Update: Metro/Ferry District proposal “swapping taxes”

(12:06 PM NOTE: Official news release on this can now be seen here.)

ORIGINAL 11 AM REPORT: We’re at King County’s Chinook building downtown (south end of 5th Avenue) for County Executive Kurt Triplett’s briefing on the Metro budget situation – there’ve been warnings throughout the year that it’s in dire straits and that service changes/cuts are likely to result. We’ll add announcements as soon as they are made. 11:01 AM UPDATE: We just got the news release. He’s proposing a 5.5 cent property tax (taxing authority granted recently by the Legislature) to “save RapidRide” among other things. Triplett says he will reduce other levies by an equal amount – including a 4 1/2 cent reduction in the King County Ferry District levy (we should find out what that means to the Water Taxi – Council Chair Dow Constantine is here as well). He also says he has no details yet today of what service cuts will be needed. He says he will dedicate part of the money to save the RapidRide plan (note that it was previously reported the West Seattle RapidRide “branding” would be delayed a year, to 2012 instead of 2011). Triplett says the budget problem is a 4-year problem, not a 2-year problem. 11:09 AM UPDATE: Reading ahead in the printed news release – while the Ferry District “demonstration route” plans outside West Seattle would be affected, the plan for “enhanced” West Seattle service and a new vessel will NOT be affected. Triplett calls the demonstration routes “a luxury we cannot afford when Metro ridership has gone up 20 percent yet is facing deep cuts” because of sales-tax revenue drops. 11:14 AM: Triplett says “this is not buses versus boats” but also acknowledges his office has no formal role in Ferry District budgeting so he is going to send a recommended budget alternative and hopes the Ferry District Board of Supervisors – the county council – will adopt it, using the one-cent tax that would remain if 4 1/2 cents are indeed taken off the Ferry District taxing. 11:18 AM: County Council Chair Dow Constantine has just spoken – he chairs the Ferry Board and the Regional Transit Committee as well. He said a fare increase may be required in the future instead of a tax increase. Now County Councilmember Larry Phillips, who like Constantine is running for County Executive, says he’s going to present a separate “action plan” for Metro at an event after this one. 11:20 AM: Triplett says that next week he will roll out a plan that will include service cuts as well as fare increases but wanted to address Ferry District and RapidRide separately. 11:22 AM: We just asked whether the year-round Water Taxi plan and the Seacrest dock improvements would be affected. Harold Taniguchi from Metro says no – the brunt of the Ferry District cuts would be the demonstration routes (which were not going to involve West Seattle anyway). 11:36 AM: Briefing over. It’s clear that this is just a small piece of a puzzle that we won’t fully see till next week – Council Chair Constantine just came over to talk with us for a moment to further clarify. He says this boils down to an attempt to keep transit rolling as much as possible through the “trough of the current recession” until its funding source picks up. He also notes that regarding the Seacrest dock improvements, their final price tag is lower than originally proposed anyway (we have to track down the exact cost of that). We’re leaving the county building now and will digest this into a “bottom line – what it means to you” report in a bit. 2:25 PM: The news release for Phillips’ plan is now out. He is proposing repealing the King County Ferry District tax levy entirely, saying “Buses are … more important to our regional transportation system than water taxis.” Read on for the full text; we’ll be pursuing comment on whether he is seeking to cancel the King County Water Taxi program altogether (which runs the Seattle-Vashon foot ferry as well as West Seattle-downtown) or instead proposing it find some other source of funding:

Larry Phillips, candidate for King County Executive, unveiled
his “Keep Metro Moving” plan to balance King County Metro’s budget without
cutting bus service or raising taxes while the economy recovers in 2010.

Metro faces a budget deficit in 2010 of $98 million and Metro has been
discussing cuts that would reduce or eliminate 78 percent of bus routes,
dismantle a decade of growth in our transit system, and increase traffic

“Unless we take decisive action, the bus system we have worked so hard to
build will be devastated by cuts and people will lose significant options
for getting around,” said Phillips. “’Keep Metro Moving’ uses a combination
of reserves, efficiencies, and reprioritization to balance Metro’s budget
without bus service cuts and is the first step in what must be a regional
conversation about how we can increase transit service in the future.”

With “Keep Metro Moving,” Phillips will balance the 2010 budget shortfall

· Working with Metro to cut their operating budget by approximately
four percent without reducing service.

· Implementing efficiencies from the transit audit he sponsored,
which will be complete in September.

· Repealing the King County Ferry District levy and using the free
up tax capacity for bus transit service.

· Living within the revenues collected by the .1 percent Transit Now
sales tax.

· Using a portion of the $105 million fleet replacement funds to
fill the budget hole.

“I have been a long time supporter of exploring waterborne transit, but
these extraordinary times require that we protect and prioritize basics over
extras,” said Phillips. “Buses are more cost effective and are more
important to our regional transportation system than water taxis.”

With “Keep Metro Moving” Phillips will lead a regional dialogue about
securing Metro’s future beyond 2010 by addressing future budget shortfalls,
increasing transit service to meet growing demand, and reforming Metro’s
service allocation policies to reflect the transit needs of our county.

Additionally, “Keep Metro Moving” will bring Metro into the 21st century
with a real time bus trip planning system that allows people to find the bus
that gets them to their destination—even during snow storms and traffic
jams—from the palm of their hand with their cell phone.

ADDED 8:04 PM: Constantine’s statement:

“Political denial and flip flopping aren’t going to improve mobility for
King County families or efficiency for taxpayers.
Until this week, Councilmember Larry Phillips was looking to secure funding
for county ferry service in his district. Today he wants to terminate the
entire program.
Meanwhile, State Senator Fred Jarrett and Representative Ross Hunter–who
created this problem by each voting 3 times to create the King County Ferry
District and prohibit use of these funds for Metro Bus service–are
pretending as if they had no idea what they set in motion.
When it is politically expedient, all three of them are more than happy to
play political games, apparently without concern for the actual needs of the
people they seek to serve.
The goal of any policy discussion should be to maximize efficiency and
service. The way to accomplish this is to do as I have proposed:
. Defer ferry expansion plans and immediately transfer those resources
to Metro bus service;
. Minimize cuts to Metro service by seeking greater efficiencies and
technology improvements;
. Protect existing successful passenger ferry service where federal
and state support was recently received to further reduce taxpayer burden.
We need to address the concerns of the entire county when we address issues
of transit funding and transportation planning. That requires thoughtful
analysis of the costs involved, ridership demands, and long term viability
of the route or service.
This is not a time to rewrite history for political gain. It’s a time to
maximize resources and focus on delivering efficient services for the people
of King County.”

3 Replies to "Update: Metro/Ferry District proposal "swapping taxes""

  • ericak July 23, 2009 (2:43 pm)

    I am not convinced that RapidRide is the answer that some may think it is. Why not add more metro service and better routes than spending money on a flawed proposal. RapidRide may be frequent, but is by no means rapid. It still travels the same congested routes and gets stuck in the same traffic. Now seems like a good time to take a closer look at this – is this really the most efficient use of funds?

  • chas redmond July 23, 2009 (6:06 pm)

    For what it’s worth, RapidRide is not exactly the same as regular buses – it runs more frequently, it stops at fewer locations and the load-in and load-out is faster with more doors and the bus is equipped with signal priority equipment which gives it a slight edge at intersections. So, yes, it does run on rubber wheels and is a bus but the implementation is not the same as the Metro bus you’re used to. Or so we’re told – none of us has done anything but listen, read, and talk about this – so in many ways this is still “pie in the sky” – especially since the West Seattle route, originally scheduled for 2011, is now being considered to be delivered at a much later date for reasons which still seem fuzzy at best.

  • Michael July 24, 2009 (2:16 am)

    Our heavy commitment to auto transit (including buses, which move at the speed of autos and on the same streets, “rapid” or not) is beginning to make me embarrassed for my city. Even LA has better transit than we do.
    Hey, if we get Phillips for KC exec and Mike McGinn for Mayor, we can just get in our cars and idle on the gridlocked city streets every day.

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