After months of warning, Metro’s funding woes finally came to Capitol Hill’s doorstep in September when the the 47 bus was discontinued along with 28 other routes around the regional bus system.
Seattle Transportation Benefit District Proposition 1 asks Seattle voters if they want to buy back some of those services in Seattle and improve existing routes with a $60 annual vehicle license fee and .1% sales tax hike. If enacted, the measure is expected generate around $45 million annually for the hamstrung bus system.
Some of those funds could be used to restore Rt. 47 and others that were among the lower performing routes in the system, though the plan does not spell out which routes would get funding. Those decisions would likely be left up to the City Council. The group Yes For Seattle Transit has identified several existing Capitol Hill-area routes that would likely be improved or expanded, including routes 2, 8, 9x, 10, 25, 43, 48, 49, and 60.
In addition to route improvements, around $3 million would be used to set up a Regional Partnership Fund to improve suburban routes and about $2 million would be used to support Metro’s reduced fare program. The funding measures would expire in 2020.
There are no proposed Metro fare hikes as part of the funding plan as Metro fares are scheduled to increase 25 cents across the board in March 2015. Metro fares have nearly doubled since 2008.
Given the loss of Rt. 47 and the robust Metro ridership around central Seattle, Prop 1 should draw lots on interest on Capitol Hill. Earlier this week, a non-scientific CHS survey on the November ballot showed transportation was the most important issue among those who live/work/go to school on Capitol Hill and plan to vote. It also showed the transit proposition doing well among respondents:
CHS Survey — Prop 1 results:
So how did we get here? Mostly inaction, though the 2008 financial crisis didn’t help matters. Last year the state legislature failed to pass a transportation package, which included a revival of the motor vehicle excise tax that would’ve funded Metro services.
With the MVET off the table, King County Executive Dow Constantine proposed a $60 car tab fee and .1% sales tax hike (sound familiar?) to go before King County voters. The measure lost in the April election, despite garnering 66% of the vote in Seattle and 80% of the vote in Capitol Hill’s 43rd legislative district. The upside for Prop 1 supporters is that those numbers look good for a win on November 4th.
With a loss at the county level, Mayor Ed Murray announced in May that he would send the car tab fee and sales tax hike before Seattle voters and the City Council unanimously approved. At the time Murray said the proposed 8% boost to Metro’s budget was not a Seattle takeover of the regional transit authority.
There’s no formal opposition to Prop 1, although groups like the nonpartisan Municipal League have opposed it because it uses a regressive tax to generate funds that are not clearly tied to specific routes. Additionally, the King County Council recently voted to hold off on further rounds of dramatic bus cuts, leaving some to argue the Prop 1 stop gap is not longer necessary. Constantine, Murray, and city council members have said voters should use this opportunity to infuse Metro with much needed funding anyway.