June 20, 2011 Congestion Reduction Charge of $20 is temporary, two-year bridge to preserve nine million passenger trips The recession-driven decline in the sales-tax revenues that support public transit leaves the Metropolitan King County Council with two choices - ensure interim funding to continue service at current levels, or face the reality of cutting 17 percent of bus service.
To meet that challenge, King County Executive Dow Constantine today sent the Council a proposed ordinance to enact the one tool recently authorized by the state Legislature for King County: a temporary $ 20 Congestion Reduction Charge on vehicle licenses for each of the next two years.
"To keep people moving and economic recovery on track, this temporary funding will preserve bus service near current levels while we work out a statewide transportation solution that supports transit," said Executive Constantine. "I don't hear anyone asking for less bus service, but the system reduction that would be required if there is no interim funding would impact four of every five of our riders. It would directly or indirectly affect every community in the county, at a time when demand is going up."
Should the fee not be enacted, the Executive also transmitted legislation for the Council to shrink Metro service by 600,000 hours of annual bus service over the next two years, or 17 percent of the entire system - the rough equivalent of eliminating all rush hour bus service for commuters, or all weekend service in King County. The ordinance covers just the first round of service cuts - a 100,000-hour reduction to begin next February.
"The Council has a stark choice before us--enact emergency funding for Metro or watch our transit system shrink down to 1996 service levels," said County Councilmember Larry Phillips, chair of the Council's Transportation, Economy and Environment Committee. "With the fragility of King County's economic recovery, the burden of $ 4 per gallon gas and the crisis of climate change, preserving our transit system is the most important action we can take for mobility, jobs, and the environment in King County. I support Council action on this emergency, stopgap funding measure so we can begin talking to voters and Olympia about permanent stable funding to save Metro."
"It is imperative for the Council to act quickly and enact the Congestion Reduction fee authorized by the state Legislature this year," said Council Chair Larry Gossett. "The magnitude of cuts to Metro Transit service without the fee is untenable. The Regional Transit Task Force's recommendations acknowledged the importance of ensuring social equity in our transit system. Unfortunately, the most transit-dependent members of our community - students, low-income, and minorities - will be disproportionally impacted by these cuts."
The State Legislature recently granted King County authority for the Congestion Reduction Charge after hearing testimony on sweeping reforms at Metro - including staff reductions, operational efficiencies, labor partnerships, fare increases, the cancellation of bus replacements and the tapping of cash reserves - that have generated nearly $ 400 million in savings over the past several years.
"I hope the County Council will see transit as we did, a critical service that has to be maintained," said State Rep. Deb Eddy of Kirkland, who serves on the House Transportation Committee. "The Legislature was quite reluctant to take any action that looked like increasing the burden on working families, but giving King County this limited authority ensures that those families can get to work and school. King County has stepped up and begun to truly redesign Metro service to wring every bit of value from existing funds, but the value of those major reforms - which many of us have been working on for years - could be lost or much diminished if service is cut to the extent projected."
The savings and efficiencies created by Metro over the past few years save approximately $ 143 million per year, but the drop in sales tax revenues means Metro still faces an operating shortfall of $ 60 million a year each year from 2012 through 2015. The two-year charge would generate about $ 25 million per year. The combination of the congestion charge and the use of one-time reserves would enable Metro to avoid large service reductions in 2012-2013.
"Seattle generates 73 million riders a year on the Metro system" said Seattle City Councilmember Tom Rasmussen, chair of the Council's Transportation Committee. "Our bus routes are overloaded today. A 17 percent cut would be devastating to everyone who lives or works in Seattle and who depends upon Metro Transit for mobility. I urge all County Councilmembers to recognize the importance of this opportunity we have in front of us to keep our City and the region moving."
"Metro Transit is the sole form of transportation for many people throughout King County, so it is vital that we protect as many service hours as possible," said County Councilmember Joe McDermott. "Although this is only a temporary solution, the hours saved will be a real benefit for people who depend on transit in order to get to and from their job, school, or doctor's office."
The prospect of service reductions comes even as riders are increasingly counting upon affordable alternatives to major construction on State Route 520 and the Alaskan Way Viaduct. A strong Metro transit system is also critical in supporting job creation and economic recovery by offering riders commuting choices that, in turn, keep congestion in check.
"Transit service is the economic lifeblood for Downtown Seattle and King County," said Kate Joncas, president of the Downtown Seattle Association. "Metro makes it possible for tens of thousands of residents from Kent, Renton, Seattle and places in between to get to their jobs Downtown. Cuts to bus service will negatively impact employees and employers and make it harder for King County to recover from the economic recession."
The Executive thanked the Governor and the Legislature for granting King County the authority to enact interim transit funding, and praised the leadership of State Senator Scott White, who sponsored the legislation. The earliest date on which the County Council can act on the legislation is July 22, or 90 days after the Congestion Reduction bill was approved by the Legislature.
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