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Tolls on 520: Will newer Americans, minorities be surprised?

The transportation department realizes the need to let minority and low-income groups know about the upcoming tolls on the floating bridge. But their campaign seems to miss the mark.

The state is listening to concerns about whether its 520 tolling plans are reaching ethnic communities. A recent discussion included, left to right, John Liu ("Northwest Asian Weekly"/"Seattle Chinese Post"); Janet Matkin (WSDOT); Bert Caoili ("Filipino-American Herald"); Sluggo Rigor (Filipino American Radio)

The state is listening to concerns about whether its 520 tolling plans are reaching ethnic communities. A recent discussion included, left to right, John Liu ("Northwest Asian Weekly"/"Seattle Chinese Post"); Janet Matkin (WSDOT); Bert Caoili ("Filipino-American Herald"); Sluggo Rigor (Filipino American Radio) DonaldPham.com

Highway 520 in Bellevue at evening rush hour.

Highway 520 in Bellevue at evening rush hour. WSDOT

The Seattle Times' analysis of 2010 Census data indicates that the number of minorities has quickly risen on the Eastside over the past decade. Since 2000, in Bellevue alone, the minority population climbed 62 percent, and the non-whites now make up 41 percent of the general population.

The rise should not surprise anyone. Racially white Eastern European minority communities are also on the rise. Natasha Savage, president of the Eastern European American Chamber of Commerce, estimates that 13–15 percent of those on the Eastside include recent Eastern European immigrants.

Despite the steady increase, many ethnic communities still lie outside the purview of communication campaigns that they help fund with their tax dollars. The campaign for 520 tolling, the Good to Go! program, exemplifies such an oversight.

Certainly, the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) tolling communications department means well. In the “Good to Go! Outreach and Marketing Elements,” there is a section on grassroots outreach, which states that the WSDOT should perform “outreach to minority and low-income organizations to use their communications channels to inform their constituents.”

The WSDOT communications office notes these efforts include sending informational material to community organizations, such as ethnic-based student groups at the University of Washington, religious institutions, cultural associations, and social-service providers.

Volunteers or small staffs, however, run most of these organizations. Their priorities are unlikely to include informing their constituents about 520 tolling when many of them face more pressing concerns such as health-care and social-service cuts.

Asian Indians comprise one of two of the dominant Asian groups on the Eastside. Debadutta Dash, co-chair of Washington State India Trade Relations Action Committee, said “the lack of outreach [for creating an awareness] is certainly an issue for the Asian Indian community in the case of upcoming 520 tolling,” and cited 10 prominent Asian Indian organizations not contacted.

Interestingly, the 520 tolling campaign includes almost none of the dozens of ethnic media outlets whose mission is to serve as "communications channels" to their communities.

WSDOT has budgeted for media buys. According to the “SR 520 Good to Go! Advertising Plan,” WSDOT plans to purchase $1.1 million in ad campaigns in newspapers, TV, radio, and online resources.

Only $11,982 went to ethnic media — just 1 percent of the campaign.

WSDOT also made an interesting choice in deciding which ethnic communities to focus on, too. Good to Go! media buys only went to a single Spanish-language radio and a Spanish-language newspaper.

Surprisingly, the other dominant ethnic minority, the Chinese — in Bellevue 9 percent, and in Redmond 6.5 percent — was not addressed. Twenty percent of Northwest Asian Weekly print-edition papers are distributed on the Eastside. Statewide, more than 70 percent of Chinese speak Chinese at home; 38 percent report they speak English less than very well. Nearly a dozen Chinese language newspapers are distributed locally to serve the community's strong need for in-language news.

The major locally based Chinese language news outlets, Seattle Chinese Post, Seattle Chinese Times, and AAT TV, reported they contacted WSDOT communications and their advertising agency last year, but received no response. Numerous other ethnic media outlets gave the same report.

The fact is that many ethnic communities rely on ethnic media, and they care about transportation.

The Vietnamese Friendship Association recently released a study showing that, after getting information through word-of-mouth, the Vietnamese, age 35 and above, rely more on Vietnamese-language media than English language media for social and economic resources. Nearly 70 percent expressed concern over transportation.

WSDOT would save money by investing more in informing communities with limited English proficiency about the 520 tolling now, rather than dealing with customer complaints and inquiries later.

With the electronic tolling, many of those who do not regularly access mainstream media or comprehend ads on billboards and buses will continue to use 520 without even understanding a toll exists. They will only find out when they receive a bill for the toll in their mailbox.


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Comments:

Posted Fri, Mar 25, 7:50 a.m. Inappropriate

Maybe we should install more DOT electronic reader signs to keep the "minorities" up-to-date. Let's see.... yesterday there was a report that said 203 languages are spoken in the Seattle Public School district. We should install a separate system of electronic reader signs for each of them. If we don't, surely, its because we are racist!

BlueLight

Posted Fri, Mar 25, 9:04 a.m. Inappropriate

Unlike BlueLight and his neocon views, I think it's important to spread the news among the ethnic media.

What I don't get is that there is no mention of the ethnic media actually covering this as a news story. Isn't that their job? Certainly the Times and the local TV stations have given us extensive coverage.

bigyaz

Posted Fri, Mar 25, 10:09 a.m. Inappropriate

Aside from communications with minority communities, I feel like WSDOT's information campaign fails at a broader level. What I'd like to know is how occasional users, esp. those from outside the area, are supposed to use this facility. I live 2 counties away & have no reason to have a Good to Go account. As it is, I still haven't figured out the 167 HOT lanes. Now, it seems like 520 will be off limits.

This unfamiliarly with the program may start to affect in-state tourism as tolling is placed on more & more roads leading into Seattle, as is intended under the PSRC regional plan. Eastward "weekend tourists" & those in nearby counties may be intimidated into avoiding Seattle. There is little recognition of the detrimental impact to arts and tourist features associated with tolling, which works to deter trips as much as it works to recoup capital facilities costs.

debbalee

Posted Fri, Mar 25, 10:28 a.m. Inappropriate

Occasional users will have their license plates photographed and be sent a bill (with a surcharge) in the mail. Unless I start working on the Eastside again, I'll put up with this for the handful of times I use 520 each year.

Posted Fri, Mar 25, 10:44 a.m. Inappropriate

I think an even bigger surprise will be when they realize that this scurrying to start collecting tolls is to help pay an additional 2 billion dollars for amenities to appease the Montlake neighborhood.

jmrolls

Posted Fri, Mar 25, 2:26 p.m. Inappropriate

In Seattle, SDOT does a good job communicating with non-English speakers. Perhaps WSDOT could take some ques from SDOT?

andy

Posted Sat, Mar 26, 9:37 p.m. Inappropriate

Maybe DOT should funnel some money through Seattle Public Schools' Regional Small Business Development Program. Contract with some "non-profit" organization(s) to get the word out.

BlueLight

Posted Mon, Mar 28, 8:12 a.m. Inappropriate

Immigrants won't be surprised at all. Toll highways are ubiquitous in Mexico and Europe. Tea-baggers and other right-wing nut cases who promote privitazation of transportation and all other public services except maintenance of a standing army will be extremely pleased by these new tolls.

Mud Baby

Posted Mon, Mar 28, 4:06 p.m. Inappropriate

Tolls will be well signed. I believe it's a requirement that licensed drivers be able to read signs. Anybody that doesn't want to pay the toll will be able to exit the highway before entering the transponder/photo area.

Note, the photo shown near the top of the article, Highway 520 in Bellevue, is not part of the toll road. The photo is a shot of Redmond.

cascadio

Posted Tue, Mar 29, 5:05 p.m. Inappropriate


Who wrote this article...Don Rickles?!

Commenting on the "communication skills" of an entire group of people just based on their ethnic origins??

I can't believe the amount of racism implicit in Seattle Liberals!

jabailo

Posted Wed, Mar 30, 12:53 p.m. Inappropriate

I have to agree with cascadio's simple, yet accurate message. Don't licensed drivers have to read enough English to be able to read road signs? I know they offer the guide in different languages but isn't the knowledge test in English?

Posted Thu, Mar 31, 9:03 a.m. Inappropriate

520 Tolling shouldn't be a media subsidy program for niche publications. We can probably find quilters and dog lovers who don't know about it, too, and have special publications.

There's been plenty of information about the tolling program, and when it goes into effect and people get bills, they'll figure it out soon enough.

Let's make sure there's enough bus service so that those who shift to Metro & Sound Transit will find seats. That's more important than more ads.

Carl

Posted Thu, Mar 31, 10:13 a.m. Inappropriate

It doesn't hurt to do a little "outreach", but it's the fundamental responsibility of citizens and Green Card holders to be aware of what's going on with their government.

Goforride

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