Urban Politics #201: Revenge Of The Sith? Response to Streetcar Suppporters Form Letter

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By City Councilmember Nick Licata.

Urban Politics (UP) blends my insights and information on current public policy developments and personal experiences with the intent of helping citizens shape Seattle’s future.



Revenge Of The Sith?
Response to Streetcar Suppporters Form Letter
(in response to UP199)

Normally I don’t reprint other newsletters in my Urban Politics, but apparently UP# 199 struck a raw nerve among the SLU Streetcar supporters and they have been sending out a form letter to Councilmembers.

I’m reprinting it below with my response. I urge you to decide for yourself and then Email City Hall on where your dollars should go for transit service.

SLU Streetcar Supporters Form Letter:

The Seattle Streetcar will NOT take existing METRO bus service hours from other Seattle neighborhoods. The Ordinance that was supported in a 5-2 vote by the City Council Transportation Committee allows METRO (the proposed operator of the Seattle Streetcar) to use a portion of its 58,000 new service hours freed up in 2009 from the start of light rail and the monorail to help operate the Seattle Streetcar. These new service hours will also be used to support expanding bus service in neighborhoods across Seattle.

My Response:

The SLU Streetcar will take away “future” Metro service hours from Seattle. I have never said that it would take away “current” hours. The “future” or “new”, depending on how you wish to describe them, are additional hours above a base amount that the City receives from Metro derived from a formula that divvies out service hours to Seattle and the suburbs. Seattle is expecting to have a significant number of existing bus transit hours freed up for redistribution when (or if) the Monorail and Light Rail come on line.

These “new” hours are actually taken from existing routes that can be eliminated because they will duplicate the service that the fixed rails provide. The planners for both the Monorail and Sound Transit’s Light Rail expect to use most if not all of these new hours to provide better bus feeder service to their rail lines. Without these feeder lines, people may well drive rather than take a rail system that they cannot easily get to, and the projected ridership on these fixed rail systems will not be met.

The Mayor says that the SLU Streetcar qualifies as a feeder route since it will be in close proximity to LINK and the monorail station stops. However, we’ve seen no analysis that compares the productivity of other bus feeder routes vs. the SLU Streetcar; therefore, we have no idea whether the SLU Streetcar is deserving of this many redeployable hours. (9,300 hours is 16% of the 58,000 hours that Metro may be able to redeploy, but 58,000 hours is only an estimate at this point and 9,300 could end up being a much bigger percentage, particularly if the Monorail is not built, which accounts for 30,000 of those new hours.)

SLU Streetcar Supporters Form Letter:

It is outrageous for Council Member Licata to instead suggest that private citizens should pay for both the capital cost AND operations of the streetcar. Property owners along the streetcar line are already paying a $25 million LID to fund construction of the streetcar – that is higher than any other streetcar LID in the country. No other Seattle neighborhood has ever paid for the capital cost or operations of a public transportation system.

My Response:

I do not think that it is outrageous to have Metro hours in Seattle distributed according to need rather than on ability to pay. That is what my amendment does. It says that the Mayor should not guarantee a fixed percentage of Metro’s bus hours to SLU without considering how bus service could be negatively affected in other parts of the city.

The SLU Supporters are very upset because the Mayor had set up the expectation that the SLU community could get this 1.3-mile streetcar without having to pay more than $25 million. However that figure was not discussed with the Council before hand.

In addition, a study done by an outside consultant shows that the net increase in land values due to the streetcar will mostly likely exceed $75 million. In other words, public dollars will be used to stimulate development in SLU, which will provide new jobs and new residences and increased property values to the landowners.

SLU Streetcar Supporters Form Letter:

Forcing property owners to pay for both the operations and capital cost of the streetcar basically ensures that the South Lake Union streetcar will never get built and the system will never be expanded because no other neighborhood will be able to bear that burden. We believe this is Council member Licata’s real goal.

My Response:

My “real” goal is to provide a level playing field when evaluating the allocation of Metro Service hours across the city. Don’t weigh the importance of the SLU Streetcar greater than bus service to other neighborhoods. Each transit route should be evaluated using the same criteria.

What is the problem with this approach? There is none, unless the subsidy for the SLU streetcar is so great that it cannot compete with the bus services needed by citizens in other parts of the city. But if that is the case, then the SLU community, which will benefit most directly from the streetcar, should pay for the O&M costs through a Business Improvement Area (BIA).

This is the approach that other cities have taken, such as Tampa, which also has a streetcar and was identified by the Mayor’s consultant as a good model to compare with Seattle’s streetcar. Since we are only tapping ~30-35% of the special benefits that SLU property owners will experience via an increase in their property values there is “room” to charge the property owners more, especially considering that the SLU Streetcar is more a development amenity as opposed to a effective and efficient method of transportation.

SLU Streetcar Supporters Form Letter:

Private property owners have been extremely generous in offering to pay more than half the cost of a PUBLIC transportation system. Council Member Licata is trying to take advantage of property owners, employers and residents that want to support public transportation in an unreasonable attempt to make them pay more than their fair share.

My Response:

I do not want the SLU community to pay more than their fair share but I do want them to pay their fair share. That is at the heart of this debate. There are over 400 miles of transit lines in Seattle of which the SLU streetcar is one mile. Perhaps if the 1,000 residential units in SLU grow to 10,000 units in the next fifteen years, and then the streetcar will reach it’s projected ridership. But in the meantime, let’s be reasonable and not commit up to 16% of Seattle’s new transit hours to just this one project, which is primarily a neighborhood circulator and not part of a greater public transit network. Its share of metro transit hours can always be increased in the future as its ridership increases.

Your Chance To Act

The vote on this legislation, referred to as Council Bill 115292, will take place this Monday, June 27th, at the Full Council meeting at 2pm. I’m fairly confident that the organized supporters of the SLU Streetcar will be present with their signs urging defeat of the Licata Amendment. However, if you cannot attend the meeting, I encourage you to email the Council and let us know how you would like the Council to vote on the Licata Amendment. If we do not hear from you, then others will determine how your future bus service hours will be allocated.

Keep in touch…

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