After Seattle voters overwhelmingly approved Proposition 1, a new 0.15% sales and use tax for public transit in the city, King County Metro riders will begin to see increased service hours and reliability, more support for reduced fares and improved amenities, starting next year.
“Seattle voters once again stepped up to support transit and transportation, especially to ensure reliable transit for essential workers during this pandemic. Our residents are the reason Seattle can claim one of the best transit networks in the nation,” Mayor Jenny Durkan said in a statement.
Revenue from this new tax will be used for:
- Expanded service hours on King County Metro bus routes and RapidRide lines, with more than 65% of stops within the Seattle city limits.
- New and expanded programs to improve transit accessibility for low-income residents, essential workers, seniors and youth.
- The ORCA Opportunity program, which provides bus cards for Seattle Public Schools students, recipients of the Seattle Promise scholarship at local colleges and universities and some residents in Seattle Housing Authority facilities.
- Maintenance and upgrades to transit speed and reliability, including pavement maintenance for bus lanes.
- Improved passenger amenities to help with recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Response to the closure of the West Seattle Bridge and support for the Reconnect West Seattle program through new “first- and last-mile” programs that transport riders from their homes or workplaces to bus stops.
“Even with many people working from home, Seattle voters recognize that public transit is the future and we need to sustain and expand our transit system,” said Katie Wilson with the Transit Riders Union, which advocates to improve Seattle’s public transportation system.
“Still, there’s more to be done. Cuts are still happening. Many of our members are essential workers and low-income and disabled transit riders who depend on public transit. Our members can’t afford transit cuts,” she added.
An October report from Metro said that before the pandemic, the agency was facing a budget shortfall of $1 billion over the next 10 years. The new tax is expected to generate about $39 million annually over the next six years.
“This is a huge win for people, our planet and our economy. This overwhelming show of support makes it clear that Seattle residents want and expect a robust transit system that serves our city’s needs,” said Keiko Budech of Transportation Choices, a nonprofit organization that works to make transportation more accessible in Washington.
As the virus began spreading in Seattle, Metro’s ridership dropped sharply; in April and May of this year, ridership volume was only about 20% of 2019 ridership. Sound Transit’s Link light rail ridership dropped about 90%.
Last year, Initiative 976 — which repealed or lowered vehicle registration fees, limiting them to $30 for most vehicles — was approved by Washington voters. At the time, Metro warned that it would be forced to cut $119 million between 2020 and 2025, equivalent to the loss of about 175,000 service hours.
In October, the Washington Supreme Court ruled that I-976 was unconstitutional and the Department of Licensing would continue to collect vehicle fees.
“Seattle voters' support of Proposition 1 to fund transit coupled with the Supreme Court’s decision to reject I-976 preserves the important work we’ve done together to create a robust, connected transit system,” Sam Zimbabwe, the Seattle Department of Transportation director, said in a statement. “Over the last six years, Seattle has become a national leader in transit ridership. We built it and people came.”
A city of Seattle breakdown of the spending shows that, per dollar, 63 cents will go toward added bus trips, 10 cents for the ORCA Opportunity program, 9 cents for emerging service needs, 8 cents for access for those who are eligible for reduced fares, 8 cents for capital projects and 2 cents for access for essential workers during the pandemic.
In 2014, voters approved a 0.1% sales and use tax and a $60 vehicle license fee for public transit that expires at the end of next month. The new tax will go into effect on April 1, 2021, and will expire on April 1, 2027.
Read more in the Dec. 2-8, 2020 issue.