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Monday, October 27, 2008

RapidRide Under Fire?

posted by on October 27 at 11:45 AM

Last week, the Daily Journal of Commerce reported that King County Metro’s proposed RapidRide bus routes—the five “bus rapid transit” routes approved as part of 2006’s Transit Now taxing measure—may not materialize. By 2010, when RapidRide buses are supposed to start running, the county will need another $60 million a year to run its transit division, “and county officials do not know now where that additional money will come from.”

The DJC’s story isn’t quite accurate—the reporter apparently based her statements on some very general remarks about service cuts made by Metro general manager Kevin Desmond at a briefing more than a month ago—but the fact remains that the RapidRide routes could go away, if Metro’s budget situation remains dire enough to warrant a council vote to kill the three voter-approved routes. Because the specific programs were approved by voters, killing them would require a vote by a supermajority, or six members, of the nine-member council. Right now, Desmond told me Friday, Metro “doesn’t contemplate cutting back any service or scaling back Transit Now.” However, Desmond acknowledged, Metro is in a serious financial crisis.

“We do have a very significant financial problem caused by a very sharp downturn in sales tax receipts,” Desmond said. “Hopefully by 2010,” when the RapidRide routes are supposed to open, “we’ll have a sharper recovery than is expected. Otherwise, we’ll have to identify some other revenue sources to keep the program going.”

Could Transit Now programs be on that list? Desmond says nothing is off the table. “With the sales tax dropping so much, we’re not collecting the money from Transit Now that we had planned. And for the rest of the [Metro] program, we’re also not collecting as much as we had anticipated,” Desmond said. “It certainly does call into question, in the long term, our ability to maintain our current programs.”

Washington State, which does not have an income tax, relies heavily on sales tax receipts to fund basic government programs. Sales tax revenues to state and local government agencies fell more sharply in Washington State than anywhere else in the country—11.3 percent, compared to a 7.3 percent national median decline, according to the Wall Street Journal.

RSS icon Comments


Too bad we don't have an income tax for the ultra-rich.

Posted by Will in Seattle | October 27, 2008 11:48 AM

Funny. In Oregon, where local governments are also in financial trouble, elected officials there are bemoaning, as they call it, "the lack of a stable funding source like the sales tax." Me thinks the grass is always greener on the other side.

Posted by Lionel Hutz | October 27, 2008 12:08 PM

Fuckin A I may have to Rapid Fire Ride on back to Seattle Last year I was interviewed by the Mercer County Newspaper They sent a reporter to Ratapalooza And I was quoted as saying It's weird that there isn't a better turnout Rats and mice have a lot to teach

And get a T-Shirt if you go the design last year was RAD oops RAT

Wassup Fnarf er Thorntorn

Posted by gry mklsk | October 27, 2008 12:12 PM

Oh, and another thing. How is Surface-Transit as a replacement for the Viaduct supposed to work with less transit than we have today? I thought the sales pitch was MORE transit to get people out of their cars, not LESS transit because we can't afford it.

Posted by Lionel Hutz | October 27, 2008 12:15 PM

Lionel, the 'surface/transit' option (it's not 'surface transit', it's surface and transit) would include state funding for transit.

Posted by Ben Schiendelman | October 27, 2008 1:03 PM

@5 - Right. So even if the state agrees to pay for transit over and above the level that qualifies as "construction mitigation" - which is the only transit service that state gas tax revenues are allowed to pay for without a constitutional amendment - if Metro can't afford to operate it's base level of service, how effective do you think a smattering of state funds toward transit will be? And of course the state's financial picture isn't any rosier than the county's. The last I checked, gas tax revenues were well below what the state had anticipated.

Hey, I'd like surface and transit to work, too - but I'm pretty realistic about what it takes in new investments to make it work. Are you?

Posted by Lionel Hutz | October 27, 2008 1:20 PM

@5, @6:

It won't work, because there wouldn't be enough "surface" to accommodate all the "transit."

Replacing the Viaduct with a new elevated highway will replace the surface we have now, and *will* work.

Posted by ivan | October 27, 2008 3:24 PM

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