Riders board the RapidRide E, which gets a big boost from the STBD, on Third Avenue in Downtown Seattle. (Photo by Doug Trumm)
Riders board the RapidRide E, a route that gets a boost from the Seattle Transportation Benefit District, but could still use reliability improvements. (Photo by Doug Trumm)

The Seattle City Council will decide the fate of the Seattle Transportation Benefit District (STBD) on July 27th. The Urbanist has partnered with Seattle Subway in a letter-writing campaign urging the City Council to support Councilmember Tammy Morales’ amendment doubling the size of the STBD renewal measure.

Without Morales’ amendment, service cuts will be deep, people who rely on the bus will suffer greatly, and our climate goals will surely stagnate. Please send a letter to the Mayor and Councilmembers via this easy Action Network tool.

Our existing STBD, which passed with 62% of the vote in 2014, is set to expire at the end of 2020. Thanks to Initiative 976’s narrow statewide victory, funding options are limited. The vehicle license fee (better known as car tabs) that had been the STBD’s mainstay is in jeopardy pending the Washington Supreme Court’s decision, and the sales tax is what we’re left with that can be implemented immediately.

Mayor Jenny Durkan had proposed only renewing the existing 0.1% sales tax rather than raising new revenue to make up for lost car tab revenue. That would mean a shrinking of STBD bus service hours from more than 300,000 to just 75,000 annually–a staggering 75% cut that would turn Seattle’s 10-minute frequent bus network into a 15-minute network and risk route cuts. That would mean longer waits for the bus, less ridership, and less progress on climate goals.

With the Mayor waiting until July 7th to finally release her STBD proposal, the Seattle City Council didn’t have much time to finetune it. Councilmember Tammy Morales stepped in to offer an amendment that would add another 100,000 bus service hours by increasing the sales tax from 0.1% to 0.2%. The Seattle City Council must pass this amendment when it takes up the legislation on July 27th to ensure we do not see massive transit cuts.

Seattle's "Very Frequent" Transit Network has served 70% of the city's population with 10-minute service in a 10-minute walkshed, but shrinking the STBD would erase that progress. (SDOT)
Seattle’s “Very Frequent” Transit Network served 70% of the city’s population with 10-minute service in a 10-minute walkshed in 2019, but shrinking the STBD would erase that progress by downgrading bus frequencies. (SDOT)

As a four-year measure, the STBD sales tax can be replaced in 2024 with a more progressive tax that is countywide–or we could act sooner if our politicians get their act together. For now, it’s urgent we plug this hole in transit funding that Tim Eyman created. Otherwise we’d be letting Eyman and his ilk win.

The Covid-19 pandemic has temporarily decreased transit demand, but we’re going to need to be prepared to ramp up as our economy picks back up, and we need to continue to provide quality service to people who rely on transit–many Seattleites do not own a car and the share of car-free households is only growing. Locking in transit cuts for four years is no way to respond to a crisis.

We must pass Councilmember’s Tammy Morales’ amendment doubling the size of the STBD. Let’s save transit from the chopping block. Here again is the link to send a letter.

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Doug Trumm is publisher of The Urbanist. An Urbanist writer since 2015, he dreams of pedestrianizing streets, blanketing the city in bus lanes, and unleashing a mass timber building spree to end the affordable housing shortage and avert our coming climate catastrophe. He graduated from the Evans School of Public Policy and Governance at the University of Washington in 2019. He lives in East Fremont and loves to explore the city on his bike.