This week, a new proposal for a Seattle Transit Benefit District (TBD) was released by the mayor’s office.  As presented, it’s about half the size of the 2014’s wildly successful TBD that contributed to our US leading ridership growth.  Putting aside our desire for a larger measure, we have major concerns about what was included in this initial proposal.  The primary focus of this transit service measure has to be funding transit service.

Let’s turn those orange bars blue

We take issue with the capital spending in this proposal.  “Transit Infrastructure & Maintenance” somehow includes fixing potholes.  Major sources of road funding are restricted and can’t be used for transit so we have to guard what precious available transit funding we have against becoming another bucket for road maintenance funding.  We also question the other fuzzy goals of the capital section.  We already funded signal priority and spot improvements with Move Seattle, though these are generally good goals, being general just isn’t good enough when funds are this tight.

This measure has to be about emergency funding for transit service. We can make this measure better by moving the money allocated to capital to transit service.  That change would increase annual service funding by 52% vs the proposed plan.

While we would have preferred a larger measure to build on what the 2014 TBD accomplished and provide more service for essential workers, we understand that it’s a difficult time for people and a regressive tax is a hard pill to swallow.  We think funding transit service with a regressive tax is progressive on balance, but know that the politics are difficult right now.  As we come out of this uneven recession more people will have to rely on transit, cars are expensive and bills related to cars can be a lead weight on the finances of someone who is already struggling.

This measure can be a lifeline for people.  It can fund critical transit that will help people get through this difficult time.  Including funding for West Seattle, Low Income Fares, and fares for students are all good decisions and work towards that goal. We have to be smart about how we allocate funds in this new reality, and the proposed capital funding just doesn’t meet the current need.

Please join us in testifying to council the need to remove the capital funding from this proposed measure and use that funding for vital transit service.  You can sign up to testify tomorrow, 7/10/20, starting at 8 am.

21 Replies to “Use the Seattle TBD to fund transit service”

  1. I suppose we should be grateful that they are at least funding west Seattle bus service, rather than diverting transit funds to pay for a new bridge.

  2. Putting aside our desire for a larger measure …

    Why should we put aside what is obviously the most important issue? The funding is half of what it should be. Quibbling over what is likely to be a tiny amount of money for potholes misses the big issue: they should allocate double the money in this package.

    1. I agree. I am painfully aware how long it took bus service to come back from the last recession. It would be nice to avoid that this time.

    2. Putting that aside for the purpose of the discussion. Of course everyone on here thinks there should be more funding (and so do we.).

      It’s interesting that we don’t know where tabs will land and don’t really know what the rest of council will think of this funding package.

      KCM will already be facing a massive drop in funding even if we maintain the funding sources. So yeah, nothing about this is ideal – but we’re making a point about funding priorities.

      1. Right, but the point is, how you spend the money is always flexible and should be flexible. Whether you actually have the money is not.

  3. This is just backwards. We have temporarily very depressed demand for service. The agencies are running 85% of the network for 20% or 30% of the usual riders. Now is exactly the time to prioritize improving the long-term experience for riders when they come back to transit, not for urgently driving more nearly empty buses around.

    1. Exactly, summer is always a lull and with no sporting events, no concerts, no UW returning normally, now is the time to cut to the bone so that when demand starts to rebound there is money to fund it. Off course the author of this article will just use that to be another crises to justify higher taxes.

      1. You guys know this is about a ballot measure in November that won’t kick in until April w/funding for the next six years, right?

      2. Yeah, but the point is, an agency is flexible. Just because this is the plan, doesn’t mean that they will stick to it.

        The previous ballot measure was initially designed to keep funding the same (since revenue was expected to go down). It didn’t, and they increased the amount spent on service. But then, when it became difficult to increase that money, they spent it on additional capital projects, like ORCA card readers downtown (to speed up the buses) and free ORCA cards for school kids. The point being, none of this was what was originally planned — yet it all worked our reasonably well. You can argue against how the money is spent, but that is an argument to have *at that point*, not five years prior.

        Arguing about a graph like this *before* they have even agreed on a funding amount is putting the cart before the horse. First we need to get the city council (and the mayor) to agree to more funding. Nothing is more important than that. Then, we need to help them pass it. Then we can argue about spending, each and every year. As Dan said, for next year, spending more money on capital projects makes sense. Three years from now, it might not. But the time to have that argument is three years from now.

  4. As we come out of this uneven recession more people will have to rely on transit,

    Or not. Not everyone can work remote. Working remote has limitations but even a hybrid model means less commuting. Less traffic means lots more people opting for driving. This statement is a “fact” manufactured to support a goal. IMHO it’s likely that even if commerce returns to pre-Covid levels the need to commute and especially the need for peak hour commuting routes will not return to previous levels.

    This measure has to be about emergency funding for transit service.

    I would tend to agree with this for the Metro budget. Cut the social justice component as it never should have been transit dollars. But clearly the Seattle TBD tax was passed on the premise this was important to those voting yes.

    1. I think you missed the concept of an uneven recession we’re referring to here. This recession is hitting people who can’t work from home, generally people who make less money, the hardest.

      While overall ridership may be temporarily depressed the number of transit dependent riders will certainly go up.

      1. Nope, it’s going to go down. Transit 101, unemployed people don’t have to commute to work. This is basic stuff proven from the great recession.

      2. Transit ridership is going up from where it is now. The question is by how much, how quickly, and who will be riding.

        We made major cuts to transit during the great recession. We know for sure that ridership follows service quality.

        We can also infer that fewer people will be able to afford a car, even after the economy starts to pick back up. In the early days of that (which will line up to when this funding source will go into effect next April) we would expect more transit dependent riders and service demand to look pretty different than what we’re used to seeing. Over the six years that this funding covers, we would expect to see patterns return to something similar to pre-Covid patterns.

      3. Transit 101, unemployed people don’t have to commute to work.

        Transit 102, commuting is a minority of transit trips. If you look at studies concerning the effects of a recession on transit, they focus on the funding side. To quote part of the last paragraph from this report (https://www.apta.com/wp-content/uploads/Resources/resources/reportsandpublications/Documents/Impacts_of_Recession_March_2010.pdf):

        These cutbacks are happening as public transportation is reaching levels of popularity not seen in half a century: despite high unemployment, 2009 saw the second-highest ridership in fifty-three years. In order to protect this vital transit service, state, local and federal partners must provide critical funding to help public transit agencies move beyond the immediate economic crisis.

        So, as it turns out, you are wrong. Ridership may go down during a recession, but only because service is cut. Absent such cuts, ridership may go up (as it did last recession).

        But you also missed the greater point. Assume you are right. Let’s say that a year from now, we have widespread vaccinations, and the pandemic is waning. Things start getting back to normal, but we are in a recession. Let’s assume that transit ridership — for whatever reason — takes a big hit. It goes down to 90% of what it was a couple years ago (a much bigger drop than any experienced in the last ten years).

        The point Kyle is making is that those who ride it will have less money, and thus need transit more. They will *rely* on it to a greater degree. They can’t just call a cab, or buy a car. So even if we have fewer riders, those riders will rely on transit service more than ever.

    2. Two words. Induced Demand.

      Anytime you add new road space or free up existing road space, cars will always find a way to fill up, until traffic gets intolerable. This true when you build new lanes, and it’s equally true when you have more people working remote to free up space on existing lanes.

      In the latter case, one way it might work is people start getting lonely and tired of working from home, notice that traffic isn’t really all that bad anymore, and start driving to the office at least some days each week. Then, you have others that used to commute on transit, who switch to driving because traffic isn’t all that bad anymore. Eventually, enough people start doing this that traffic does become “all that bad” again, and you reach an equilibrium.

  5. consider the subway paragraph on capital. perhaps what we need to suggest is that council limit the capital to transit purposes. the drop in revenue has probably wiped out many capital budgets. sometimes pavement management is very important to service. three examples: one,there are frequent transit arterials that are failing and have potholes; it would not be bad to fix them; two, there may be a non-transit arterial that could become one with better pavement and allow buses to get right next to a new Link station; three, there may be non-transit arterials, that with pavement work, SDOT would allow a frequent bus route to use and and save several minutes running time. these seem worthy.

    but the RossB point is the most important.

    1. [This is a question for anyone who might know]

      How often does this come up? How often does Metro look at a street and say “it would be nice to go there, but the pavement sucks”, or driver times are slower because they are weaving between the potholes?

  6. Well now that I’ve heard the plan is to hold the door open for a 976 defeat in the courts – likely considering the 976 author’s track record, and then go for a councilmatic car tab increase… yeah 0.1% sales makes sense.

    But clearly funding for bus lanes – hopefully with each one named after our transit heroes – has to be a part of this. Or I’m riding a bench. Deal?

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