April 9, 2014
Vol: 21 No: 15

Community & Editorial

If voters approve Prop. 1, low-income people get reliable transportation & an avenue out of poverty

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Voters in King County have a chance to preserve bus service by voting yes on Proposition 1 during the April 22 special election.

Without Prop. 1, Metro will be forced to cut 17 percent, or 600,000 hours of service, deleting 74 routes and reducing service on 107 others. If service is cut, everyone will be affected, from middle-class commuters to the working poor, along with riders who are senior citizens or have physical disabilities, whose only transportation is the bus.

Prop. 1 is a social justice issue, because while this measure may lead to regressive taxes — the proposition would increase sales tax 0.1 percent and institute a $60 car tab fee — cuts to public transportation perpetuate the poverty cycle. Transportation cuts are themselves regressive, depriving poor and disabled people, senior citizens and young people of necessary transportation. Many low-wage earners simply can’t afford a car, and they have no other way to get to jobs, school, medical appointments and other basic needs.

Why does Metro seem to keep coming up short on funding? To begin with, only 29 percent of Metro’s budget comes from the fare box. Prior to 2000, Metro’s primary source of revenue was the statewide MVET, or Motor Vehicle Excise Tax. MVET was a predictable source of funding based on the value of each vehicle licensed. The concept was that if you could afford an expensive car, you could afford to pay more for your yearly tabs. This progressive tax was wiped out by conservative political activist Tim Eyman and Initiative 695, with its one-size-fits-all $30 fee.

Although I-695 was declared unconstitutional by the Washington Supreme Court, then Gov. Gary Locke and the legislature enacted the $30 tab fee. To compensate, Metro’s budget became reliant on receiving a percentage of local sales tax. The problem with sales tax revenue, however, is that it is unpredictable. As if to prove this point, the economy tanked when the Great Recession started.

Since 2000, Metro has lost $1.25 billion from its budget due to smaller MVET revenues. By employing such austerity measures as audits and spending down its reserves and capital budgets, and through labor contract concessions, the county’s transit agency managed to scrape together $800 million — still far short of the funding gap. Through these steps, it has managed to stay afloat and meet its mandate to transport riders in King County. The results, however, are overcrowded buses, less predictable service and schedules so bad that many drivers don’t even have time to go to the bathroom. Lunch breaks are a myth.

Now Metro has reached the end of the line. Unless Prop. 1 passes, almost one-sixth of our service will be lost at a time when ridership is growing to record levels. Every weekday there are more than 400,000 boardings with 86,000 people riding the bus to work downtown. If service is cut, the economy will suffer at the worst time possible, further reducing the tax base and ultimately impacting other public services.

Prop. 1 has its critics, but the state legislature has failed year after year to create an alternative funding package.  If this proposition passes, a new low-income Metro fare of $1.25 will go into effect, in large part due to the efforts of the Transit Riders Union. For those lucky enough to find a path out of poverty, public transportation frequently features in that escape. No one should have to lose a car as a result of licensing fees, especially if it serves as shelter.  But in the final analysis, fault lies with Eyman’s I-695 for creating this funding crisis and legislators in Olympia for not providing a more progressive solution to get us out of it.

Without public transit, one more route out of poverty will closed. Don’t let your route be cut. Please vote yes by April 22.

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Comments

If Prop 1 fails, then ALL of us, Transit Operators, riders and the rest of the public, need to raise holy hell when the first Route is cut or when the first Transit Operator is laid off.

Douglas Frechin | submitted on 04/14/2014, 2:58pm


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