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King County proposes April ballot measure for Metro funding
King County Executive Dow Constantine, along with four King County Council members and other regional officials, announced a proposal to put a local funding measure for King County Metro on the April ballot.
Metro has proposed big changes in its service next year, due to high operating costs and low ridership on many routes.Changes on Mercer Island include the elimination of Route 202 that stops on S.E. 24th Street at the Park and Ride at the Methodist Church. It provides access to and from I-90 via West Mercer Way.
Route 204 will remain and will ‘combine’ service between the South-end and the Mercer Island Park and Ride via Island Crest Way. It will operate for more hours of the day— between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. instead of ending at 3 p.m., but will not run during the weekends. It will only run every 60 minutes instead of every 30 minutes.
Other Island routes to be eliminated due to low ridership include the 201, 203, 205. Route 216, which also stops at the park and ride will remain.
The proposal also includes a scheduled fare increase and a first-ever reduced fare for low income riders.
Under state law, the King County Council has the option of enacting an ordinance that would create a “transportation benefit district” with taxing authority. The maximum amount that the new taxing authority entity could charge King County residents is $100 in an annual vehicle fee. The district could also hike the sales tax temporarily, with the upper limit on that taxing ability being two-tenths of a cent.
Constantine and the Council note that the proposal they put forward on Jan. 14 would ask for a $60 annual vehicle fee, which is anticipated to raise $80 million in revenues. The temporary sales tax set forth in the proposal would be for one-tenth of a cent, and raise an estimated $50 million a year. As it sits right now, that increase in the sales tax would expire after 10 years.
The county anticipates these measures would be an adequate replacement for funding they had hoped to get from Olympia in recent years. In 2011, a temporary car tab fee increase was approved by the Council as a stopgap for Metro funding issues.
According to Metro officials, if the funding is not found and the agency is forced to cut the services, it would be the “loss of an unprecedented 14 million rides annually, and would revert Metro’s service to levels not seen since 1997.”
The agency also warns that reductions would come as ridership nears an all-time high again that was first seen in 2008. Metro provides about 400,000 rides a day, according to the transit agency.
The current proposal would have approximately 60 percent of the funds go directly to Metro for service needs, while 40 percent would be used towards roads and transportation infrastructure in the county.
Constantine was emphatic that this action was needed for the county and region’s transportation future.
“King County has stepped up to every challenge set before us. We’ve done everything within our means to keep people moving,” he said in a statement. “We are out of time for a statewide solution that includes a local option. We must move forward on our own to save Metro bus service.”