FROM the chronically tardy Metro No. 8 — unaffectionately known as the “Late” — to the jampacked new RapidRide lines and the crosstown routes feeding the Amazon campus, the case for more bus service in Seattle is easy to make.
It was also easy to make last April, when King County voters turned down a Metro Transit funding package that was sold as a last-ditch necessity to save 550,000 hours of service.
Good choice. Since then, Metro has found $123 million in efficiencies, and the Metropolitan King County Council has proposed a way to potentially avoid any more cuts in service.
Seattle voters are now being asked to do what King County government as a whole would not. On the November ballot is the Seattle Transportation Benefit District Proposition 1, a $60 annual car-tab fee and 0.1 percent increase in the sales tax. It would generate about $45 million in annual revenue through 2020, when the tax expires.
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There are significant differences between this vote and the April measure, which The Seattle Times editorial board recommended voters reject. This time, our recommendation is to vote yes, with caution.
The biggest difference between then and now is the Metropolitan King County Council’s renewed scrutiny of Metro. The council delayed a round of bus cuts planned for February, based on higher tax-revenue collections. Now, some councilmembers have concluded future proposed cuts aren’t needed at all if Metro tweaks its bus-buying spending and its savings plans.
Councilmember Rod Dembowski has called for a full-time auditor to scrub Metro’s annual budget of about $1 billion. The agency must continue to bring its costs in line with similar transit agencies nationwide, and the council should explore options to increase fare revenue.
Should Seattle voters say yes, the city’s contract with Metro would open further accountability. An annual audit would be required, and the city is already working with a transit expert to ensure open access to the agency’s financial and service data.
Seattle Mayor Ed Murray also has called for creation of a transit office within the city Department of Transportation, which would put more eyes on Metro.
Taken together, these offer strong indications that the city would take a shrewd trust-but-verify approach with Metro. They would also ensure that the city is buying service hours at the best rate, and that Seattle tax revenues stay in Seattle.
After the April vote, the city put a new tax package on the ballot, assuming it would be needed to “buy back” bus cuts. Instead, Seattle’s measure is primarily about expanding service, assuming the Metropolitan King County Council’s no-cuts proposal succeeds. The Seattle Department of Transportation has drawn up a most-wanted list of 49 chronically overcrowded or late routes. That would still leave money to add an estimated 233,000 more bus service hours citywide. That’s a ton of service.
Seattle’s hourglass geography, increasing density and booming economy demand a world-class transit system. Metro still has work to do to restore lost credibility, but the benefits outweigh the costs.
Vote yes on Seattle Transportation Benefit District Proposition 1.
Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, Blanca Torres, Robert J. Vickers, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).