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Will Seattle's Bus Prop 1 Solve All Our Busing Problems?

At the very end of the election ballot in Seattle, you’ll find Proposition 1. It would create a .1 percent sales tax and a $60 car tab increase to improve Metro bus service.

Metro’s finances have been under a lot of scrutiny lately. KUOW’s Joshua McNichols explains what the money would buy.TRANSCRIPT

It’s 4:30 on a weekday afternoon. A crowd of people stand at a bus stop, waiting for an express bus to West Seattle.

A rapid ride bus pulls up. The doors open, but there’s no room.

Julie McClave takes one look and lets the bus go by.

McClave: "Sardines! On a bus. There is no way I’m getting on that bus."

Rider Dawn Adams also let this bus go by. She says when that happens in the morning, it causes big problems.

Adams: "Just last week, the C line went by me twice. And it wasn’t just me, it was like four or five other people. And it just drove by and we were both like, 'awww!'"

Reporter: "What did you do?"

Adams: "I showed up to work late. I did actually write Metro a complaint letter. And they said they’d look into it. But, we’ll see."

Many letters like that show up on the desk of Kevin Desmond who runs Metro.

Desmond: "When I see crowded buses, what I see there is – hey, I need to add service. I need to invest. I see an investment opportunity. I see the need. I see the relevance of the transit system."

Desmond says the way he figures it, Metro’s service level is about 15 percent behind the current level of demand.

Earlier this summer, it looked like things were going to get a whole lot worse. So Seattle politicians crafted Proposition 1, to save bus routes.

Then, in a surprise move, the King County Council told Metro it could spend money more freely by tapping into funds it had held in reserve.

The bus routes were saved, but Prop 1 remained on the ballot.

So what would Prop 1 buy?

Scott Kubly is with Seattle’s Department of Transportation.

Kubly: "What we’re buying is a more comfortable ride, a more reliable ride, and one that we can use for more types of trips."

Kubly’s office came up with a list of routes it would bolster using Proposition 1 funds. He started with Metro’s list of under-funded bus routes. He chose 57 routes to invest in. Popular lines like Southeast Seattle’s number 7 bus. He also extended the Rapid Ride service from Ballard and West Seattle. He expanded the University District’s express busses into the evenings and weekends.

For some critics, Kubly’s plan came too late for voters to make an informed decision.

Bob Pishue is a transportation analyst with the Washington Policy Center.

Pishue: "Maybe any of these routes that they said that they would bolster hasn’t gone through a vetting process. But people are going to be asked to pay next month. People think about their own transportation and financial well-being when they make these decisions. So they need full and accurate information on what they’re voting for."

And how much of a difference would Proposition 1 make? Would it solve all of our bussing problems?

Seattle City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen says, no.

Rasmussen: "If this is approved, we should be able to meet Seattle’s current need for reliable bus service. And that’s a wonderful thing, it’s been a long time since we’ve had that."

Reporter: "Now Seattle is expected to grow quite a bit in the next few years, should we expect another ballot measure in a few years to help us keep up with that demand?"

Rasmussen: "Well it’s very important that transit keep up with the growth that we are experiencing. We haven’t been able to do that, and that’s why we’re having the difficulty we are now with regard to reliability. We’re working with the state Legislature now to get a more reliable funding source for Metro so that it can keep up with the demand."

One of the state legislators working on that is Rueven Carlyle who represents northwest Seattle. Carlyle says the Legislature has been too divided to come together over transit.

Carlyle: "What this is is the culmination of years of anti-tax, anti-government rhetoric. It’s a tax born of sadness."

Reporter: "So are you going to vote for it? Or are you going to vote against it?"

Carlyle: "I’m going to vote for it. I don’t like the taxing system, but we’re left with very few options right now. I think the good, gracious people of Seattle and King County and the rest of the state have to make choices about how we choose to invest in our own infrastructure. And if we have to do it one city, and one community at a time, then I think that’s what we have to do."

Back at the bus stop, West Seattle’s Tracy Benson agrees.

She says the car tab increase will be a challenge, but she says we have to find a way to improve bus service.

Benson: "I’m a mom. I need to get home before my kids get home from school. So fortunately they made these cell phones. So now your 10 year old kid is calling you every 10 minutes."

Reporter: "So you’re standing in line waiting for the bus, what are you telling your 10 year old?"

Benson: "I’m waiting for the bus. And he says, 'why didn’t you drive?'”

A moment later, a bus pulls up. This time, there’s room.

I’m Joshua McNichols, for KUOW.

Bus Routes Affected If Prop. 1 Passes

  • Expanding 16 Bus Routes that are Chronically Overcrowded: Rapid Ride Lines C and D, 5, 8, 15X, 16, 18X, 28, 40, 41, 44, 48, 70, 71X, 72, and 74X.
  • Improving 48 Bus Routes that are Chronically Unreliable: Rapid Ride Lines C and D, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 10, 11, 14, 16, 17X, 18X, 21X, 21, 24, 25, 26X, 27, 28, 28X, 29, 31, 32, 33, 37, 40, 41, 43, 44, 48, 49, 55, 56, 57, 60, 64X, 66X, 70, 71, 72, 74X, 76, 83, and 99.Increase Frequency of 28 Bus Routes that have high demand for more frequent service: Rapid Ride lines C and D, 2, 5, 7, 8, 9X, 10, 11, 14, 16, 24, 25, 27, 30, 31, 32, 40, 41, 48, 49, 60, 66X, 67, 68, 70, 120, and 125.
  • Other potential initiatives to make Seattle Bus Service Better:
  • Extend RapidRide C Line north into South Lake Union area and add buses to support explosive ridership growth and so riders from the south don’t need to transfer to get to SLU.
  • Extend RapidRide D Line south into Pioneer Square so riders from the north don’t need to transfer to get to south Downtown.
  • Split C and D into two separate routes for better reliability.
  • Operate Route 70 evenings and Sundays to add much-needed capacity to UW.
  • Operate Routes 71X, 72X, and 73X evenings and Sundays to fix overloads and provide longer hours of express service to/from the UW, and to prepare for Link light rail opening in 2021.

Source: Yes For Buses