We have to devote substantial resources to increasing the efficiency of mass transit because too many working people in King County still have commutes similar to mine growing up. When I was 15, my second job was at the IMAX on the waterfront. Getting there would have taken me 15 minutes by car, but since my family couldn’t afford one for me, I spent an hour and a half commuting by bus. Two decades later, there are still too many people who don’t have access to reliable public transit options in King County.
Providing Free Transit is an investment. It means access to transit mobility, and economic opportunity for those who need it most. It is a cost effective way to lower traffic congestion without creating more roads and would be a vital step toward a carbon-neutral future.
Many cities in the United States already provide free transit, including Olympia, WA, and it is more realistic than you might think.
Currently fares account for 15% of Metro Transit’s revenue, which is $285M out of $1.9B. The majority of that is paid for by companies who subsidize the cost of transit for their employees. As is free transit in King County would be 2% of the $12.6B biennial budget.
In the long-term, if the County were to proactively mitigate social service issues and shift spending away from the legal system ,which consumes 73% of the flexible spending, that could cover free transit.
However, free transit alone isn’t enough – we need frequent and well-connected service especially outside of Seattle. King County already has a long range plan called Metro Connect that would provide 70% of people countywide with frequent, reliable service but there is no funding mechanism in place and would likely require a transportation benefit district to implement.
This benefit district is a key area where we can create a better system and move away from our regressive tax code. Benefit districts are generally funded through regressive taxes such as sales, property and MVET. Since companies already pay for the majority of fares, we could work with the state to create a new authorization based on amount of square footage utilized or another metric that is created with input from the business community. Infrastructure is an investment for economic development and integral to the growth of the companies here in King County.
This new authorization could be used as a replacement or in conjunction with the traditional method to raise the revenue needed to build a better and more connected transit system throughout this region. Until the County is able to shift general funds to cover fares, part of the benefit district should go toward fares for riders.
In addition, if we want people to reduce their reliance on cars, we have to invest in our local public transit systems, making sure they are efficient, fully-funded, and well-connected. Here’s how we make that happen:
- Work to accelerate the expansion of Sound Transit to make sustainable commuting options available to as many people as possible, as soon as possible.
- Expand public transit options to underserved communities isolated from economic and educational opportunities due to a lack of transportation.
- Streamline service across agencies that manage our transit systems to make commutes that require multiple modes of transit more efficient so that working people can spend less time in traffic and more time where they want to be.