Eastsiders deserve to Vote on METRO car tab tax proposal

By Dick Paylor & Todd R. Woosley

Voters in King County's Eastside deserve the opportunity to vote on whether or not they should be charged a $20 car tab, per vehicle, to further subsidize METRO Transit. Regardless of the last minute improvements to the package negotiated by our county councilmembers, Eastsiders are getting short-changed on transit service for the taxes we already pay. Voters should be given the chance to question whether this trend should continue.

Like most of us, METRO has increasing expenses and decreasing revenues. The question is, what should be done about it? This important policy decision should not be decided by a supermajority of the King County Council, but put to the voters.

A public vote would give us the choice of supporting an additional $25 million in taxes, or directing METRO to reform its operations to live within its means.

METRO's Regional Transit Task Force, put together to address the issues facing the organization, uncovered some startling facts voters should know:

First, taxpayers on the Eastside pay 35 percent of METRO's taxes, but only get 17 percent of its service. It appears Eastsiders could start their own local transit organization and either receive twice the service for the same cost, or the same service for half the taxes we currently pay.

Second, one-quarter of METRO's riders come from households that have six-figure incomes. Indeed, half of the riders come from households that have incomes greater than the county's median. Asking non-bus riders to further subsidize these riders, who can clearly afford to pay more, with a car tab should be our direct choice. More equitable fares could be the funding source of any vouchers for disadvantaged riders.

METRO riders' fares cover less than 25 percent of just the maintenance and operational costs of their trip. For example, a $2.50 ride actually costs more than $10, on average. The difference is paid by a massive subsidy from the 1.0 percent sales tax METRO collects on all taxable purchases in King County. We deserve the opportunity to decide if this subsidy to METRO's riders should be increased.

The Task Force identified many cost saving measures METRO could implement, virtually eliminating the need for another METRO tax increase. For example, should the drivers continue to be the third highest paid in the country? A vote would determine whether METRO should reform first, or tax first.

The current package would add another $20 cost to car owners who are already facing the looming prospect of having to pay tolls. Most projections are that very few drivers will switch to the bus. The negative economic impacts of increasing the cost of driving are a consideration car-owning households should have a direct say in.

It's important to understand that transit in King County receives the majority of all transportation tax expenditures, yet only carries three percent of daily trips. Also, information from the Puget Sound Regional Council indicates it costs over 10 times as much (in public tax dollars) to accommodate a trip in transit, as it does a trip in a car.

Given these facts, and considering the difficult economic situation most of us face, we believe the proposed $20 METRO car tab should be voted on by the public.

Dick Paylor is a former Bothell city councilmember and chair of the Eastside Transportation Association.

Todd R. Woosley is a land use and transportation professional specializing in policies that improve economic vitality and reduce congestion. He also serves on the Board of the Eastside Transportation Association.

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