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More tax for more buses

The Mirror

More Metro Transit buses throughout King County and more people riding them are the plan behind a higher sales tax proposed this week by County Executive Ron Sims.

If it's placed on the ballot in this November's general election and voters approve it, the increase of one-tenth of 1 percent –– about a penny on every $10 of purchases –– would raise an estimated $50 million per year to expand and maintain bus service that keeps up with potential demand, particularly in suburban areas, according to Sims.

The way Sims and supporters of the plan see it, about 200 additional buses would be purchased and in service by 2015, and Metro service would increase and improve enough to boost the average daily ridership by an estimated 60,000.

Currently, about 335,000 people per day are Metro users, and officials say the demand will rise based on projections that 250,000 new jobs and 150,000 more residents will be added in the county over the next 10 years. Riders already must stand in bus aisles during rush hours and wait longer at stops for their buses, officials noted.

Sims said his tax-fueled plan, called Transit Now, is what the growing ridership needs.

"We won't be able to keep up unless we have new funding for more bus service," he said.

Voters countywide have supported a local sales tax increase for Metro once before. Statewide passage of Initiative 695 for $30 license tabs in 1999 ended the state's motor vehicle excise tax, part of which went to public transit. Voters in King County later approved boosting the local sales tax by two-tenths of 1 percent to keep Metro service from being reduced.

Transit Now, which was formally announced by Sims at a press conference Tuesday in Seattle, would put mass-transit service within walking distance of the homes of more than 500,000 people, he claimed.

"We have designed this proposal to include service so frequent on heavily traveled routes" that even with an increase in passengers, riders wouldn't "need a bus schedule," he said. "They can count on a bus arriving within a few minutes of them going to a bus stop."

A service dubbed Rapid Ride would run every 10 to 15 minutes six days a week on some of the most heavily used routes, including Pacific Highway South between Federal Way and Seatac.

South King County, one of the fastest-growing areas served by Metro, would receive new or expanded service, noted County Councilwoman Julia Patterson, chairwoman of the council's transportation committee.

"From Seattle to Des Moines, citizens want more bus service than they are getting today," she said. "We are limited in our ability to add new (service). We have a backlog of nearly 500 locations across the county that don't have bus shelters, forcing our riders to wait in the rain sometimes for close to an hour. Without action, this situation will only get worse."

Patterson promised "a full public process" before the council decides whether to put Transit Now on the ballot. "And if we do decide to move forward with this proposal, the voters will have the final say," she added.

The proposed sales tax increase would be the second countywide tax measure put before voters in as many years. Last November, they approved raising property taxes by 5 cents per $1,000 of assessed valuation to pay for housing, employment and healthcare programs for military veterans and others. The result was an added assessment of about $15 per year on a $300,000 home, raising about $13.3 million per year for six years.

Your thoughts

The Transit Now Web site (http://www.metrokc.gov/kcdot/transitnow/)

has service maps and charts, plus an on-line form to comment on the sales tax and service expansion proposal. Feedback is also possible through Pat Cleary, community relations planner, at (206) 684-1142, pat.cleary@metrokc.gov and King County Department of Transportation,

201 S. Jackson St., KSC-TR-0824, Seattle, WA 98104-3856.

The plan in a nutshell

Goal: King County Executive Ron Sims is proposing a 20 percent increase in Metro Transit service over the next 10 years. Transit Now, as the plan is called, would attract an additional 60,000 daily riders, according to Sims; that would boost the current average daily ridership of 335,000 to nearly 400,000.

How to pay for it: Raise the sales tax in King County by one-tenth of one percent (a penny on every $10 in sales). That, according to Metro, would produce approximately $25 annually in additional tax revenue per household and $50 million per year countywide, beginning in 2007. The countywide take would reach $75 million per year by 2015.

How that can happen: With voter approval of a pro-tax increase ballot measure the County Council will be asked by Sims to place in this November's general election.

What public would get: Faster bus trips, improved information about routes, traffic-signal priority for buses, improved service on the 35 busiest routes, more all-day, two-way service between key cities and neighborhoods, more night and weekend service on all-day routes, new service in fast-growing areas of south King County, expanded Access paratransit in urban areas, efforts to increase commuter vanpooling by 2016.

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