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    Transit measure is crucial to region's economy

    Guest Opinion: Voting yes on Proposition 1 will keep the region moving forward.
    Rush hour in Downtown Seattle

    Rush hour in Downtown Seattle Christopher Nelson Photography

    Passing Proposition 1, an emergency measure to fix local roads and prevent deep cuts to King County Metro, is critical to the economic well-being of our region. Without a functioning transportation system, we will lose our competitive edge against other regional and global economic hubs.

    Every work day, more than 200,000 people travel to and from downtown Seattle during peak commuting hours, and two-thirds are not driving alone. According to a recent Commute Seattle survey, 43 percent of all commutes to downtown Seattle are made on transit, and only 34 percent drive alone in cars. Imagine the gridlock if all these bus riders hopped back into their cars and drove every day.

    If Proposition 1 doesn’t pass, Metro will cut 16 percent of service, and thousands of daily bus riders will be forced to do just that. Others who do not have the option to drive will be faced with longer walks and waits for rides on the overcrowded remaining routes. Some will be left stranded altogether, limiting not just their physical mobility, but their economic mobility as well.

    It’s convenient to assume that our transit funding crisis can be fixed by belt-tightening, but that is simply not the case.

    Until recent years, the state provided nearly a quarter of total transit funding. Since then, state funding for transit has declined to just 2 percent. By contrast, the national average for state investment is 22 percent. Today, 80 percent of transit revenue now comes from local sources (local sales tax and passenger fares). Soon after the shift to sales tax as our primary transit funding source, our country was hit by a devastating recession. Retail sales plummeted, creating a permanent hole in King County Metro’s budget.

    For the last six years, King County has worked with the state to find a more sustainable transit funding source, but the Legislature has not taken any action to address this crisis. In the meantime, Metro has undergone a whole host of cost-cutting measures, including implementing audit findings and reducing operating costs, eliminating staff positions, reducing labor costs, doubling adult fares, cutting capital projects, and using reserves. There is no more fat to trim. We must either find new revenue or cut service.

    In the middle of these funding challenges, transit ridership is reaching record highs. By Metro’s own estimates, the agency should be growing by 15 percent just to keep up with demand. Instead, we are talking about taking service back to 1997 levels.  

    Meanwhile, our infrastructure is crumbling. Road maintenance is another critical transportation need that is not adequately funded. County roads are going to gravel, and our cities have a combined maintenance backlog of over $1.2 billion.

    It is because of the critical nature of these investments that Proposition 1 has such broad support. The measure was placed on the ballot by a unanimous vote of the King County Council and is endorsed by 20 mayors from across the county, the City of Seattle and the Suburban Cities Association, and over 200 organizations, representing business, labor, education, and social justice.

    As our region continues to grow at breakneck pace, we must prioritize investments that preserve our economy, our environment, and our quality of life. I urge you to vote yes on Proposition 1 on April 22.

    Kate Joncas is president of the Downtown Seattle Association.

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    Posted Sun, Apr 20, 9:17 p.m. Inappropriate

    It is ridiculous that all UW faculty and staff irrespective of income can ride Metro Buses for only $44 a month (barely more than a $1 per ride). The system should be preserved but additional funds to do so should come from an equitable fare structure that has affluent riders or their employers pay more of the real costs of the service.


    Posted Mon, Apr 21, 9:52 a.m. Inappropriate

    Great point. The average household income of Metro bus riders is about $73,000 -- more that the average King County resident, whose average household income is about $67,000.

    Metro bus riders do not need the huge tax subsidies they already get, and they certainly don't need the massive increase in tax subsidies they would get if Prop 1 passes.

    The average fare that Metro collects is only $1.23 per boarding. That is an insult to all King County taxpayers who are footing the bill for most of the cost of bus trips for people with above-average incomes.


    Posted Mon, Apr 21, 4:05 p.m. Inappropriate

    How much MORE do you think it would cost to mitigate all of the costs that would come from those bus riders driving their cars to and from work instead?


    Posted Mon, Apr 21, 6:02 p.m. Inappropriate

    It's just a lie that Prop 1 failing would cause many people to drive to work instead of taking the bus. That is just a flat-out lie, and it wouldn't happen.

    Peak hour buses into and out of Seattle during peak commute hours are not going to be cut. It would be stupid to cut buses that are full, because full buses don't lose [much] money, so cutting full buses would not save Metro any money. Even Metro is not stupid enough to cut peak hour commute buses that are regularly full.

    The late-night, mid day, and low-ridership buses that would be cut have very few passengers on them, so there would be very few people who would lose their buses, and there are no traffic problems in the middle of the or late at night, anyway.

    You are attempting a nice lie though. Do you work for Metro, by any chance?


    Posted Mon, Apr 21, 5:02 p.m. Inappropriate

    I'd like the sane policy at restaurants. When I can only afford a $40 bottle of wine isn't it unfair the lawyer at the table next to me can afford a $100 bottle of wine?


    Posted Mon, Apr 21, 11:08 p.m. Inappropriate

    Actually, that's no lawyer at the table next to you, that's one of the highest paid city council members in the country (Seattle).

    Posted Mon, Apr 21, 5:24 a.m. Inappropriate

    Vote No and continue to vote no until the structural changes needed at METRO occur. Time after time METRO comes to taxpayers for more, promising increased service and the result has been about 1/3 of the promised increases. Dow Constantine and Fred Jarrett made it their personal goal to get rid of the old 40-40-20 rule, which ensured that the Eastside and the South County, who are paying the majority of the taxes, would see the bulk of the new services. Success! Seattle gets the majority of the service now and will continue to get the majority of the new hours.

    I would bet the vast majority of those opposed to Prop 1. are not opposed to bus service, but they are tired of over paying for under performance. The union contracts keep METRO from implementing cost effective contracting in outlying areas. At some point, if METRO cannot effectively address it's high cost model, we have to look at the County Executive and Council to demand change. Instead we are getting promotion of higher taxes and fees and service reduction threats. Is this really the oversight we are looking for from the Executive and the Council? No. It would seems as if the Executive and Council are far more interested in their campaign contributors and union supporters than what is in the best interests of the taxpayers and the transit riders.


    Posted Mon, Apr 21, 6:46 a.m. Inappropriate

    The author is the head of the business group “Downtown Seattle Association”. If the proposed tax hikes targeted businesses she'd be screaming for voters to reject the measure. She only pimps it because somebody else would be taxed. Lower income families and individuals are targeted by sales taxes and car tab taxes for the heaviest impacts, so that's why she likes it.

    Contrary to what she asserts in this piece about downtown growing at a breakneck pace, the fact of the matter is that employment growth in Seattle has been minimal over the past 15 years. This was explained by Sound Transit in a report it prepared for the FTA last year that tried to excuse the lousy ridership on its light rail system. Part of what that “Before and After Report” says is this:

    Employment in downtown Seattle was lower than the employment forecast used at the time the Initial Segment Project was baselined for the FFGA in 2002. The Puget Sound Regional Council’s (PSRC) small area employment forecast was used for the 2011 and 2020 Central Link ridership forecasts. In 2010 there about 80,000 fewer jobs in downtown Seattle than forecasted by PSRC at the FFGA milestone. The downtown forecast was 210,000 jobs for 2010 and 225,000 for 2020. These were updated in 2006 to 202,000 and 226,000 respectively. For the same geographic area, the dataset released by PSRC in May 2012 for the local review process shows 131,000 for 2010 and 187,000 for 2020.

    initial segment b&a; study final report 2013_04_01 draft.docx

    Bus and train service here is not financed as the peers do it – little or no regressive taxing, modest taxes targeting big businesses, redirection of parts of existing county and state revenue streams, etc. Instead, the government heads hike sales taxes and car tab taxes over and over. They don't like pimping these tax hikes themselves, so they have proxies like this author do it for them. Don't enable the government heads' deviant taxing policies. They tax too heavily already for buses and trains here, and it is the wrong kinds of taxing.


    Posted Mon, Apr 21, 8:34 a.m. Inappropriate

    One word Kate: Baloney.

    Posted Mon, Apr 21, 10:05 a.m. Inappropriate

    Metro has refused to carry out many recommendations of a King County Auditors Office report on how Metro could be more efficient. Here are just 3 of the things that King County audit recommended Metro do, that Metro has refused to do, which would cut Metro's claimed budget deficit in half:

    Increase the price of monthly bus passes to the cost of 40 trips per month, instead of the current 36 trips per month. This would generate an extra $6.6 million per year.

    Eliminate discounts for off-peak boardings. This would generate an extra $6.2 million per year.

    Eliminate free transfers. This would generate an extra $16.5 million per year.

    So, there are three simple things that Metro could do, which the King County Auditors Office recommended Metro do, which, combined would generate an extra $29.3 million per year for Metro. Yet, Metro has refused to institute these three minor changes, and instead wants to increase car tab and sales tax on all of King County.

    Metro can easily solve on their own this minor "problem" they claim they have. Metro just prefers to try to levy huge tax increases on everyone in King County rather than making some small changes in their fare structure.


    Posted Mon, Apr 21, 11:10 p.m. Inappropriate

    Gee. And whoda thunk.

    Why aren't the recommendations of the County Auditors Office posted on big poster ads on the back of every bus? Like a Scarlet Letter.

    Posted Mon, Apr 21, 12:36 p.m. Inappropriate

    More junk "facts" from Joncas. Whatever shall she do when Prop. 1 fails and the sky doesn't fall in?


    Posted Mon, Apr 21, 2:54 p.m. Inappropriate

    Please vote NO on Prop. 1. Downtown Seattle's "Free Ride Zone" was discontinued while Metro’s sales tax revenue is forecast to hit $471 million, the highest on record and more than $30 million above the amount expected. Last year's total of $440 million in sales tax revenue exceeded expectations and set a record.

    Metro needs reform. It's poring sand down a rat hole to support it. Please vote NO on Pp. 1.


    Posted Mon, Apr 21, 8:15 p.m. Inappropriate

    The proposition has “such broad support” because 40% of the funds raised go to transportation dollar-starved King County cities. They have a stake. Also, for those without a car (some who have the means to afford one choose not to do so), the taxes imposed are mostly on always-popular “somebody else.” There’s also the carrot of a well-timed, yet overdue, low-income fare. The proponents’ arguments have preyed on emotions: helping the environment, the seniors, the poor.

    Fares should have gone up, merely to cover inflation, and are still well below peer averages, even with Metro including advertising revenue in the numerator. They should have gone up merely to cover the extraordinary cost increases that Metro has faced of late for security (80%), insurance (60%), pensions (40%), and wages & benefits (10%), per their website.

    Much has been done on cutting costs, though this was at the behest of the initiative of two King County Councilmembers who pushed for the comprehensive performance audit. Still, belt tightening opportunities have not been exhausted.

    Transfer slips have been abandoned by most other agencies in the region, for they cost money to print and they foster fare evasion. By not having them, Metro would save the printing costs and curtail the abuse, while encouraging riders to use an ORCA card, which retains transfers (electronically). Secondly, monthly passes are based on 18 round trips a month, providing an unnecessary, hefty discount for virtually every holder due to there being an average of 22 workdays/month. Third, a marginal premium is paid for two zones and peak periods, yet costs are significantly higher for buses that go full one way and empty the other for these riders, who are mostly “choice” riders.

    Taxpayers should be suspicious when only selective revenue and expense information is meted out, while other information has to be sought after. For instance, the Tacoma News Tribune, not Metro’s website, lists that there were around 500 folks making six figure incomes at the King County Department of Transportation in 2012. Most of these are salaried, not the hard-working drivers who put in a ton of overtime to make it to that level. Three years ago, the council was told to pass a $20 license tab fee, “or else” a 17% service cut would be imposed. This year, we were told that a $132 per “average” household - $79.20 that would go to Metro – will be needed, “or else” a 17% service cut will be imposed. While it’s notable that this percentage is considerably less than the 37% cut implemented (total in two phases) to the north, where the sky didn’t fall, nobody outside of Metro has enough information to know why they pay so much and why their story varies…and yet, we’re paying the lion’s share of Metro’s bills. It’s a “trust me” paradigm of many publicly-funded agencies, including schools, that needs to become fully transparent.


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