Political maneuvers this week in Seattle have opened the door not only for city taxpayers, but for suburbs and even corporations, to buy more King County Metro Transit bus service.
However, it won’t be easy for them to climb aboard.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray on Tuesday proposed the creation of a regional transit fund with part of the money Seattle would reap if voters pass new taxes.
His proposed November ballot measure would increase the sales tax by 0.1 percent and impose a $60 car-tab fee, to raise $40 million a year for city transit, $3 million for the regional fund and $2 million to give low-income residents a $20 car-tab rebate.
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Seattle would tap this regional fund to share the costs with suburbs, for buses that cross city limits.
“This is Seattle stepping up as a regional partner, not Seattle going it alone,” he said.
There’s no guarantee voters will pass the new taxes. On the other hand, some 66 percent of Seattle voters favored last month’s losing Proposition 1, a countywide request for the same tax rates, some of which would have gone to roads. Metro’s own countywide, $20 car-tab fee for buses expires at the end of May.
And the suburbs are far less tax-friendly than Seattle — only Lake Forest Park also delivered a majority — at 51 percent — in favor of Proposition 1 last month.
King County Executive Dow Constantine on Monday proposed a new “Community Mobility Contracts” program to let cities and employers pay the full operating cost of whatever bus service they want to buy. They could avoid Metro cuts or direct new service to high-demand transit corridors. It’s a partial response to Metro’s structural deficit of $75 million a year, which is forcing phased-in service reductions of 16 percent over the next two years.
Paying full cost
Under an earlier cost-sharing program, Seattle and five suburbs are spending $3.5 million this year to buy some extra bus hours, but Metro pays two-thirds.
It’s questionable whether many suburbs would pay the full operating cost to preserve or add a bus route, which ranges from $129 to $172 per hour.
Rob Johnson, executive director of Transportation Choices Coalition, an educational and political-advocacy group, said Kirkland and Lake Forest Park are fertile territory for transit-funding partnerships, because they have pro-transit city councils.
Kirkland City Manager Kurt Triplett said he’s intrigued by the proposals.
“We’re scrambling to figure out what that might mean, and what the opportunities are,” he said.
The proposal Murray announced Tuesday reflects his goal to be a regional mayor. While opposing a city-only property tax, Initiative 118 (for which signature gathering was suspended last weekend), he warned that Seattle shouldn’t be the Lone Ranger
He named five cross-county routes for which he thinks financing alliances are worth exploring: Route 308 connecting Seattle to Lake Forest Park, Route 304 to Richmond Beach, Route 215 to Eastgate, Issaquah and North Bend, Route 158 to Kent and East Hill, and Route 167 to Renton.
“We don’t want our buses to stop at the city limits. We want people to be able to get to their jobs in Redmond, in Renton, in Shoreline,” he said.
Shoreline Deputy Mayor Chris Eggen said his city will look at partnerships but has no proposals yet. He’s particularly concerned about losing bus runs to Shoreline Community College.
Triplett mentioned Route 238 serving Lake Washington Institute of Technology. Metro plans to discontinue service on that route after 7 p.m. starting in September, then scrap the line altogether in February. He wonders whether a shuttle could run from campus to Route 255, a major route through Kirkland to Seattle.
Route 255 service, too, will be reduced next year north of Totem Lake and no longer reach Brickyard Park-and-Ride in south Bothell, Metro proposes. Triplett said that raises the question of a Kirkland-Bothell alliance.
“I don’t have any dollars sitting around to pay for that,” Triplett said. “I’d have to cut another [city] service.”
In Bellevue, City Councilmember Kevin Wallace said he wouldn’t consider supporting a transit partnership unless Metro reduces costs. Bellevue’s commuters are well-served by Sound Transit buses, which are sufficiently funded, he said.
Partnerships not large
Metro’s older Transit Now partnerships include Seattle, Auburn, Kent, Redmond, Issaquah, Sammamish, Microsoft, First Hill employers and Seattle Children’s. These amount to 2 percent of total service. Partners pay one-third of the operating costs, averaging $144 per hour.
If employers or suburban officials are faced with shouldering the entire cost, they may look for other options.
Riders express concerns
Tuesday evening, the Metropolitan King County Council held a public meeting on proposed Metro bus cuts; nearly 100 people attended. The meeting focused largely on how the cuts would affect riders in Seattle. Speakers echoed concerns that have been expressed before: that the cuts would disproportionately affect certain groups — such as the disabled, elderly and low-income — and increase traffic congestion.
“If people are not going to be taking the bus, there are going to be more cars,” said Melinda Chrisman, who lives in Belltown and commutes to West Seattle by bus and water taxi. “It seems backward.”
Route 33, for which services are slated to be revised, is the only way many Native Americans can get to the Daybreak Star Indian Cultural Center, Charles Fiddler, of West Seattle, said.
“We know you’re not the enemy, but please stand up for your people,” Fiddler said.
Chris Billae, who lives on Capitol Hill, said Murray’s plan Tuesday was good news, but the council needed to further look at the implications of cutting services. Billae takes Routes 43, 49 or 84 after midnight from downtown to Capitol Hill.
“These routes may look like low-hanging fruit, because there are, admittedly, not many riders,” Billae said. “But many of these riders have no other option.”
Times staff reporter Paige Cornwell contributed to this report.
Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or firstname.lastname@example.org. On Twitter @mikelindblom