Ferry District hearing just adjourned

We monitored some of this afternoon’s King County Ferry District hearing on the water taxi and other proposed foot-ferry operations. wttuesday.jpgThe district board members, aka King County Council members, had just received the proposed operations plan/budget (which we are awaiting to pass on to you) — they have a lot of decisions to make, and the next meeting is Tuesday morning. One thing we were glad to hear — toward the end of the meeting, West Seattle’s KC Councilmember Dow Constantine talked about the excellent in-person turnout (we saw some known WSB readers at the podium!) and also the fact more than 50 people submitted “online testimony” — for which the specific link was created after a WSB reader asked about it. Way to go for public participation, and stand by for more details on the decisions to be made and how it will affect you, both in terms of transportation and taxation. 4:15 PM UPDATE: Here are those details, contained for starters in the County Executive’s “transmittal letter” (read the full text here) — we’re still reading through it ourselves, but one topline is the proposed funding plan (quoting from the document now): “a property tax levy of 5.5 cents per $1,000 of assessed value over ten years.”

15 Replies to "Ferry District hearing just adjourned"

  • chas redmond November 8, 2007 (5:23 pm)

    I must say I’m not encouraged that this will be an effective transportation option. See the following from the letter (link referenced above):

    The plan further calls for the Ferry District to assume operation of the Elliott Bay Water Taxi and that the sailing period for the Taxi to be extended to April through October in 2008 and 2009. The plan assumes the necessary upgrades to the Seacrest dock facility would be in place by the beginning of 2010 allowing the Water Taxi to move to year-round service. However, this is a conservative schedule and upon completion of preliminary engineering and design work, it may be possible to have these upgrades in place to begin year-round service at an earlier date. Under a year-round schedule, winter season service (November – March) will be commuter only hours and during April – October will provide a full service schedule similar to the sailing schedule operated the last several years. Year-round service will be operated by DOT’s marine division using King County employees and a new vessel purchased as part of a
    three-vessel procurement.

    You’ll notice that there is NOT full service for the full year and even when there is full service there is only the mention of “full service similar to the sailing schedule operated the last several years.” What that means folks is that we would have a permanent dock for an occasional ferry. Does that make sense? No, it doesn’t make sense. Unless the sailing schedule is at least comparable to that of a bus – 30 minute headways – then it’s not a viable transportation option – PERIOD.

    Why waste even more of our limited transportation dollars on a permanent tourist attraction? As mentioned, I’m definitely NOT impressed with this plan and I’m clearly voting NO on any tax increase that produces this occasional taxi service. I was led to believe this would be more, but it isn’t.

  • chas redmond November 8, 2007 (5:27 pm)

    Oh, and if I don’t get to vote on this and my county council representatives, instead, go ahead and raise the tax levy, then I’m voting NO for my district representative the next time around. I’m really tired of nickel-and-diming ourselves to death for these “partial” solutions to a viable transportation alternative. I take it Dow has never actually used the Water Taxi on a regular basis. If it isn’t frequent, reliable and basically 24/7/365 then it isn’t public transportation worth the money.

  • jdp November 8, 2007 (6:54 pm)

    This is the default setting for city and county governments, tax the property owner. Dow Constantine has never met a tax he did not like, it is only .05/1000 now, in a year or two it will be at $1.00 all this an no need for a public vote on this. I am not a fan of Tim Eyman, but this is why he gets such a big audience. Why not taxes lattes, I do not drink them but I pay the carbonated beverage tax for my cola habit.

  • jdp November 8, 2007 (7:20 pm)

    This was to be 3.4/1000 but it was raised to 5.5/1000. So we have already experienced a $0.021 increase, a 40% plus increase, before it even made it into existence. Good job Dow, Ron, that should make West Seattle one of the highest taxed areas in the state, something we can be proud of.

  • Chris Arkills November 8, 2007 (11:53 pm)

    I am Chris Arkills, legislative aide for Dow Constantine. I wanted to respond to a few of the issues raised in the comments here.

    Chas Redmond and jdp unfortunately chose to make several assumptions about the Ferry District Plan that are simply untrue. I was busy all night with soccer practices and homework and couldn’t post earlier, but I did want to address the issues involved.

    First, the reason the water taxi can’t go to full-year operations at this time is that the wooden float at the dock is in very poor shape and must be taken out of the water in the winter months. The 161,000 users of the Water Taxi are well familiar with its poor condition. To go to year-round operation the wooden float must be replaced with concrete floats and improved ramps. To replace docks in a marine environment you must navigate a regulatory obstacle course that involves fish windows, tribal considerations, state laws on marine environments, city permitting issues and much more.

    The plan is to operate the Water Taxi with the current fine service from Argosy for 2008 and 2009. The plan states in the quote referenced above that dock replacement is on a conservative schedule. It has been a working assumption of the planning of the ferry district that every effort would be made to try to have dock improvements done by fall 2009 so that we could shift to year-round service after Argosy finished the summer season. The plan also expands the season for the next two years considerably to try to help commuters have other options.

    Second, if Mr. Redmond had read the attachments on the King County website he would see that the DRAFT schedule for the water taxi under King County operations does have 30-minute headways for most of the day. What is envisioned is much better service. King County will be buying or leasing 30-knot catamaran, low-wake, low emission, fuel efficient boats that will allow more frequent trips. The plan also envisions ticket kiosks that will help speed boarding so that the marine crew isn’t taking money as you board.

    Dow often uses the Water Taxi–many times to attend Mariners games with his parents. I personally use it over 20 times a year and would love to use it more as schedules and service improve.

    Finally, jdp makes accusations that this is a funding source that will increase over time. I encourage you to call our office at 296-1008 or go to this link and read all of the supporting documents posted there:


    Look for the tabs on the right which show the briefing paper and attachments. If you read the plan you will see that this is a conservative proposal to build waterborne transit as a commuting option throughout King County. The intent of the Ferry District is to set a rate that is adequate to fund the Vashon Passenger Ferry, the Elliott Bay Water Taxi, to fund five demonstration routes on Lake Washington and Puget Sound, and if they are successful to turn them into permanent routes with the same funding level. The proposed tax amounts to about $22 annually for the owner of a $400,000 home.

    For the average West Seattle resident facing years of viaduct unrest it is a prudent choice to get cars from Vashon Island and West Seattle off our already congested roads. The taxing level increased because the council and the executive wanted to plan a system that could sustain itself and provide for a true benefit to most residents in the county over time. At the lower rate, county residents would be paying to support a system that mostly benefited West Seattle. It is important that all taxpayers in the county receive benefits and that is why we chose to set a rate that plans for future growth. Boats are proposed from Ballard, Kirkland to the UW, Des Moines, Renton, and Kenmore in the north. Each will have supporting shuttle service which will help deliver commuters to the ferries.

    Waterborne transit carries millions of people every year in Vancouver, San Francisco, New York and cities around the world. It is long past time that we use the waterways of the Puget Sound region to better move people around our region.

    Please feel free to contact me with any questions you may have. Thank you for your time and for being interested in the Elliott Bay Water Taxi.

  • Jeff November 9, 2007 (12:11 am)

    You say you either want them to go all out or not at all? I’m confused. How about some baby steps? The water taxi has already shown itself to be an effective commute option. No doubt it can be made more effective. How about some alternatives to siphoning everybody onto the bridge every time? Oh wait, there aren’t any, unless you’re far enough south to scoot down to highland park. Anything that gets fewer people crossing that bridge is a win. I don’t see any other options on the horizon. Truth is we’re all screwed anyway when they knock the viaduct over.

  • jdp November 9, 2007 (6:57 am)

    There is an article in the Seattle Times today regarding the ferry district that states a $0.55/1000 tax rate, which is substantially larger than the previously mentioned amount. It also states that the ferry district cannot exceed a tax rate of $0.75/1000. Mr. Arkills, thank you for your response, but my fear still is we will get taxed to the maximum allowed. I am hoping the rate mentioned in the article is an error.

  • Chris Arkills November 9, 2007 (7:43 am)

    The number you cite is indeed in error. The rate is actually .0055 or 5.5 cents per $1000 in home valuation. This plan is nowhere near the 75 cents allowed by the state legislature. It is specifically designed to allow for future growth without increases in the tax rate. I would be happy to discuss it further with you.

  • chas redmond November 9, 2007 (9:44 am)

    Chris, Jeff,
    Chris is right, I should have read the whole set of briefing papers and not just the Ron Sims’ transmittal letter.

    I am supportive of any alternative transportation and the Water Taxi and Vashon passenger ferries serve a legitimate purpose for – presently – a small fraction of potential users. My concern is that if we’re going to build out a new transportation node that we look at what makes other nodes successful and what their constituency is. The existing Water Taxi serves a small footprint of West Seattle residents with limited sailings. The proposal which the King County Ferry District has put forth would provide roughly twice the sailings a day but still falls short of a full-service transportation node. Monday-through-Thursday service would still end at 7:00 pm. Friday and Saturday service would run through 11:00 pm with hourly sailings after 7:00 pm and Sunday service would still be severely curtailed.

    Yes, these are baby steps, yes they are good and perhaps appropriate. I have two points to make, though.

    One – I’ve lived here since October 2003, that’s four years. In these four years my mortgage has grown by $340 a month. That has all been based on tax add-ons to my mortgage from the county. Sounds okay, right? It’s roughly a 30 percent increase in my mortgage in four years. Not okay. It’s a fixed rate (5.02 percent) 15 year mortgage.

    Second point is my transportation options have not grown in those same four years. I still would have to take two buses to use the Water Taxi. The water taxi shuttle is coordinated with the water taxi but no other buses are coordinated with the shuttle. I can’t drive to the Seacrest terminal because there’s no place to leave a car for the day if I did. Taking the various buses to the dock is nearly twice as long as waiting for the 21 or 54 buses to get essentially to the same spot downtown.

    Finally, I’d really like to see some overall transportation coordination. If we’re going to increase the Water Taxi schedule, make improvements to the dock, run the service year-round, who is the service for? At the same time that this service is being contemplated, another King County service is also being planned – the Rapid Ride bus system. The proposed route for the West Seattle leg of that service appears to provide route options for those in West Seattle living between Alaska Junction and the Fauntleroy ferry dock. This water taxi service still appears to serve primarily the Alki and Admiral neighborhoods. One section of West Seattle is scheduled to get 15-minute rapid bus service for 18 hours a day. Another section of West Seattle is scheduled to get expeditious water taxi service but on 30 minute centers part of the day and hour centers for the rest and for most of the week only 12 hours of actual service.

    To me, this sounds like a large disparity in public transit service delivery to the same section of the city and I’m still concerned that we’re not accommodating riders with truly effective public transportation.

  • Sage November 9, 2007 (12:50 pm)

    I agree that we need to go all-out developing waterborne and other transit means, and that frequency and reliability of service is absolutely critical to making this stuff work.

    However, there’s so much bad info around about taxes that I feel the need to question Chas’s contention that his mortgage has gone up by $340 a month because of tax increases. If his mortgage has gone up that much, I suspect it’s because his assessed value has jumped. He’s still paying a lot more, still an uncomfy increase, for sure. But that’s not because of tax rate increases like 5.5 cents/$1000 for the ferry district. It’s because real estate values have skyrocketed. Whether or not we see tax levies like this just isn’t the main factor when market values have jumped so much in the past few years (and assessments have risen along with values, as they ought to). The rise in value is the major factor. Of course, there’s a benefit to the property-tax-payer in those rising values too. But it’s harder to complain about rising values than about taxes.

  • Michael Lieberman November 9, 2007 (12:57 pm)

    I agree with chas. The options feel a bit disjointed.

    How about having the Vashon to Seattle passenger ferry stop at Fauntleroy to pick up us southenders.

    Or better yet lets bring back the trolley and the mosquito fleet. Both options served us well until the car generation arrived and eliminated everything in its path

  • old timer November 9, 2007 (2:24 pm)

    For those who live in a bubble as large as their arms allow them to reach, I offer my sympathy.

    There are others who can see the value of an extraordinary new way of travel, and for whom $25 or $35 dollars a year is, what may be termed
    ‘chump change.’ To them, I say thank you.

    IMO, we are custodians for a precious resource, our city. We cannot stop it’s growth without killing it. We can however, lay good foundations that will support additional citizens along with ourselves.

    There will be some kind of feeder service to the ferries, be assured of that. If not from metro, maybe the city could issue jitney licenses to permit private shuttle services for not only the ferries, but for other service throughout the West Seattle peninsula, as well as for other sectors of the city needing such service.

    The coming economic changes and permanent increases in the cost of oil will require us to be innovative in our attempt to cope.

    It won’t be a walk in the park to achieve meaningful results. It will be a tough slog.
    Even though I may not be here to see the results, I still want to see something started.

  • Jeff November 9, 2007 (3:35 pm)

    +$340 in taxes a month? Surely you must mean per year unless your assessed value increased by over 300 grand, in which case, nicely done! I agree that other things should be done to get things moving better. For instance, coming from the south, when the bridge is clogged up, so is the Avalon connection to Harbor ave, so basically you still have to wait in the same bridge traffic that you’re trying to get around. Also, to tie it in better with metro like you mentioned would be a huge gain.
    For me right now the water taxi is difficult to get down to unless I’m biking. If I’m on foot I’ll usually bus it in. But when I’m on my way home, and I know the boat will leave precisely at 6:10, and I don’t have a clue when the 55 will decide to come by, or what the viaduct is like, or what the bridge is like, I’ll take the water taxi hands down. It ain’t necessarily more convenient (yet?), but it’s a lot more predictable.

  • chas redmond November 9, 2007 (7:04 pm)

    Jeff, yes, part of the growth in mortgage was assessed value. I’ll concede that this is a worthy experiment. I would also argue that if the entire process had been more public and more of us had weighed in earlier that we might also be spending a little more of our annual taxes on this but that the service levels might also be accommodatingly more advantageous. I really don’t like this transportation-planning-in-the-back-rooms approach which seems to go on here. When was my first opportunity to weigh in on this – couple days ago at KC Council Chambers. Did anyone here get invited to or attend any KC Council or KC Transportation Department meetings discussing this? And, if it affects my tax dollar then it’s my business and apparently my only outlet has been individual emails and discussions with Dow’s staff or Dow. He’s one person on this panel. Where was the interaction with the process? What – other than a service designed FOR me by others am I getting with my tax contribution.

    That’s my issue here. When , where and how were the citizens of King County allowed involvement? I’m on pretty much every transportation-related email list-serve in the region and I would have been at meetings had I been aware. Am I living in some vacuum and the rest of the county was not? There was an article and a few presentations of this concept which appeared in the WS Herald. There were a handful of community associations which got somewhat insider briefings. That’s not really an interactive process in my view. Once you review all the PowerPoint material you get the sense that this is a well-researched done-deal. I suppose many would argue that’s what we elect our County Council members to do. I would still argue that when it comes to spending my money I am owed a seat at the table – as I said, I might like to spend more to get more. Some may recall that I mentioned at one of the doomed SMP board meetings a suggestion that the board be bold and ask the public for exactly the money it WOULD take to build the monorail. They didn’t and we voted their scarecrow scheme down. Now here we are again, not spending enough in a specific area to get a truly useful service.

  • Jimbob November 14, 2007 (9:15 am)

    Chas, you should be ashamed of yourself, taxing the whole county for these boats.
    Why should old retired people in Enumclaw/Maple valley/North Bend, or even Seattle have to help pay for these boats.

    Shame on you.

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