King County Executive Ron Sims' forward-looking proposal for new buses and routes tries to break down barriers to bus travel by dramatically upgrading service.
Sims' proposed one-tenth of 1 percent sales-tax increase to pay for new service uses a regressive tax that can be a drag on the economy. But his timing is good. The economy is on the upswing. Part of what is driving the plan is a projected 22-percent increase in employment growth in King County in the next decade. Sims' projection may be too optimistic. Still, a fast-growing region cannot afford to be blasé about transportation planning. This is a smart time to invest in transportation.
Buses are a flexible, useful way to move people around if land-use and transportation policies are in sync enough to provide sufficient ridership.
Sims will ask the County Council to approve a November ballot proposal to raise the tax and move forward. Council members, maybe even a Republican from suburban King County, will have a difficult time saying no because of enhancements to numerous routes and new service in growing areas.
Sims' so-called "RapidRide" would change the way riders think about bus riding. Riders in key areas would not need bus schedules, as buses would arrive every 10 minutes throughout the day.
By 2009, an electronic readerboard at "RapidRide" stops would tell riders exactly how many minutes before the next bus will arrive.
Five strategically selected routes are envisioned for Aurora Avenue North, Ballard to downtown Seattle, West Seattle to downtown, Bellevue to Redmond and Sea-Tac to Federal Way on Pacific Highway South.
At a time when the public clamors for leaders willing to stick their necks out and plan for the future, Sims does that. It may make him seem like he loves to raise taxes, but it costs money to operate a truly convenient bus system. Buses have higher operating costs and lower up-front costs compared to fixed-rail transit.
The proposed tax increase raises $50 million annually in the early years and $75 million 10 years out. The council should force the executive to justify such hefty spending and explain why it cannot be smaller.
But Sims is doing the work. Buses are a good way to get people out of their cars and ease congestion.