|Point Defiance Streetcar - Tacoma, WA Pre-1938|
But we're not going to let that happen, Tacoma.
The reason why is because you, the voters of Tacoma, have voted in favor of transit service in four1 of the last five elections since 2002 and by great margins in those cases. If Proposition 1 had been decided by Tacoma, the margin would have been more than 6,000 votes in favor, not 1,000 votes against. In many parts of Tacoma, such as Downtown, Central, and North Tacoma, support for transit exceeded 60%. Stadium, Proctor, 6th Avenue, Hilltop, Westgate, St. Helens, and Downtown all supported Prop 1 by incredible margins that almost balanced out the marginal no votes from the rest of the entire county. Tacoma has demonstrated that it will vote for buses and trains as many times as is needed to preserve access to jobs, education, and medical care. (More after the jump.)
|Art on the Ave - 6th Avenue and Oakes St., Tacoma, WA|
We have a larger population of students, with Tacoma Community College, the University of Puget Sound, and UW Tacoma all being located within the City. Our history of having homes and businesses built on streetcar lines makes our neighborhoods compatible with transit in a way that those communities can't match.
Following Bellingham's Footsteps with a TBDThe City of Bellingham was in a similar bind in 2010 as the City of Tacoma is in today. When the transit agency went out for a vote, the city voted for it, and the suburbs voted against it. Bus service was cut and Bellingham had to respond. The Bellingham City Council took action by creating a transportation benefit district (TBD). Voters approved a plan to purchase service from Whatcom Transit and invest in other transportation infrastructure, along with revenue to support those improvements.
The Tacoma City Council has already taken steps to create a benefit district starting in January. Exit133 reports that the TBD will come up for an emergency public hearing tomorrow.
When this comes into effect it gives the City Council the power to raise additional revenue for transportation-related expenditures, which can range from investments in sidewalks, road paving, bicycle lanes, and transit service. Some options for revenue include: up to a $100 vehicle license fee, a time-limited up-to-0.2% sales tax, and other measures.
For example, a 0.2% sales tax on the more than $3.8 billion in sales that come into Tacoma each year would raise roughly $7.6m/yr in revenue - part of which could be used to purchase service from Pierce Transit via contract - thereby preventing further bus cuts in Tacoma. The sales tax would have a time limit (max 10 yrs.), meaning it would only be a temporary solution, but I'll take a temporary solution in lieu of more bus cuts. Tacoma can always pursue a permanent fix at the same time. Other options for funding could include a commercial parking tax or creation of a street utility* (only with state legislative changes).
Would the Tacoma City Council support such a proposal? I know that many who serve on the Council take pride in being advocates for walking, biking, and transit - it's part of what got them elected. Further many of their constituents stand to lose access to their jobs, health care, and education if the bus cuts take effect. In some cases people would be forced to buy cars, and others might make the choice to move. Councilmembers will recognize the gravity of the issue, I am certain. Together, we will take the issue up with Mayor Strickland and the other members of the Council. I encourage you to take a moment to send an email to the City Council to Stop Further Transit Cuts in Tacoma.
Getting Tacoma involved in Transit PlanningIf this option is pursued, like it looks like it will, a plan will be needed to tell Pierce Transit what routes will receive priority, and what trips to prioritize. The City of Tacoma's draft ordinance makes explicit note of a section of the law in RCW 36.73.050(b), allowing for TBD investments to go beyond what's in existing plans as long as there are additional hearings and determinations of such investments being in the public interest.
The City could make it a policy to focus on late night service on Route 1 (6th Ave / Pacific Ave) and weekends or express commuter service. It might be possible to address North East Tacoma's goal of restoring express service to Downtown or to target late night Route 11's service to get residents home who are coming from Seattle on the 594. Creating such a plan is a good idea in and of itself because it would help make our existing transit system more responsive to the needs of Tacoma, while informing future transportation investments on all sides.
A solution like this would provide service guarantees in Tacoma and Tacoma only. Other municipalities will have to either raise revenue themselves or face significant cuts. Conceptually speaking, Route 1, 2, and 3 would only have frequent service in the City of Tacoma - meaning some kind of route turnbacks would be implemented at Tacoma Community College, the Tacoma Mall, and Parkland Transit Center.
'Roads and Transit 2' in 2013?
Besides using the Transportation Benefit District authority, there is word that a transportation ballot proposal will be proposed by the legislature this year, which hypothetically could include some 'rescue funds' or a new direct revenue source from the State. Since a number of new transit advocates were elected to the State Legislature, including Tacoma Councilmember Jake Fey (D-27) and former Pierce Transit advisor Jessyn Farrell (D-46), the odds of getting backup from Olympia may have increased.