, 3/4 of Seattle residents voted no on I-976. But given the sheer number of unknowns with COVID-19, the economy, and sales tax revenue, along with a non-zero risk of failure at the polls, a more conservative approach appears to have carried the day.

53 Replies to “Durkan, SDOT propose a smaller Transportation Benefit District for this fall’s ballot”

  1. This is a mistake. I think it is time to put pressure on the council for a 0.2% tax. Pedersen is anti-tax — we knew that when he got elected. But there is no reason to have more cuts just because he doesn’t want the additional 0.1%. This will mean laying off more bus drivers — drivers who have played an important role in moving people in this critical time. These are drivers who have risked their lives in the process — laying them off is not only bad policy, but cold blooded. I hope the board at this blog is prepared for another letter writing campaign to increase the tax to 0.2%. I’ll write my council member (and the two at-large members) regardless.

      1. Yeah, I agree. It is such a tiny tax, no one cares. It doesn’t apply to rent or food (unlike the sales tax in other parts of the country). That means you really have to stretch to find a compelling argument against the tax. Really. A single mother has to buy new clothes for her kids, and spends $100. She pays an extra dime. A family of four finally replaces that old couch, right before they have to replace the washing machine, spending $1,000 at Sears. This costs them an extra dollar. An immigrant decides to buy a new Elantra — a high mileage and very reliable car — so they can drive people in town. The car costs 20 grand — they pay 20 bucks.

        In all cases, the general response is: meh. Oh, there is empathy for the plight of these people, but the tax is meaningless. Just having free or discounted access to an ORCA card is a much bigger deal. Someone retaining their route, or retaining the frequency of their route is a bigger deal. Just *not* laying off the folks that have literally put their lives on the line to get essential workers to their jobs is a bigger deal.

        This is such a tiny tax that it doesn’t make any difference. Just as no one will feel the pain of this tax, no one will vote against this tax because it is 0.2%, instead of 0.1%.

      2. Thanks RossB. It’s very frustrating to me that we have politicians not willing to fight & lead when the going gets tough.

        I understand CM Dan Strauss wants bus lanes. This would be a good vehicle to fund them.

    1. I agree, RossB. I’ve sent an email to our three council members, including Pedersen, asking for the full 0.2% tax with an option to replace half of the sales tax with car tab revenue if I-976 is struck down. Hopefully that will at least encourage a debate.

    2. I’ll write my council member (and the two at-large members)

      I’ve got no dog in this fight but if you want to “mobilize your base” it would be a good time to post the contact info for each district and members at large. More people will respond if they don’t have to do the leg work. Even a sample letter would be in order. It doesn’t really matter what’s said vs the volume of the response. However, IMHO stressing the reduced layoffs which by helping the economy helps even those that don’t use transit would be worth emphasizing.

  2. Interesting. Thanks for the update, Frank. This will end all of the speculation as to what the city’s ask will be.

    “the city could come back with a higher sales tax…”

    This part needs further clarification I think. The governing statute allows for the sales tax component of the TBD to be assessed for up to a ten-year period with one additional renewal for another ten-year period. It’s unclear to me under the statutory language as it stands today whether such a subsequent measure would even be authorized without a legislative change from Olympia.

  3. “That’s far less than the 350,000 hours the TBD currently purchases, but SDOT hopes that it’s enough to maintain the baseline 15-minute network throughout the city.”

    Is it still the goal to have 15 minute service for 16 hours/day, 7 days/week, or is the frequent service goal now reduced to mean “only frequent from 7-6, Monday-Friday”?

    Because, I don’t see how such a drastic reduction in hours can possibly maintain frequent service unless either the routes or time spans in scope for the frequent service goal decrease?

    Also worth noting, the city just passed a large tax on Amazon, without going through voters, for housing, so it seems as though the city has now decreed low income housing the top priority and transit, second fiddle.

    1. The ‘baseline’ means 6a-7p, dropping to 30 minutes after that. SDOT said some routes could see much more than that but the goal is to make that the minimum.

      1. What about weekends? For those that have to work Monday-Friday, frequent service while we’re stuck sitting at our desks is not much use.

      2. asdf2, the baseline for frequency as been the 6a-7p system even under the previous TBD, and under current service. Weekends have always been limited to 30 minutes while I’ve lived in Seattle, which is a shame.

    2. Housing is the biggest problem the region has. It’s the single biggest thing that’s causing cost-burdening, bankrupcies, and homelessness. A transit pass costs $99 a month. Housing costs over $1500 a month.

      1. Yes, and also I’m not sure the political calculus is wrong, either. A transit tax will pass easily. A payroll tax would face a well-funded “no” campaign and it’s not clear that the resources would materialize to mount a “yes” campaign.

      2. Frank, I think you’re right. Right now folks are not exactly able to chip in to too many campaigns in 2020 – we need to stop some bad dude with the initials DJT first, then probably really consider coming together to keep a candidate who wants to gut the state budget out of the Governor’s mansion, and more.

      3. The Amazon tax has been somewhat weird in that, everyone’s talking about the tax, but nobody’s talking about the details for what it’s going to pay for. For instance, if it’s subsidized housing, who will be eligible, where is it going to be, what sized units, and how much is the subsidy? Also, to what extent will the housing funded actually increase the supply vs. choose some lucky people to get priority for the existing supply?

        Also worth asking – will residents of subsidized housing be deterred from taking a better job that raises their income to just above the qualification threshold? And, if the benefits are too generous, will we have people flocking in from all over the country to take advantage of them? I’m imagining cities across the country reading about us and deciding that it’s cheaper to bus all their homeless to Seattle and make them our problem, rather than to deal with them themselves.

        I would feel a lot better about the Amazon tax if I had some details about what it pays for.

      4. The thing with detailed plans is, they are mostly wrong. Politicians just make them up. Later they realize the details don’t make sense, then change the plans or just do nothing. Move Seattle had a fair amount of detail in the plans, and almost none of it went according to plan.

        Another thing about details, I almost never hear about lack of details unless someone doesn’t like the thing in general.

        Now, to one of your actually reasons for not wanting to fund housing – homeless might move to Seattle for the housing. Let’s say this actually happens. We fund housing and homeless people from other places come to Seattle to get it. I’d be proud of Seattle for housing those people. I just don’t understand why people seem so apposed to helping the down trodden just because they lived somewhere else at some point

      5. The problem is that Seattle doesn’t have the resources to take care of every needy person across the entire country. The Amazon tax will probably cover a few thousand, but not hundreds of thousands.

        I suppose in practice, what happens is that when funding gets exhausted, you waiting lists to the point where it’s no longer attractive anymore, so maybe the concern is overblown.

        And, details matter. In general, when voters get to vote on stuff, they provide details so people can see where their money is going. For the TBD renewal, for example, they’re providing details. But, for the housing plan, it feels like, tax Amazon for $200 million, then figure out what to do with it later. And the public should be ok with that because it’s Amazon’s money, not their money.

        I could be misinterpreting things. It’s possible that they do have detailed plans I just don’t know about.

        I guess one of the things about housing that kind of rubs me the wrong way, in general, is that it singles out specific individuals to get all the benefit, while everyone else pays into it, but gets nothing. Transit, on the other hand, everyone at least has the option to ride it. The transit analogy of affordable housing might be if all the money spent on operating transit were redirected into a program for subsidized car purchases for low income people. The lucky ones at the head of the line would benefit immensely; everyone else would get nothing, and the total number of people served would be much, much less.

      6. @asdf2
        Keep this up and you’ll be branded with a scarlet C on your forehead. Look at it this way, all the beneficiaries of new six figure city salary jobs this tax will fund in support of the homeless industrial complex will be able to afford nice new homes. The places they move out of will provide affordable housing.

      7. Other states sending large numbers of homeless to Seattle is a bogeyman. The vast majority of King County homeless lived in King County before they were homeless. This is surely not enough money to eliminate the waiting list for low-income housing, it just shortens it. It will take years to build the units. I understand that Massachusetts and Salt Lake City have universal housing, yet there are not flocks of people going to those states.

        We have to start somewhere if we’re going to solve the housing crisis. Any program should be large enough to have a substantial impact even if it’s just a first step; it must be followed by other programs to finish the job. $200 million ayear for housing, local business assistance, and community development is at least something. It’s better than $2 million a year.

        I’m skeptical of Sawant’s “Tax Amazon” initiatives because the rhetoric is all about the tax and not what it would go to. We need to start with what the need is and then figure out how to finance it. Not stick it to the corporations just to punish the corporations. Sawant’s measures seem like half a reelection tactic, half an attempt to stick it to the corporations. I’m glad the rest of the council and Durkan offered a more reasonable alternative. One that does in fact tax Amazon, and is motivated by and scaled to addressing a specific identified service gap.

      8. I’m skeptical of Sawant’s “Tax Amazon” initiatives because the rhetoric is all about the tax and not what it would go to.

        Sawant and Eyman are cut from the same cloth.

      9. I’m not a blind conservative, who will just say no, ignoring all evidence. I’m saying there are questions that need to be answered. A few that come to my mind:

        1) What’s the plan to eventually move people off city-funded housing into supporting themselves? City-funded housing scales a lot better if it’s just a temporary thing to get people back on their feet long enough to find a job vs. a permanent thing where they’re expected to be supported by the public for the rest of their life. If the expectation is that people will live in city-funded housing permanently, it seems like over time, either the wait list will keep getting longer and longer or the tax bill will keep getting larger and larger.

        2) To what extent will city-funded housing actually *increase* the housing supply (by increasing density) vs. merely displacing housing on the regular market? If it’s mostly the latter, no matter how much money you throw at it, you quickly run into the pigeonhole principle. You can’t fit 700,000 pigeons in 650,000 pigeonholes no matter how much money you spend buying out the pigeonholes and handing them out to pigeons that need them. On the other hand, if we’re talking about buying under-developed land and building high-rises on them, now the housing supply actually increases, and the displacement argument goes away.

        All in all, the city council members generally seem like smart people and I do believe they probably have plans. Maybe they’re even public and I’m just biased by media attention focused almost exclusively on the tax. I just don’t know.

        At the same time, I do feel like there is a bit of a double-standard here. Housing, they can pass a $200 million payroll tax without a public transit. Transit, all they can do is $20 million on sales tax, and only with a public vote.

      10. “What’s the plan to eventually move people off city-funded housing into supporting themselves?”

        In the 1970s a minimum-wage job was enough to support a family on. Now it’s not enough to even get an apartment. The reason is housing costs increased much faster than wages, So the answer to your question is to reverse this, by either lowering the price of market-rate housing substantially (it was 40% lower as recently as 2011), increase wages substantially, or have a universal basic income sufficient to obtain basic housing on. Seattle can’t do all that alone.

        The Clinton welfare reforms worked the same way as you’re proposing: cut people off after a few years. Even though there’s no realistic way they could generate enough money to get out of poverty in this environment of severe economic inequality. Especially if they have kids, are a single parent, have limited education, live in a city where Walmart is the highest-paying employer, or live in a city with high housing prices. The reforms were billed as a way to get to self-sufficiency, but when there’s no self-sufficiency they have a realistic chance of getting, getting cut off just means returning to poverty.

        “If the expectation is that people will live in city-funded housing permanently, it seems like over time, either the wait list will keep getting longer and longer or the tax bill will keep getting larger and larger.”

        If market-rate housing is unaffordable or cost-burdening for 50% of the population, the only solution is subsidized housing. Vienna builds enough subsidized housing to keep up with its population’s needs. A third of the housing in Vienna is subsidized. That’s what other countries do when they put their people first.

        “2) To what extent will city-funded housing actually *increase* the housing supply (by increasing density) vs. merely displacing housing on the regular market?”

        Of course. There are no thousands of empty units just waiting for the city to take them over and fill them. Land prices are high so anything the city builds will be expensive. Seattle’s public and private developers have done a pretty good job at tripling the density or more when they replace buildings. I expect that trend will continue, and the fund will have to build additional units, because there’s no other way to achieve its goal. Not when the population is increasing and the low-hanging fruit was redeveloped ten years ago.

      11. I think that the “housing crisis” was created by skyrocketing rents and home prices. In those circumstances, a way to buffer the consequences is needed.

        However, the housing cost needle is no longer rising. Zillow says that my housing is worth what it was 2 years ago. My renting friends no longer complain about annual increases.

        I’ve always seen the local housing fund game as essentially zero sum. People both poor and rich pay more in market rent (owners passing on their higher tax bills) or property taxes so a few that work the system can have it easier?

      12. 1) Most permanent social housing is self-funded through rents. There’s public funding to create the housing, but ongoing operations and maintenance is funded through rents. I would consider this ‘supporting themselves.’

        2) Yep – this is why ‘preserving’ affordable housing is mostly about picking winners and losers. That’s not to say it’s bad policy, but we need to be clear it doesn’t fix the long-term issue.

        I agree with Al that the peak crisis has mostly passed, but I view it from the supply side. I think that since 2017-ish, we have been adding enough housing to keep rents flat. This doesn’t help reverse the rent increases that have already occurred, but at long as this pandemic doesn’t cause permanent damage to our housing production supply chain, I think we are well positioned to keep adding more housing units as a robust pace through the 2020s and keep a lid on rents.

      13. @Al S and @AJ

        “However, the housing cost needle is no longer rising.”

        There’s no need to speculate here as we have an easily accessible local source for the data regarding housing trends in our state, the Washington Center for Real Estate Research at the UW. The data seems to show that, while the RATE of increase for housing costs, both for ownership and tenancy, has declined more recently, both parameters are still on an upward trend in our region.

        Here’s a link to the center’s archived reports. At a minimum, I would encourage reading the “Housing Market Snapshot” and the “Apartment Market Survey” reports to compare the current situation with prior recent periods. There’s a plethora of data here though (permits issued, new housing units, total housing inventory, etc., by county), so one can dive as deep into the data as one wishes.

        http://realestate.washington.edu/research/wcrer/housing-reports/

        Fwiw. I recently received my 2020 change of value notice from the Snohomish County Assessor and it reflects a ~12% increase in my overall assessment from last year’s level. (I live in the SW SnoCo UGA.)

      14. Thanks for the link. The numbers are all either statewide or county. Do they have regional reports?

        I’m surprised how low the vacancy rates are for some of the rural counties. Is that a function of how the data is surveyed, or is multifamily housing that scarce?

  4. Of the 350k hours of service, I wonder how much was focused on peak-commuter demand that is obviously not returning anytime soon.

    1) Peak hour expresses on the north-end (5X, 15/17/18X) have some trips funded by the TBD. Most of these riders (I was one) are likely WFH for the long-haul now. Metro can scrap these routes entirely and plow the non-TBD hours into the core network.

    2) Overcrowding-focused trips (short-turn Route 40s for example) where the crowding is nonexistent. Who knows what the long-term future of Amazon in Seattle will be, but 6-minute service at rush hour is wildly unnecessary. This should allow for more 15-minute headways at other times.

    Both of these buckets are expensive peak-oriented service with substantial deadheading, so the hours cost is quite high. Cutting this service can maximize the value of cuts while minimizing actual service reductions.

    More broadly, 20-minute headways vs. 15 minutes is IMO a reasonable compromise for routes that would go to 30 minutes instead.

    1. More broadly, 20-minute headways vs. 15 minutes is IMO a reasonable compromise for routes that would go to 30 minutes instead.

      Absolutely, but if they asked for more money, they could go to 10 minutes.

      Of the 350k hours of service, I wonder how much was focused on peak-commuter demand that is obviously not returning anytime soon.

      I’m sure some of it was. Which is why any goal — 10 minutes, 15 minutes — needs to be taken with a grain of salt. We are funding a network. Some buses will be frequent, some buses won’t, and some routes might not even exist in the future. For that matter, we don’t even know how much money any tax — especially a sales tax — will raise. It depends a lot on the economy, as well as whether we elect a transit friendly government that is willing to allocate money to cities.

      But the main issue is what the rate should be. At 0.1%, it is highly likely there will be significant cuts to service at all times of the day. At 0.2%, there will be fewer cuts. There might even be additional service. Last time this passed, the point was to prevent cuts, and as it turned out, it provided additional service — service that many find invaluable. We can play Nostradamus all day, but it is silly. There is no need to get bogged down in the details or try and predict future service levels.

      The main thing is, we need a bigger tax, and the city should propose a bigger tax.

      1. I guess I’m not seeing the demand side of the equation requiring a lot of service.

        Office workers are WFH for the long haul. Some may never return. Online shopping is taking over more and more for in-store shopping. The largest two trip types for transit? Commuting to work and shopping/errands. Forget about entertainment and social trips as well.

      2. You’re speaking like a non-bus rider. “Those people only need 20 minutes.” 15 minutes is the minimum threshold for reasonably frequent transit, one that people aren’t waiting excessively long for and it doesn’t curtail their ability to get around. Every increase makes more people on the fence choose transit, and 15 minutes is where you start reaching the sweet spot of the most people choosing transit. It makes an even bigger difference in transfers. If you’re doing a 2-3 seat ride and the buses aren’t coordinated for timed transfers, the maximum headway makes a difference in how long you’ll wait on average. The time waiting accumulates across all seats of a multi-seat trip. If you’re transferring between the 48 and the 11 or 8, or between the 44 or 62 to any of the half-dozen routes they intersect, it makes a difference whether they are 10 minutes, 15 minutes, or 20 minutes.

        The rise of teleworking argues for reducing extra peak service and peak expresses, not for reducing all-day routes to 20 minutes or less.

        There is a point where more frequency is not a reasonable expectation, and if there is additional frequency it’s just to manage crowds. There are multiple opinions on where that threshold lies for certain routes. I’d say 10 minutes is a good threshold for the 67 and E.

      3. 30 minutes is relatively tolerable when you’re relying on just one bus and are able to time your departure to match the schedule. For example, it works well enough when commuting to/from an office job with flexible hours. But, when your arrival at the bus stop needs determined by other facts besides planning around a bus schedule, things fall apart, and you really need more frequency to make the bus useful. Just a few examples I can think of off the top of my head:
        – Trips involving transfers
        – Trips from a store involving an unpredictable wait in the checkout line.
        – Concerts, movies, and sporting events, whose end times are not related to bus schedules (admittedly, this is not happening under COVID)
        – Trips with elderly people or small children while might not be willing/able to walk fast for 1/4 mile in order to catch a bus.
        – Trips with small children who decide two minutes before the bus comes that they badly need to use the restroom
        – Work commutes to jobs which require fixed hours and strict puntuality
        – Anytime your phone has a dead battery and you have no way to look up a bus schedule
        – etc.

      4. I guess I’m not seeing the demand side of the equation requiring a lot of service.

        People said the same thing after 9/11. No one will build skyscrapers again. People will avoid large gatherings. A year later and life was basically back to normal.

        We’ve already seen rush hour traffic increase. Even during this, the height of the pandemic, we’ve seen people take advantage of every opportunity to be out and about — visiting restaurants, bars, and shops as much as is legally possible. People will want to go out — you can bet on it.

        We can speculate all day as to what transit demand will look like in a couple years, but as far as this tax goes, it doesn’t matter. This is an important point, that lots of people miss: It doesn’t matter whether demand goes down. The savings from lower demand are minimal — transit doesn’t work that way.

        That is because transit is a service, not a commodity. With a commodity, less demand means less consumption. Let’s say I make 1,000 donuts a day, and it exactly matches demand. Now let’s say that demand suddenly drops to 800 a day. If I make 1,000, I throw away donuts. So instead, I make 800 a day. Everyone who wants a donut is happy. No one has suffered, even though I made a lot fewer donuts.

        But with a service, it is different. If 1,000 people a day ride the buses, or 800 people ride the buses, it makes no difference in terms of service. If I eliminate a route, or reduce frequency, it hurts all of the remaining riders. This would be as if I handed people 80% of a donut (since demand went down). This is what a cut in funding will mean.

        To be clear, there are times when service actually matches demand, and it is during rush hour. Metro runs extra buses to deal with crowding. Along Lake City Way, the buses run every three minutes, because they are full. But there are only a handful of buses like that, and they make up a tiny part of our system. If people permanently avoid rush hour travel, the savings would be minimal.

        Very few of our bus trips are based on crowding. The E runs every ten minutes in the middle of the day because they can afford it. It is much better for riders than running it every fifteen minutes (but not as good as running it every five). Service levels aren’t based on demand, they are based on what we can afford.

        If we cut service, we cut it to everyone. So even if demand goes down 20% — a huge, unprecedented drop, never before seen outside of pandemics — it would mean the remaining 80% get inferior service. That is a terrible idea, just to save 0.1%.

      5. Nice response RossB. I’m glad you emphasized the difference between consumption of a commodity versus a service. That distinction is an important one and it frequently gets lost in these kinds of discussions.

        With that being said, now on to your donut shop* analogy. You wrote:
        “This would be as if I handed people 80% of a donut (since demand went down). This is what a cut in funding will mean.”

        I think a more apt analogy would be something along the lines of a customer walking into said donut shop, now making just 800 donuts per day, and finding no donuts at the time and the shop manager telling the customer that the next batch will be coming out in 15-20 minutes. The manager, a friendly sort who tries to keep his customers happy, tells the customer he can offer him a coffee on the house (bus shelter) while he waits for the next batch of donuts to come out or, alternatively, he can walk over to a competitor’s donut shop about a ____ (fill in the number) mile away.

        Bottom line: the city should be seeking the full .2% option for funding its TBD which would allow them to avoid most of these reductions in current service levels.

        *Where does one even find a donut shop these days? More and more of them have disappeared over the years as Winchells closed shops or went out of business and DD pulled out of the area. As a former NYC kid, I miss having good donut shops around. There’s nothing like stopping in for a fresh cup of coffee and a freshly made donut on a cold and/or damp day. (Don’t even get me started on the scarcity of bagel shops. Lol.)

  5. I’m underwhelmed respectfully.

    Shoulda gone for 0.2% sales tax or $2 per $1,000 purchases. So if you spend $3,000 in Seattle well that’s $6 a month. Ain’t gonna be a big difference but if you can’t have an accessible bus nearby so you have to use Lyft/Uber for first mile-last mile it’s a lot more than $6 a month.

    Frankly I think some people wimped out. Change my mind.

  6. The existing TBD collects taxes from a 0.1% sales tax and also a $60 vehicle license fee. The new TBD will be dropping the license fee, correct? Why?
    Evidently the license fee is the lion’s share of the taxes, because somehow dropping that and keeping the sales tax will cut funded transportation from 350,000 hours per year to 50,000 hours per year.

      1. Thanks for the link. tl;dr:
        2019 revenue $30 million sales tax, $24 million VLF
        2019 expenses $47 million transit service, $7 million capital expenses
        in 2019 approx. $6 million was spent on all that other stuff; the excess of expenses over revenue came from leftover cash of previous years.
        They are saying the transit benefit will be cut by 86% (350,000 hours down to 50,000 hours). They must be expecting a whopping hit to the economy.
        Again I wonder why the VLF is being ditched.

    1. Dropping the VLF takes away approximately half the revenue. The service hours purchased are dropping by more than half because they are squeezed by the low income & youth programs (fully funded at previous levels) and the West Seattle costs (new). Subtract those and there’s not so much left.

      If the sales tax were at 0.2%, it could buy maybe 250,000-300,000 service hours even after setting money aside for West Seattle.

      But there are other reasons not to go that route: concerns about the regressivity of another sales tax increase, particularly in a recession; concerns about passing the Harborview measure which is also on the November ballot and needs 60% approval.

      1. Both those concerns are unlikely to matter. Seattle is a very leftist city, and the Harborview levy will pass by a landslide, especially since this will be a general election during a pandemic. Likewise, very few, if any voters are going to care whether a sales tax is 0.1% instead of 0.2%.

        This is all political theater, made by politicians who have fantasies of higher office. Durkan thought this was a stepping stone to the governorship (good luck with that). Alex Pedersen, so far as I know, has never voted for a transit package. Maybe he did — in which case, my apologies. But he opposed ST3, and opposed MoveSeattle. I’m not talking about voting against it — I mean he publicly opposed both measures. From a transit standpoint, these measures could not be more different. The former is largely about rail — the latter about bus service. Yet he opposed both, without a single argument against the particulars. In both cases, his opposition was bases on an anti-tax attitude. The guy simply doesn’t like taxes for transit — no wonder he isn’t willing to support an additional 1/1000 for buses.

        He represents the far right of the Seattle City Council, and the center of the board should do the sensible thing: propose a 0.2% tax.

      2. Indeed RossB.

        I’m going to jump in here.

        1) Regressive is NOT $2 per $1,000 of purchases. Regressive is a property tax where it goes up but you don’t profit annually from the increased value.

        2) Did or did not some hero who clearly shalt not be named warn last year of what would happen if 976 was not stopped?

        3) This is a time for courage, not wimps. Either believe in this public transit stuff or let’s get some people who fracking do in power who have no fear of going full throttle. I have a list of the latter – almost all women – ready and raring to go.

  7. Half hourly service after 7 PM? No thanks. Great way to never recover the pre-Covid ridership. It would be one thing if SDOT were pivoting towards relatively cheaper bicycle projects to at least replace some of the lost mobility, but this does not appear to be the case. Bikes are always the first thing to be cut, despite that cutting them even 100% never really covers much of the budget shortages. This reflects very poorly on a “progressive” city in a State that has declared a climate crisis!

    1. I don’t have the link in front of me but part of the Governor’s Covid proclamation (whereas and here to fore, hear ye hear ye) require all class A cities (think that’s the right term) to submit annual Transportation Improvement Plans (TIP) showing how they are going to create virus free transportation options. The only example given was bike infrastructure.

      1. Which Governor Proclamation do you mean? 20-61? This particular proclamation dealt with the reporting deadline for annual TIPs for first-class cities (that’s the term you’re seeking), but it only suspended the requirement under RCW 35.77.010(1) through the end of July. So essentially it was a housekeeping type of action to afford cities an additional 30 days to meet the statutory deadline.

        This chapter under Title 35 is intended to deal with non-motorized transportation mode programs, so the Governor’s example you’ve cited would be an apt one.

        Perhaps you’re talking about a different Governor Proclamation?

        https://www.governor.wa.gov/office-governor/official-actions/proclamations

      2. I was looking at 20-61

        The legislative body of each city and town, pursuant to one or more public
        hearings thereon, shall prepare and adopt a comprehensive transportation
        program for the ensuing six calendar years. If the city or town has adopted a
        comprehensive plan pursuant to chapter 35.63 or 35A.63 RCW, the inherent
        authority of a first-class city derived from its charter, or chapter 36.70A
        RCW, the program shall be consistent with this comprehensive plan. The
        program shall include any new or enhanced bicycle or pedestrian facilities
        identified pursuant to RCW 36.70A.070(6) or other applicable changes that
        promote nonmotorized transit.

        [ whereas emphasis here-to-fore there on mine]

        Obviously, if you don’t build more bike lanes your a second-class city ;-)

  8. The proposal comes from the mayor and SDOT; only the councilmembers sit on the STBD board and will make the call. Per RossB, citizens call lobby the STBD to attempt a rate of two tenths rather than one tenth. A recession would reduce the revenue from the sales tax. the virus has its own calendar, so we do not know the length of time that physical distancing will be recommended. masks will help. no one knows the length of the recession.

    the city and county could lobby the Legislature to change the TBD enabling legislation.

    for West Seattle, SDOT has made good decisions regarding priority on the low level bridge. the SDOT South Lander Street overcrossing is expected to open in 2020. Under this emergent situation, West Seattle transit service could be restructured to meet Link at SODO station at very short headway. the one-way peak-only routes need not serve the length of downtown Seattle. ST could run Link more often at off-peak times. The H Line may be implemented on Delridge-Ambaum (Route 120).

    the mayor seems to suggest that buying more water taxi trips will be considered. I hope the STBD notes its high cost and spend scarce funds on bus service instead. it appears a water taxi hour costs several times more than a bus hour. so, buying bus hours provides much more mobility for the buck.

    RCW on TBD sales tax:
    https://app.leg.wa.gov/rcw/default.aspx?cite=82.14.0455

    1. I think the water taxi is contracted service with Argosy Cruises. With all their business suspended for the summer (and likely into the fall) I would hope a very reasonable rate could be negotiated.

    2. “only the councilmembers sit on the STBD board and will make the call.”

      That all changed in 2016 with the adoption of ordinance 125070:

      “In July 2016, City Council passed Ordinance 125070 which authorized the City of Seattle to assume all the rights, power, immunities, functions, and obligations of the Seattle Transportation Benefit District (STBD) as authorized by state law (36.73 RCW). This ordinance allows the STBD to be administered and governed as part of the City of Seattle’s regular business, including decisions for the STBD’s annual budget. Future legislation related to the STBD will be referred to the Sustainability and Transportation Committee, or as assigned by the Council President, and recorded as Ordinances and Resolutions of the City of Seattle.”

      Thus the STBD’s program and annual budget request is like any other city expenditure and will go through the same committee-council-mayor ordinance process. So, yes, the Mayor ultimately needs to sign off on the end proposal (unless the council has the required veto-proof affirmative votes).

    3. Or maybe bump up the sales tax levy to 0.2% to cover the water taxi and more buses for the rest of Seattle plus CM Strauss’ bus lanes. There you go.

      Show some courage, commitment and conviction.

  9. a good, such as donut, has diminishing marginal utility; the first donut might be valued above its price; but the third donut might valued at its price; the fourth donut has less value, as the consumer is sated; a fifth donut may lead to an upset stomach.

    transit headway, as a service per RossB, leads to shorter waits; waiting is what transit riders like least, less than time spend walking or riding by a factor of about two. if one has a car or a bike, one does not have to wait; but with the former, you may have to pay for parking or sit in congestion. transit is much more attractive with less waiting.

    frequency, speed, reliability, and span of service all attract riders. capacity does not attract riders, but the lack of capacity can repel riders.

    most of the STBD service adds were at off-peak times by design, not just due to the coach constraint. Seattle wants to be become a reliant transit city with the liberty to travel freely.

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