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December 2, 2013 at 6:00 AM
King County officials are weaving their way through some gnarly political traffic.
Should they cut Metro transit routes despite growing ridership? Or convince voters to raise taxes and car tab fees? If the Legislature doesn’t pass a transportation package that lets them do this, will they have to resort to an old law that allows them to go it alone, but raise less revenue?
Seattle Times transportation reporter Mike Lindblom outlines the region’s pending bus funding crisis in this news side story. Here’s one of the big reasons folks are so wary of inching toward 10 percent sales tax per $100 spent by consumers:
According to the Institute for Taxation and Economic Policy (ITEP), the poorest fifth of Washington state households pay 17 percent of their income in state and local taxes, while the richest fifth pay less than 7 percent. Those are statewide averages, so the disparity grows in urban Puget Sound, where transit sales taxes are higher.
“(In) a state that is already clearly the most regressive in the nation, amazingly you’d have localities where it is more regressive,” said Matt Gardner, ITEP executive director.
“In fairness, there aren’t a lot of other choices available to lawmakers in Washington,” said Gardner.
Lawmakers appear no closer to a transportation deal, so it’s understandable why officials are antsy to get something before voters in 2014. Cuts are slated to begin next summer. By the time the next legislative session begins in January, the political waters may be too charged for lawmakers to vote on increasing taxes and fees. And even if the state legislature does pass a transportation package that includes local options for counties, a possible referendum may delay implementation of the law till after the November 2014 elections — a less-than-ideal scenario for transit planners.
So let’s get a sense of what readers think about the county’s Plan A and Plan B. Click below the jump to vote in our poll. As first reported in Lindblom’s story, here is The Seattle Times’ description of those two options: (more…)
November 27, 2013 at 1:00 PM
Civil Disagreement is an occasional feature on the Opinion Northwest blog. Here editorial writers Lynne K. Varner and Jonathan Martin debate whether an armed robber on a Seattle Metro bus indicates an unsafe city.
Did you see The Times story about the 19-year-old man who got on the King County Metro RapidRide C Line bus at Third and Pike Street wearing a nylon stocking over part of his face and began robbing passengers at gunpoint? He got personal property from a few before he was tackled by other passengers and held until police arrived. The suspect was “agitated and belligerent” during the arrest, reported the West Seattle Blog.
This was not only a scary moment that could have ended more tragically (was that gun loaded?) but it also was not good advertising for public transit. I’m sympathetic to calls to ride public transportation as both a cost-saver and a way to reduce our carbon footprint. I’m willing to strike a bargain with King County Metro: I’ll get out of my car and ride the bus, saving personal money on gas and saving the public coffers on costly repairs to heavily used and clogged roads. In exchange, it must reassure me that I’m not taking my life into my hands each time I board a bus.
This morning I took the 70 bus to Third Avenue in the heart of Seattle’s downtown retail corridor. People hung out in front of the Macy’s, McDonald’s and other points along the city street. The 7-Eleven did a robust business selling beer and malt liquor. Police sat on bikes nearby, but did not engage anyone. The time it took my bus to show up, no more than 15 minutes, I was accosted by a couple of guys who thought I looked extra good today (Nope, never met them before.) I grew more cognizant of the dirty unswept street and the smell of weed. I sidestepped people who were hanging out on the street as though they were at a block party. Yes, others were commuting to work or going shopping, but I felt we were in the minority.
To endure that and get on the bus and be confronted by an armed robber is more than any commuter should be expected to bear. Bus-related crime is up and, given the armed robbery and shooting of a Metro bus driver last August, more brazen. Bus operators have reported 45 assaults on passengers inside buses between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30, a Metro spokesman told The Times in a news report. There were 27 assaults during the same period last year. The same story quotes a Seattle police spokesman noting a spike in cellphone robberies on buses, light-rail trains and near transit centers countywide.
I do not suggest we put armed guards on buses or wall off drivers from passengers, but we should consider whether a brazen armed robbery at dinnertime is a harbinger of bad things to come.
Here’s what that incident yesterday tells me: when hundreds of thousands of strangers mingle each day, weird things very occasionally happen. According to King County Metro, there were 137 arrests or infractions issued on buses during the entire month of September. That month, there were 385,768 people boarding buses every weekday. By my rough calculations, that works out to .000016 arrests per weekday boarding.
Contrast that with the national rate of fatal car crashes per 100,000 of population: 10.39. It’s not a perfect analogy but, Lynne, you get my point. You are far more likely to get into a crash, or even die, on your commute across Lake Washington than I am to even witness an arrest on my bus ride in from Wallingford. Your car is a death trap! Take a bus!
This incident, and the bus-driver shooting in August aren’t good for public perception. But these crimes didn’t happen because of the bus. They just happened on the bus. If we’re going to anecdotally tie location to crime (which the news media often does), you’d have to never walk into a coffee shop because of the Lakewood police and Café Racer shootings both happened in cafes.
Okay, Metro bus riders can be kooky. Toenail clippers. Heroin nodders. The ranters. But mighty Seattle grinds to a halt without Metro. One bus removes 40 cars from the street. Weekday mornings, my bus, the 358, stops at Denny and Aurora, and dozens of Amazon workers (along with Seattle City Council member Mike O’Brien and myself) hop off and walk a few blocks. If your answer to perceived (not statistically-based) fear of transit is for us to instead make single-occupancy car commutes, Amazon could not plop 15,000 jobs into downtown Seattle because their workers would be stuck in traffic.
Public perceptions are easily made and hard to reverse. But the data do not support your premise. I’ll bet you one of those soy London Fog drinks you favor that if you hop on my bus any random morning, you’re more likely to find a city council member than a gun-waving nutso.
November 13, 2013 at 12:15 PM
The Republican-dominated state Senate Majority Coalition, which balked at passing a huge transportation funding package earlier this year, is now floating a $12.3 billion transportation package, with an expectation that Gov. Jay Inslee may call another special Legislative session next week.
That alone is big news, because the deal includes a 11.5 cent gas tax increase theoretically endorsed by a fiscally conservative caucus. The package is heavy on maintenance, but would also pay for 51 projects, with billion-dollar chunks going to completion of the State Route 520 floating bridge ($1.3 billion), widening of Interstate 405 from Lynnwood to Renton ($1.25 billion) and the so-called Puget Sound Gateway expansion of State Route 509-167 ($1.69 billion). Here’s the draft project list and balance sheet. It also gives King and Snohomish counties authority to fund transit services by putting local-option taxes on the ballot.
Senate and House leaders are negotiating, but Senate Transportation Committee Co-chairman Curtis King, R-Yakima, and House Transportation Committee Chairwoman Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, said they agree on a broad outline, and on many of the projects. Clibborn’s version, passed by the House in June, is here.
Inslee spokesman David Postman said the governor could call a special session Nov. 21 and 22, when lawmakers are in Olympia to pick committee chairs for the 2014 session, but would only do so if there’s enough votes to pass the package. A clearer path toward a special session may emerge Friday, when caucuses meet in Olympia.
What’s odd about the MCC proposal is the muted response by King County Democrats. They hammered the coalition for failing to act last June, largely because the package would have given King County “local option” taxes to stave off devastating cuts (including cancelling 74 routes). (more…)
August 14, 2013 at 7:42 AM
The city of Seattle limits the number of taxi licenses to 850. That number has not kept up with demand as unlicensed competitors such as UberX, Lyft and Sidecar have crept into the market.
These new services, powered by smartphone apps, should be regulated by the city for safety, but I also argued that it’s time for the city to lift its cap on taxi licenses in a Tuesday column, “End the city’s taxi monopoly and let Uber roll.”
A Seattle City Council committee is studying demand for ride services in Seattle and could raise the total amount of licenses allowed, change the strange division between “taxi” and “for hire” licenses and require the new services to be regulated for safety.
If the city continues to limit the number of taxi licenses, it could risk potential litigation.
In April, a Milwaukee Circuit Court judge ruled its taxi monopoly was illegal and ordered the market opened. In Minneapolis, a U.S. District Court judge also ruled its taxi cap illegal in 2006. The Arlington, Va., nonprofit Institute for Justice was involved in both lawsuits.
July 31, 2013 at 6:00 AM
The Washington Transportation Commission voted Tuesday to gradually increase ferry fares by a total of about 6 percent over the next year. The Associated Press covers the basics in this news report, with a breakdown of how the hikes will affect passengers and vehicles as early as Oct. 1, 2013. The good news is youth passengers will get a 50 percent discount on full fares and smaller cars will also get a discount.
According to the AP story:
For a car or SUV between 14 feet and 22 feet long and a driver, the fare will rise about 25 to 40 cents on Oct. 1 and another 20 to 35 cents on May 1, 2014. For example, the Coupeville to Port Townsend fare for a car and driver would go from $10.20 now to $10.50 in October and $10.75 in May.
Folks will groan about the change, especially those who commute between the islands and their jobs in the Seattle area, but this is a necessary move by the commission. That panel could have considered more drastic measures to raise $328 million needed to meet the Legislature’s budget requirements over the next biennium. In 1999, voters passed Initiative 695, which limited the hated Moter Vehicle Excise Tax to $30. As a result, the ferry system saw revenue designated for its operations budget slashed by 20 percent. The only way to recover those costs is through higher fares, which have ranged between 47 percent and 132 percent. (Click on this link to see Washington State Ferries’ 2012 analysis of routes statements.)
The six percent average increase approved Tuesday is not unusual and nowhere near as drastic as a 20 percent fare increase approved in 2001 and a 12.5 percent increase in 2002. Ridership has decreased over the years, but the system remains the largest in the nation and serves 23 million passengers per year. Here’s some state data to show how fare increases correlated with ridership: (more…)
June 17, 2013 at 6:00 AM
This Seattle Times news story caught my eye over the weekend because I spent my first several months in Seattle without a car. I relied heavily on a combination of my own two feet, buses, trains, taxis, Uber, ZipCar, Car2Go and, of course, my driver friends. The costs really added up, but I enjoyed for a time the convenience of not having to pay for gas and insurance or having to park a car every night in Capitol Hill.
Now I see a dilemma on the horizon. I want the drivers of innovative services like Lyft and Sidecar to succeed. They’re doing well because they’re responding to Seattle’s heavy demand for quick, responsive ride-share car services. At the same time, I don’t think their success is necessarily fair to taxi drivers who are heavily regulated by the city and subject to licensing fees.
Of course, the Seattle City Council is weighing its options.
While I formulate my own thoughts on this issue, what do you think? Give me a sense of your opinion on this. Take our poll.
April 19, 2013 at 6:09 AM
The Washington House Transportation Committee is scheduled to hold a public hearing Friday morning on ways to raise revenue for roads. Lawmakers will consider a gradual 10-cent gas tax increase over the next four years, as well as several local options to help counties pay for regional transportation needs. The proposed ideas deserve thoughtful — and cautious — consideration.
Weeks after Chairwoman Judy Clibborn, D-Mercer Island, released a much larger package of ideas that raised plenty of eyebrows, she’s scaled down those plans to a few key points outlined in this news report by The Seattle Times’ Mike Lindblom. (He uploaded a summary of Clibborn’s revised proposal to DocumentCloud.)
There’s no doubt we need the money to preserve the infrastructure we have and to invest in projects that are critical to our state’s economic vitality. Increasing the fuel tax is a viable option, but lawmakers should weigh their decision against the likelihood that any increase will have consequences for someone, whether they be business owners or drivers trying to get to and from work. Extra money at the pump means less money spent elsewhere. At some point, we’ll probably have to have a substantive public debate about other revenue options that include the T-word. (Yes — tolling.) (more…)
February 19, 2013 at 7:23 AM
Today’s crazy idea to fix Seattle traffic: a gondola connecting Capitol Hill to the sculpture park on the waterfront.
The idea was mentioned in a news story by Mike Lindblom Tuesday. This is a town that loves looney traffic ideas. Seattle loves to get excited about futuristic transit possibilities. This is not a city that actually wants to build it.
Remember the monorail? Not the one at Seattle Center, the one that was supposed to connect downtown to West Seattle. The one we paid to start building and then shut down. For more crazy ideas, you’ll want to read Anne Hurley’s guest column sharing her ideas on how to fix traffic between West Seattle and the rest of Seattle. She suggests a jet pack or perhaps paddleboarding. Here is an excerpt from her July 12 op-ed:
Last week I dreamed that I had been appointed to a blue-ribbon panel to come up with solutions to gridlock. I was presenting a genius idea, and I could tell the crowd was starting to respond. It involved a giant zip line from the top of Columbia Tower to Smith Tower to the Water Taxi dock in West Seattle.