Seattle Transportation Benefit District
Restore Seattle bus service back to pre-I-976 levels.
Seattle has a Transportation Benefit District which supplements service provided by Metro with services specifically for Seattle. This includes extra service hours, which have dramatically improved frequency on many bus routes, as well as funding for reduced fee transit and capital expenditures for bus lanes, bus priority signals, etc. Since 2014, when the District was established, the number of Seattle households with 10 minute bus service increased from 25% to 70%.
STBD was originally funded by a combination of $80 vehicle license fees (aka "car tabs") and a .1% city wide sales tax. When the ballot initiative was renewed in 2020, car tabs could not be used as a funding source, and a smaller revenue package was put together with a .15% sales tax. The City should fund this at least back to the same levels it was funded before 2020, and it should replace the sales tax with more progressive revenue sources, possibly including car tabs.
Seattle's Department of Transportation (SDOT) owns the Seattle Streetcar, with a line in from the north end of downtown to South Lake Union, and a second unconnected line from the south end of downtown to First Hill and Capitol Hill. Sound Transit has been paying for the operation of the First Hill streetcar line, but that provision is set to expire at the end of 2022, and the city will have to decide whether to continue funding its operating costs. Metro operates both streetcar lines, under contract to SDOT. In addition, SDOT has developed a number of Rapid Ride lines, with more in progress. SDOT has a 20-year Transit Master Plan, last updated in 2016.
Seattle has done planning for a Central Connector streetcar line, that would connect the South Lake Union streetcar with the First Hill streetcar, with a new line running downtown. It has been projected that this would serve more than 20,000 people on an average workday. The project is eligible for Federal funding, but would also require City funding to complete.
More Bus-Only Lanes
Here's a graphic proposal from Move All Sustainably Seattle (MASS). All of these lanes would help tremendously in making buses, our main source of transit, faster and more reliable.
Note that SDOT has just (May 2022) released plans for updating Rainier Ave., and it includes a bus lane, but not both directions the whole way – the bus lane is mostly northbound, with a very short south bound lane. This is for a route that has a RapidRide planned soon, and has buses every 3.5 minutes in the morning commute hours.
Revenue Sources for Transportation Benefit Districts
The State has set aside a number of different pathways for funding Transportation Benefit Districts. They are:
Sales tax up to .2%, requires voter approval
Property tax must be approved annually by voters
Vehicle license fees. There is a schedule for how much vehicle license fees may be levied each year without voter approval, starting with $20, two years later up to $40, two years later up to $50. Higher vehicle license fees may be levied if voter approved.
Developer impact fees
For more information, see Funding Transportation Districts.
Proposed Budget for STBD renewal
Update 8/4/2020: City Council amended the Mayor's proposed ballot measure, notably increasing sales tax to .15%, with most of the increase going to service hours. The proposed budget for 2021-2027 below is therefore going to change upwards.
Update 3/14/2021: With I-976 struck down, a one-time reserve fund of $23.7 M becomes available. City Council approved the spending plan shown in Slide 1 below. Additional information from the 3/3/2021 Transportation and Utilities Committee meeting shows 2022 estimates of $45.6M in revenue from the 0.15% sales tax and $7.4M in revenue from the new additional $20 VLF (spending priorities TBD; Slide 2), and a total annual spending plan of approximately $45-50M from 2022-2026 (Slide 3).
In the Media
Editorial in Seattle Transit Blog and The Urbanist: Tell Council to Save Transit Funding