Seattle Mayor Ed Murray said he expects to have more buses rolling on city streets by June, after voters favored a measure to boost sales taxes by 0.1 percent and impose a $60 annual car-tab fee.
Ballot counts Tuesday night showed 59 percent support for Proposition 1, to pay for more King County Metro Transit hours within the nation’s fastest-growing big city.
“It says a lot about our ability to get things done,” Murray said, pointing to the public’s willingness to pass other tax increases this year for parks and preschools.
King County Executive Dow Constantine said he hopes Seattle’s margin would encourage suburban cities to add transit funds. “I think it’s a very strong showing on a tax measure. People in this city know the value of transit, they’re willing to pay for it, and they want it run efficiently,” he said.
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Of the $45 million new yearly revenue, some $36.5 million would go to buy more service hours, $3.5 million to cash reserves, $3 million in partner agreements with suburbs to fund busy cross-county buses, and $2 million to aid low-income riders.
The potential 266,000 more service hours exceed the 33,000 needed to relieve Metro’s officially “overcrowded” runs. But those are just the worst of the worst — having 50 percent more people than seats for short distances, or where riders customarily stand longer than 20 minutes.
The Seattle Department of Transportation seeks to increase trips on as many as 49 routes where buses are infrequent or mostly full, to help people adopt a low-car lifestyle.
When the measure was written, after an April 22 countywide roads-and-transit measure failed, Metro planned to slash service 16 percent. But the County Council stopped after making less than one-third of those cuts, citing improved sales-tax revenues.
At least two extensions are planned late next year, after the city adds bus-only lanes. West Seattle’s RapidRide C Line would stretch beyond downtown to South Lake Union; and Ballard’s D Line would stretch south past downtown to Pioneer Square.
Though there was no opposition campaign, car-tab taxes are unpopular enough that 40 percent voted no. The Municipal League of King County opposed the measure, arguing its shifting purpose confused the public, and “an influx of additional funds” will reduce Metro’s incentive to cut costs.
Some citizens circulated video of empty buses, to argue the city doesn’t need the full $60 car-tab fee.
Other tax requests lie ahead: a Bridging the Gap property-tax levy in Seattle next year for street work, bike, pedestrian and transit facilities; a potential 2015 state gas-tax plan for highways; and a regional 2016 Sound Transit 3 measure.
Councilmember Kshama Sawant suggests parking taxes and employee head taxes, for late-night and frequent bus service. Katie Wilson, co-founder of Seattle Transit Riders Union, said she’d like to see those sources also replace the new sales tax, which falls hardest on the poor.
Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or firstname.lastname@example.org