Seattle voters will decide Nov. 4 whether to preserve existing Metro bus routes and possibly expand on them.
Proposition 1 would approve funding for the Seattle Department of Transportation (sdot) through an annual $60 car-tab fee and 0.1 percent increase in the sales tax. City officials estimate the measure could bring in $40 million to $45 million a year for 10 years.
Initially, the intent of Prop. 1 was to help stave off cuts that were planned for early 2015.
But as the King County Council reviews its budget for the 2015-2016 fiscal year, those planned cuts may not be necessary.
“I am grateful that my colleagues, [County Executive Dow Constantine] and our city partners continue to work hard to ensure that we keep as many buses on the road as fiscally possible,” said King County Councilmember Joe McDermott, chair of the Budget and Fiscal Management Committee, in a press release.
If the proposed February 2015 bus cuts remain in place, they would eliminate 16 routes, including major routes that serve Fremont and the University District.
The announcement that Metro could avoid the February 2015 cuts came last month, right after 28 bus routes were eliminated and 19 were revised, the largest public transportation cut in Metro’s history.
At that time, King County’s Department of Transportation reported that sales tax revenue couldn’t provide sufficient funding for Metro. More than 50 percent of transit funding comes from county sales tax. County officials added that they were on the hunt for more funding from alternative sources, as well as investigating ways to stretch dollars and preserve service.
Metro has experienced its fair share of cuts over the past few years. In 2012, 16 percent of service was discontinued, including the downtown Ride Free Area.
Although the bus cuts for February 2015 are still under consideration, SDOT officials have a plan for the extra cash if voters approve Prop. 1.
Rick Sheridan, communications director of sdot, said that if the funding was approved the city could potentially increase the number of buses on all overcrowded routes in Seattle, fix the schedules of unreliable bus routes, expand the frequency of popular routes in the evening and add evening and Sunday routes that serve University of Washington students and faculty.
One option for the extra funds would be to split the RapidRide C and D lines into two separate routes. The split could also allow for an extension of each route. The C line would motor through South Lake Union, and the D line would have stops in Pioneer Square.
Money from Prop. 1 could also be used to continue “Metro’s trend of investing in productive routes and continue implementation of the Seattle Transit Master Plan,” Sheridan said.
While many transit advocates back the measure, the Municipal League of King County advises voters to defeat Prop. 1. A statement by the league reads in part that “given the sparse text of Proposition 1 and the lack of clarity on what specific service Proposition 1 would be used to fund, voters do not have a clear understanding of what they are voting to approve.”
If Prop. 1 is approved, Seattle voters would then see an increase in sales and use tax by 0.1 percent and incur a $60 fee on vehicle registration. Through a rebate, low-income vehicle owners would be required to pay $40.
Prop. 1 is modeled on a countywide transportation measure, which was originally brought before voters in April during a special election.
It was vetoed by a small margin of King County voters.
“I was very disappointed with the failure of King County’s Proposition 1 in April, especially because of the overwhelming — two-thirds — support from Seattle residents,” said Mayor Ed Murray in a press release. “It’s clear that Seattle voters value transit services as a way of life and, for many, it is a lifeline we cannot afford to cut.
“Preserving transit service is the most progressive act we can take, but we must ensure our low-income residents are not overly burdened by the increased taxes.”