Car drivers to pay $20 Congestion Reduction Charge for Metro bus service

King County Executive Dow Constantine has achieved a supermajority of County Council support for instituting a two-year $20 Congestion Reduction Charge with the help of Republicans Jane Hague and Kathy Lambert who formerly had insisted the measure go to the voters. Hague and Lambert traded their opposition to the plan for a package of reforms and efficiencies in Metro. The King County Council will vote on Monday.

The Kirkland City Council endorsed the $20 fee in a 4-3 vote with three of the seven council members wanting the voters to decide whether to impose the $20 fee.

The following news release is from the County Executive's website:

County Executive’s agreement provides supermajority needed to preserve Metro bus service

County Council on Monday to consider bus-ticket incentive program, right-sizing of transit service, and phase out of downtown Seattle Ride Free Area

King County Executive Dow Constantine today announced a supermajority of County Council support needed to enact a two-year $20 Congestion Reduction Charge and avert a 17 percent cut of Metro bus service starting in 2012. Nearly 1,500 County residents turned out to four public hearings in July to call for this action by the Council.

Constantine today thanked members of the Council – including Councilmembers Jane Hague and Kathy Lambert, who announced their support today based on a package of amendments that paves the way for councilmanic action at Monday’s Council meeting. Councilmembers Larry Phillips, Bob Ferguson, Larry Gossett, Joe McDermott, and Julia Patterson had previously stated their support.

“The people of King County voted with their feet, and they overwhelmingly turned out to tell us to save Metro Transit and keep bus service on the street. They have been heard,” said Executive Constantine. “This agreement creates value for drivers who pay the fee, and provides an incentive for them to give the bus a try. I want to thank these seven Councilmembers for stepping up. This is a collaborative approach that shows how government is supposed to work.”

“This bipartisan agreement addresses my primary concerns and offers real reform for Metro,” said Council Vice Chair Hague. “It’s critical that we keep people and businesses moving on the Eastside – especially during these tough economic times. This new package creates jobs and provides equity for the Eastside.”

“We’re working together in a bipartisan fashion, unlike those in Washington, DC,” said Councilmember Lambert. “People in these uncertain economic times need certainty that they have an alternative method such as buses to get to work. There are many systemic changes in the new package that will help meet the needs of efficiency, transparency, and providing transportation.”

“The people of King County spoke up in unprecedented numbers to tell us that transit is critical to their daily lives and the effects of deep service cuts would be devastating,” said Councilmember Larry Phillips, lead sponsor of the congestion reduction charge legislation and Chair of the Transportation, Economy, and Environment Committee. “Their message compelled us to come together and find creative solutions that allow us to broadly support enacting the temporary, emergency congestion reduction charge to save transit in King County.”

“This is an agreement that ensures a vital transportation link will remain strong as we work out a long-term financing solution,” said Council Chair Larry Gossett. “Those with the least, who depend on public transportation the most, can continue to use Metro to go about their everyday lives.”

The County Council is set to consider amendments to the proposed Congestion Reduction Charge at its next regular meeting on Monday, August 15. Under the proposed legislation, King County Metro Transit would:

  • Develop a Transit Incentive Program to provide eight bus tickets worth up to $24 for each car tab renewal. People can use the tickets for rides to work, play or special sporting events. They may also choose to donate the value of those tickets to a pool of nearly 150 human service agencies to provide mobility for those in need.
  • Phase out the downtown Seattle Ride Free Area in October 2012. The Council’s 2009 performance audit called for Metro to update its formula for collecting revenues in the Ride Free Area (RFA). When first established in 1973 as the “Magic Carpet Zone,” a city subsidy funded 100 percent of the fares Metro no longer collected in that area. Today the city of Seattle pays Metro $400,000 a year to support the RFA, which is about 18 percent of the $2.2 million annual cost for Metro to operate the RFA.
  • Increase the pool of funds that provides sharply discounted bus tickets to human service and homeless programs. Metro now discounts tickets worth nearly $2 million annually. The tickets are currently sold to human service agencies at 20 cents on the dollar. Metro will either increase the current ticket allocation, or further reduce the discount while giving the public the option of donating their tickets under the incentive plan to those in need. Metro will seek the advice of human service agencies in how to best help those in need.
  • Implement right-sizing of service consistent with the Transit Strategic Plan. In communities where it makes sense, Metro will deploy lower-cost, more efficient Dial-a-Ride Transit service (DART), community access transportation services, Vanpools and vanshares, making service more efficient and responsive to our riders.
  • Consider routes that carry more riders due to the effects of highway tolling as candidates for added services. This language in the proposed legislation is consistent with the principles to enhance Metro’s productivity developed by the Regional Transit Task Force and adopted in the County’s Transit Strategic Plan.

“As a regular bus commuter, I am thrilled that we have reached an agreement that will protect the transit service that workers and their families rely on every day. This agreement will keep our economy moving at the time we need it most,” said Councilmember Bob Ferguson. “I thank Executive Constantine and my colleagues for working to find common ground. On my way home tonight, I look forward to sharing the good news with my fellow riders on the #41 bus.”

“Today’s developments are the result of hours of public testimony, hundreds of messages and thousands of emails about the vital role Metro plays in the lives of King County residents, said Councilmember Joe McDermott. “My colleagues and I will continue to work together to find long-term, sustainable funding for Metro to keep our region moving for years to come.”

“From our experience with past incentive programs, we know that people who become familiar with riding Metro are more inclined to ride the bus again. Using free tickets to shop, get to work or to a sporting event can save money and take one more car off the road," said Council Budget Chair Julia Patterson. “More importantly, the vouchers could expose a whole new generation of riders to Metro bus service, and the option to donate unused vouchers to the poor is incredibly valuable in these difficult times.”

Under the state’s authorizing legislation, the Congestion Reduction Charge would take effect six months after the measure is signed into law.

“Today we are doing what it takes to keep buses on the streets, but this is only an interim measure,” said Executive Constantine. “This gives us time to work statewide on a permanent solution for funding transit and other critical transportation needs.”

Photo courtesy of Flickr user Oran Viriyincy