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Proposition 1 Promises Better Bus Service In Seattle

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Imagine commuting by bus in Seattle without any need for a bus schedule app on your phone or a paper one in your pocket. This is what Scott Kubly, the new head of Seattle’s Department of Transportation, envisions if voters approve Proposition 1, giving the city more than $40 million a year to invest in Metro Transit.

The measure on the November ballot is asking voters to approve a $60 car tab fee and a 0.1 percent increase in sales tax.

Last April, a King County measure that included money for busses and roads failed. The goal of that measure was to preserve bus service, not expanded it. Now Seattle is trying on its own with Prop. 1, which would only spend money within the city.

“We’ll add buses to 16 Seattle routes that are chronically overcrowded. We’ll fix the schedule on 49 routes that are chronically unreliable. And then we’ll add frequency to 28 high demand routes," Kubly said.

Last month, Metro Transit cut more than 150,000 service hours. But additional cuts have been put on hold because the agency has slimmed its operating expenses, and King County economists have predicted strong revenue growth over the next few years. This means Prop. 1 has gone from being a band-aid measure to one that could grow service across town.

Economists for King County are quick to point out that it is impossible to predict economic downturns, and that dips and dives will certainly happen. Meanwhile, the King County Council is working on a plan to ensure Metro Transit is on solid financial ground when a future recession hits. Kevin Desmond, Metro’s general manager, is working with the King County Council to determine how much revenue to put into the agency’s rainy day fund.

“And that’s the debate we are having with council right now. It’s a very good public policy debate. Do you preserve service now and county on future revenues, or do you take a more conservative stance about future yet-to-be-earned revenues and try to live within your means at this point in time?” Desmond said.

Desmond expects a final savings plan to be a part of the county’s budget that will be approved at the end of November.  

In Seattle, Kubly knows that voters need to trust that any new money for transit will be spent wisely.  

“That’s a big part of the reason why we’re hiring this transit division director. [It] is to ensure the accountability at Metro, that when we send money over there that we are getting good value for our dollar," Kubly said.

The new transit division director will report to Kubly. The city plans to have someone in the position by next month.

Jennifer Wing is a Producer for our weekly show, Sound Effect.