New Bus Initiative Filed For Seattle Only, Prop 1 Continues To Fail

Apr 25, 2014

UPDATE: 4/25/14, 4:15 p.m. PT.

Votes are still being tallied, but King County voters so far are rejecting Proposition 1. That almost certainly means cuts to buses.

A new Seattle-only initiative will try to save buses inside city limits. A group called Friends of Transit said it filed the initiative with the Seattle City Clerk's Office Friday.

Supporters of the Seattle initiative are blaming suburbanites for rejecting the county measure. They said inside the city, voters are willing to spend on buses.

The proposal would raise $155 million from Seattle property owners over six years. Friends of Transit said that money would be used to buy back endangered routes from King County Metro.

The idea of cities buying routes from Metro isn't new. King County Executive Dow Constantine says several cities in the region are doing it now.

Buses that spend 80 percent or more of their time operating inside Seattle's limits would be eligible for the reprieve.  

If the initiative is approved by the city clerk, supporters will need to gather more than 20,000 signatures to put it on the November ballot.

Original Post: 4/23/14, 8:48 a.m. PT.

Initial returns tallied Tuesday night showed King County's Proposition 1 failing 55 percent to 45 percent.

News analyst Joni Balter said it was unlikely that the tide would turn. “This was somewhere between a ‘no’ and a ‘heck no,’” Balter told KUOW’s Bill Radke.

The measure sought to raise about $130 million a year for 10 years, with 60 percent going to Metro Transit for bus service and 40 percent to pay for roads.

The no vote is a bit of a surprise, since historically King County voters have approved funding for transportation.

“The voters here seem to love things like buses and parks and libraries,” Balter said. “This [vote] reflects a sort-of King County-wide bad mood.”

That bad mood, she said, stemmed from the fact that voters hate paying car tabs. Prop 1 asked voters to decide whether to approve $60 car tab and a 0.1 percent increase in the county sales tax. Currently the tab tab is $20 per year for passenger vehicles, plus local fees.

Balter also attributed Prop 1’s lack of success to the negative campaign. “As I watched it I thought, ‘Wow, this is such a negative campaign: Vote for this or we’ll shoot this bus,’” she said. “Voters here like things that are optimistic.”

Metro said the funds would cover a deficit left from the recent recession. Without those taxes, Metro said it will have to cut bus service by 17 percent, including 70 bus routes. The three most popular lines on the chopping block are routes 4, 21 and 72.

She expects that 150,000 of the total 550,000 total hours that will be cut by King County Metro will possibly be announced this week to go into effect in October.

Help For Low-Income Residents

The measure included some help for low-income residents in the form of a $1.25 bus fare for those who qualify and a $20 rebate on the car tab fee.

Next year Metro will implement a fare card, modeled on a program in Kitsap County. Metro general manager Kevin Desmond estimates a quarter of King County’s population could qualify for this discount.

The low-income fare will happen regardless of whether Prop 1 passes, but the initiative would make the reduction more generous. Currently it is set at $1.50 per trip, but with Prop 1, the price would drop to $1.25.

Transit Activists Are Wasting No Time

With signs of Prop 1 failing, Friends of Transit says it will file another ballot initiative to fund Metro  service mostly within the city of Seattle.

The initiative would increase Seattle property taxes 22 cents for every 1,000 dollars of assessed value. That would raise $25 million a year in revenue.

The group plans to file the initiative at the end of this week.

Carolyn Adolph, Amy Radil, Bill Radke and Deborah Wang contributed to this report.