New car license fee will allow county to maintain bus service

Vashon drivers, along with the rest of King County, will pay $20 more to renew their car tabs but won’t see significant reductions in bus service.

The King County Council voted 7-2 on Monday to adopt a two-year Congestion Relief Charge on vehicle licenses to help bridge King County Metro’s $1.2 billion budget gap and avoid reducing the county’s bus service by 17 percent, or 600,000 service hours. The charge will take effect in early 2012.

The proposal, introduced earlier this summer, required a two-thirds supermajority to pass, a degree of support the council initially couldn’t deliver. 

After a July 25 vote on the charge was postponed, a plan negotiated with County Executive Dow Constantine and Metro that included some service reforms ultimately won the approval of two more councilmembers considered swing voters, allowing it to pass.

Tentative reductions in Metro service included several cuts to routes Islanders catch both on Vashon and at the Fauntleroy ferry terminal — such as the elimination of route 116, which runs from Fauntleroy to downtown Seattle and is heavily used by Vashon commuters, and service reductions on routes 118 and 119, which travel throughout the Island.

Councilmembers Reagan Dunn and Pete von Reichbauer voted “no” on the charge, saying it should instead be put to voters on the November ballot. 

Councilmember Joe McDermott, who represents Vashon on the council and supported the new tab fee, said at Monday evening’s meeting that while some opponents of the charge believe Metro should reduce its budget before making car owners pay up, he believes Metro is already running as lean and efficiently as possible. He noted that the agency has cut more than 100 jobs and raised fares more than 80 percent in recent years.

“Today’s vote will keep King County moving, save the taxpayers nearly $1 million in election costs and provide needed time to identify long-term funding for Metro,” McDermott said. 

The spending plan approved by the council also included several other ordinances that would both save Metro money.

The plan eliminates the Ride Free Area in downtown Seattle, saving Metro $2.2 million a year, and directs Metro to alter services in lower ridership areas, perhaps providing services such as Dial-a-Ride Transit and Vanpools to some areas instead of bus service. It also calls for the maintenance of routes that could see increased ridership after tolling on SR-520 and the Alaskan Way Viaduct begins.

Also according to the plan, drivers who renew their tabs can get their money back in the form of eight bus passes worth up to $24, and the county will investigate ways to assist those impacted by the loss of the Ride Free Zone.




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