King County Executive Dow Constantine and seven members of the King County Council announced this morning at a press conference in Pioneer Square that they have struck a deal that saves Metro without asking the public to vote on approving a new vehicle fee to offset devastating cuts.
The deal was made between Executive Constantine, the five Democrats on the Council, and two of the Republicans (Jane Hague and Kathy Lambert), with input from transit activists, operators, and groups that represent riders.
Under the terms of the agreement, Hague and Lambert will supply the votes needed for the County Council to enact a $20 vehicle fee increase without a public vote. (The authorizing legislation that gives the county the taxing authority stupidly requires a supermajority rather a simple majority).
In exchange, the following will occur:
- Eight vouchers worth up to $24 total will be provided to every King County resident who pays the new vehicle fee.
- Any resident who does not wish to use their vouchers can donate them to one of the local government agencies that provides low-cost bus tickets to the homeless and economically disadvantaged.
- The aforementioned social and human service agencies will also receive more funding to purchase discounted bus tickets for the people that they serve.
- The ride free area in downtown Seattle will be eliminated, beginning in October of 2012. (When this happens, ORCA will certainly become more useful for navigating downtown by bus).
- Service realignments will be made. Neighborhoods with lower demand will get more DART (Dial A Ride Transit) and vanpool service, while neighborhoods where demand is higher will get more bus service.
- Areas affected by tolling (including neighborhoods along SR 520) will see an increase in bus service so that people living in those areas have transportation options.
The agreement sounds reasonable to us. With its adoption, the uncertainty of a public vote is removed, which means Metro planners can begin working on making smart adjustments to service rather than trying to figure out how to implement painful cuts. This agreement, as the cliché goes, is a win-win.
The elimination of the ride free area may be upsetting to some riders, but its existence always has caused much confusion — especially because it is only in effect during certain hours of the day. Getting rid of the RFA will make riding the bus in downtown more straightforward. You get on, you pay… period.
The one downside that immediately comes to my mind is that this will slow down the loading process in the DSTT (Downtown Seattle Transit Tunnel) and on downtown city streets, where people can currently just walk on.
Maybe Metro can install ORCA readers inside the back door or something. They’ve got a year and a few weeks to figure it out.