On Tuesday night the King County Council held the only public hearing on its proposed ‘Plan B’, detailed in this earlier post, that would maintain transit funding. Most speakers supported the measure, but a number of important questions were brought up as well.
My own testimony, though brief, summarized the practical concerns of cutting routes and service hours:
There was a large turnout of elderly people, who either choose not to or cannot drive and rely solely on transit to access basic services. The vice president of a retirement home community and representatives from the area’s health institutions voiced similar concerns for both their patients and employees. The other large group was University of Washington students, including myself and several classmates, who detailed the effects of cuts in routes that service the U-District.
Most people were in support of creating a Transportation Benefit District (TBD), which is a separate body of government that has the authority to collect various forms of revenues. What is proposed is a 0.1 percent sales tax and a $60 vehicle licensing fee, though TBDs can also impose property taxes and tolling. The proposed fees will cost the average King County household $11 per year, and will go towards both the County’s underfunded roads and a $75 million gap in Metro’s annual budget. The authority to create a TBD comes from the voters, so the Council will likely enter the question into the spring election cycle for a vote in April.
There were also legitimate arguments against the proposal, with several residents noting that sales taxes are regressive (that is, hit low-income people that hardest) and that the funding will likely not last for future needs. There is some mitigation here, with a reduced fare of $1.50 (compared to the current $2.25) for low-income people starting next year. There would also be a $20 rebate on the licensing fee for qualified low-income applicants.
But surely, the question of future funding is also important. As I stated in my testimony, Metro needs to be expanding service now instead of simply maintaining it. The region’s population and economy are rapidly growing, and transit is the backbone of any world-class city. In addition to frequent service and comfortable buses with available seats, Metro needs to invest more in technology like the OneBusAway smartphone app and arrival time signage at popular stops. A recent study found that people find transit more reliable if they simply know where the next bus is.
If and when the measure comes to a vote, The Northwest Urbanist will endorse a Yes vote and encourages you do the same. We need transit funding now and forever to ensure our cities keep moving.