The Move Seattle Levy will request $277 per year from a typical homeowner, and that’s only 1/4th of SDOT’s funding and doesn’t even include Sound Transit. In other words, about $2000 of your annual rent or your annual property tax bill is going to pay for congestion relief, primarily trains and buses (non-motorized transportation has less than 1/10th the level of expenditure, and WSDOT is funded through the gas tax). Do we really want to fund our transportation systems by making housing affordability worse?
There is another way to pay for fixing our transportation system that’s much cheaper and more effective, and that’s congestion pricing. The idea is to toll cars on congested roadways at whatever level is required to prevent regular congestion. When a roadway has regular stop and go traffic, the price to drive on it is ramped up. When extra capacity is available, the price to drive is dropped down as far as possible, being free at certain times of day. The idea is to discourage daily commuters from driving alone during peak hours, then to use the funds to pay for road maintenance and transportation alternatives.
Congestion pricing has been demonstrated to work. It’s been put in place in London, Stockholm, Singapore, and Milan. In London, after congestion tolling began, the main effect was that all the buses were so far ahead of schedule that they had to rework the entire bus system for the extra capacity. Transportation planners love it because it’s by far the best path to meeting transportation goals:
- Instant Success: Unlike adding a bus lane or a rail line, congestion tolling simply opens up existing infrastructure to better use, meaning you get results instantly without years-long construction delays and expense. In particular, buses go faster and can service more people right away, even on 4 and 2 lane roadways that don’t work for bus lanes. Instead of working around congested roads, the focus can shift to making our existing transportation system work better and safer for everyone.
- Maximized Throughput: A saturated freeway running near the speed limit moves more people and wastes far less fuel than stop and go traffic. Not only that, but since congestion pricing incentivizes carpools, transit, and off peak driving, you end up moving many more people overall. Unlike a carpool or bus lane, congestion priced roads rarely fill up and never sit empty while traffic is stopped up along side.
- Fairly Raising Revenues for Transportation Alternatives: Transportation alternatives are all expressly designed to coax people out of their cars, including people that don’t live in Seattle. This means that today someone in a live / work unit in Seattle is spending thousands of dollars a year on rent or taxes in the hopes that someone outside of Seattle might take a transportation alternative when they are in Seattle. The fair solution is not to put taxes on housing affordability, but instead to put a price on people causing the congestion we are trying to fix.
- Fairly Incentivizing All Transportation Alternatives: We currently use our property taxes to subsidize a grossly distorted economy of transportation alternatives. On the one hand, alternatives like telecommuting, living near work, and carpooling get virtually no support from government at all. On the flip side, anyone paying rent or property taxes in Seattle is subsidizing each bus commuter at a rate of $11 per day, and each light rail commuter at a rate of over $200 per day. The only way to fairly incentivize all transportation alternatives is to put a price on the problem of congestion.
A complaint about congestion tolling is that we don’t want our roads to just be for rich drivers and buses, like the 520 bridge is now. It’s a fair complaint. One solution is to provide every driver with a monthly credit for toll-free driving that can be applied to any vehicle. That way somebody who only drives once a week on congested roads can still do it for free, and people that carpool can double their time on a road before needing to split the cost of paying the toll.
Seattle should be leading the way on congestion tolling as we are ideally set up for it with our many bridges acting as choke points for congestion pricing. We are way behind on building out a rail network and are also poorly set up for one with our varied topography, sandy soils, earthquakes, and high property values. Yet congestion pricing isn’t even being discussed here yet.
The trouble is that congestion tolling is a very tough sell politically. Emotionally, half of people don’t want to be told to make sacrifices or carpool, they want to be left alone with their car and be free of government social engineering. The other half of people are fixated on having big government pay whatever it takes for new public transportation systems that will shuttle them around wherever they want to go. Nobody wants to focus on sacrifices like tolls and driving less.
The only political solution that everyone can agree on today is a purely additive transportation solution like rail, so we ignore the decades long time scale and mind blowing costs for construction, operations, and maintenance. We jack up rents and housing prices with sky high property taxes to pay for a solution that will take decades to build and won’t even address traffic, then complain about housing affordability. Take London or New York, with perfect rail topography and with rail systems that have been in development for over a hundred years. What do you get? Gridlock so bad, both cities are leading the way on congestion pricing!
Politicians here are too afraid to even raise the topic of congestion pricing, and instead are doing what’s possible with majority support. Namely, the ironically named “Move Seattle” levy this year and the Sound Transit 3 levy planned for next year, both of them record setting tax increases. However, I’m a cranky vegetarian blogger and it’s OK with me if you think I’m wrong. You did last time, when I argued that rail was a bad investment but most people voted for rail anyway. So here, ya go, a vote to set me straight:
I’m all for congestion tolling as a means to alleviate the “tragedy of the commons” situation we have here. However we’d have to massively improve public transportation before putting tolling in place so that people living in the affordable ‘burbs and who depend on their cars to get to work 5 days per week have a viable alternative. Another thing London, New York, and Milan have in common is much much better public transportation. We were in London a couple years ago and were impressed by how frequently the buses came.
Is this blog now just a place for Eric to complain and express opinions?
It’s becoming an annoying place to find Wallingford news.
I find it to be a nice forum to exchange opinions and be informed of issues that impact our community. Personally, I am excited to see a solution to pay for things we need that is not property tax.
I appreciate these articles.
I am with Ed in that our bus system is not so good as it is.. so charging people to use the freeway when there is sporadic bussing is a no-win.
I thought the toll on 520 was only going to be ‘for awhile” and now it is permanent. I thought Kitaro asked people to be ” a little more patient” over 2 years ago and nothing has changed. I recall ferry tolls increasing ” just o r the summer” and they kept on going up. Sad lesson in reading.
I also appreciate the articles that discuss issues/problems affecting our neighborhood, particularly the series of articles posing questions to the candidates for the District 4 council position.
I support congestion pricing as probably the most effective way to get people to use public transportation, and, yes, our system is not what it should be, but getting cars off the road will improve the reliability of the bus service. And the tolls will provide revenue that could allow more buses and more routes. The current Move Levy seems to me to just tinker with the problem.
Some of my thoughts on the variety of subjects mentioned…plus some other kind of related topics. At least there is a common great of funding. I get a point for that!
1. I think there are many efforts being made to improve bus service. All these services
cost money. I am willing to pay my share.
2. to cocoloco. I think you are mistaken that the toll was supposed to be “for a while”
It has always been clear that the toll will exist until the bonds are paid off. Here is the reference below. It is very long, and I deleted the rest of the information.
You can check it out, it is published by the DOT of Washington.
HOW LONG WILL THE TOLLS LAST?
At least 40 years, to pay off construction bonds sold over several years to pay for the new bridge.
Mike Lindblom: 206-515-5631 or [email protected].
3. Yes, re Kitaro. I started that subject, and I continue to be concerned about it. I will try to find an update to share on the blog.
4. Ferries-rates always increase in the summer. Fine with me. And regarding the increase in rates, I think this has to happen. The fleet is old, they are buying new boats.
My thinking is that we cannot have something for nothing. It does not work that way. So frequently, the same people who complain about increasing costs, are the same people who receive increases in their salary. Just a comment, not directed at any individual.
The funding for anything in this state, and consequently in this country, is regressive. Both sales tax and property tax. It is not fair for someone who is earning 30K/year to pay 10% on any purchase, while another person who is earning millions, pays the same amount. We are one of eight states without a state income tax. It would be more fair to everyone. The historical golden age of paying for everything with timber sales, including education and schools, has ended.
I support a state income tax. If we ever get it, I think part of the plan should be to decrease the sales tax. The entire thing is fallible, for everyone who can, goes to Oregon to buy things, especially high ticket items, because their sales tax is so much less. Why? Because they have a state income tax. Consequently, Washington state loses that income from sales taxes.
OK. done for today
I realize there are pros and cons, but I’d prefer the taxation of most of the European countries, Scandinavia, where the taxes are pretty draconian but education is free and available to everyone So is housing and support for the aging population, and health care for everyone is available.
Well said Eric. We need to stop using the politically expedient method of property taxes to pay for everything. The fact is, individual behavioral choices make a huge difference in our transportation costs and the environmental consequences they engender. So why should everyone pay the same amount? Some may call this social engineering but I would call it something closer to (but certainly not the same as) market forces at work. Also, those who see taxes and legislation geared toward changing transportation priorities as social engineering fail to recognize that our car dependent way of life was, in fact, socially engineered with massive subsidies at the federal, state and local levels and many of these persist today. The nut to crack with congestion pricing is the issue of privacy. While we think nothing of every major corporation in America tracking our every move and communication on our cell phones, the idea of government tracking our movements is unsettling to many. However, given that our road funding mechanism (gas taxes) is in a complete shambles, usage fees, and the tracking that comes with them, are inevitable.
As far as I can tell congestion pricing does nothing to mitigate the problem of I-5 getting backed up 4 times a day. I’m not sure that a toll on the interstate the bisects our city would fly with voters, and certainly not one high enough to deter traffic. On the east end of the neighborhood this is the biggest thing affecting surface street congestion.
Regarding John’s complaint about these sorts of posts, I agree that this article in particular would be better suited to Crosscut or the Seattle Times since it’s not Wallingford-specific. The article shows up here as I live here and I’m on tap to write for Wallyhood and I’m really passionate about the issue and I hoped our readers would find it interesting.
I’ll always supersede an article like this for a good local news tip, but if I don’t know of anything going on then I’m not going to manufacture a local news article on a topic I don’t find interesting. On the up side, the very fact that this article wasn’t local made me take a very long time to post it because the bar was higher, so it’s been thoroughly picked over and reworked until it’s as perfect as I could get it 🙂
Thank you Eric
Until the incompetent leadership within SDOT and WashDOT are removed, our freeway system will continue to fail. Lefthand on-ramp/off-ramp, and bottlenecked traffic lanes never have and never will flow traffic.
Eric, you have a right to write and post what is of interest to you and our neighbors.
I didn’t see others offer to take over for this duration.. nor did anyoen else offer articles.
FYI- TigerLily opens this weekend.
You are doing a good job with the subjects you pick to discuss. Keep it up. I, too, am tired of having property taxes fund every good and bad idea that comes across and for poor city management, in some cases. The burden of Seattle’s growth can’t continue to fall exclusively on the home owner.
One major problem with congestion tolling–how is that going to happen?
Look at how messed up the Good to Go system is already, and tell me how expanding to congestion tolling is going to work at all.
I think a big problem is that many don’t consider transit options when they decide where to live, and then later complain that they “need” to drive. This needs to change; we’re simply never going to cover all of Seattle perfectly with transit service. Seems like congestion pricing would help with that.
I’m curious – I generally consider Wallingford to be pretty well connected as far as bus service goes. For those that live in Wallingford and commented about needing to improve bus service as part of imposing congestion pricing: did you mean in general, or do you find commuting to/from Wallingford specifically to be challenging? (My biggest issues around here are the lack of 24 hour service & lack of bus lane along N 45th for the 44, but generally I’m satisfied).
We definitely need both, though I’m leery about local-only property levies like Move Seattle because people outside Seattle will benefit from it, and not pay towards the cost. Maybe we can have differential congestion pricing where Seattle residents pay less than outsiders?
As far as non-car transportation connectivity in Wallingford goes, I think we’re way better than most neighborhoods, but there are definite pain points. As Kristin mentions, the 44 really needs a dedicated lane from UW to the west side of Fremont. It can go away if Sound Transit builds Ballard-UW light rail in ST3. I certainly plan to vote against ST3 if Ballard-UW isn’t included.
Wallyhood.org just added right side quickly changing banner ads to their blog articles. Static ads were fine but the flashing ads are extremely distracting & very annoying to the point I’m thinking of uninstalling their blog. The free software extension AdblockPro from the Google store blocks all their ads under “Options” , “Add-your-filters” (type in Wallyhood.org & then click add-filters button).
Another $277 on my property taxes is outrageous. I as do many others live on a limited budget and I am being priced out of the home I have lived in since the 1960s all due to the levies people keep passing that raise the taxes on my house and property. The city and state needs to come up with a plan to increase their sources of income besides taxes. They should be spending the millions of dollars on creating sources of revenue like building desalination plants where they could sell the water to other states and pipe the water to the drought areas in our state, which would reduce the fire hazards and let farmers grow more vegetation in the arid areas.
I am with you. Enough is enough when it comes to property taxes. This message needs to be sent to the Mayor and City Council. As well as the candidates that are running for Council. Not sure about desalination plants but so what.
I’m sorry but I am getting fired up on the issue of tax levies. The Mayor made a comment via the Seattle Times not long ago that Seattle voters always support tax levies. Well, we should support the right tax levies and I am not so sure that Seattle Move is the right levi. I think that some of the money in this levi is not appropriate and should be funded out of the current operating budget. I also think that some of the levies that have been passed cover up for mis-management.
Whether you agree with me or not, it is important to let our Mayor and Council member and, now, candidates know how you feel. The best government comes from the bottom up.
Thanks Eric for your thoughtful analysis. I also agree that property taxes are getting out of control, and almost $1B dollars for Move Seattle is way too much to ask us to pay.
Thanks Eric. I enjoy your opinion mixed in with facts, and you are the editor so why not.
Good job, Eric. I don’t always agree with you (I’m assuming you originated the proposal to block local access to the 50th St. ramps, which is a profoundly misguided idea, but I apologize if you are innocent). I’m new to the details of congestion pricing, but I think you explained it very well.
As with most things, the devil is in the details, meaning this idea could be superb if done properly, and it could further punish the lower end of the income spectrum if the paid-for legislators have their way. But it seems to me that even a badly implemented system would be an improvement, for the reasons you so cogently presented. I say good for you, and keep it up.
Great editorial in today’s Seattle Times.
i believe congestion pricing will unfairly disadvantage the already disadvantaged – those who can’t afford to live close to work because of the high cost of living here, those who work multiple jobs with limited time to get between the two, those who already don’t have a lot of choice regarding where they live and work.
more usage fees is a bad idea in terms of quality of life – who wants to get nickeled and dimed every time they leave the house? i agree with Shirley that an income tax is the clear path out of our revenue issues. while it is true that most of our richest citizens live outside the Seattle city limits, there’s enough left to fund the public infrastructure we need with a local income tax.
regarding Eric’s postings, there have been times when I’ve empathized with #2’s first sentence, i have also seen some great conversations arise due to the push back to his opinionated posts.
i am very glad he posted the crazy idea about closing the 50th street on-ramp access, because it gave the rest of us the opportunity to shoot it down! 🙂
oh, and i refrained from voting because neither option is acceptable. you might have included a third “other” option.
Oh, please no, do not talk about a state income tax. Maybe you can afford to pay more taxes on your income but most of us can’t. Please, we have voted down a state income tax many times and that will not, definitely not, solve the problems the city and state have in controlling their budgets. What they need is to stop spending money they don’t have and relying upon the citizens to pay for what they deem is good for the public. I balance my checkbook each month and if I don’t have enough money to buy something, I don’t buy it. The governing bodies should do likewise.
Lots to discuss on the revenue side, here, but I have equal, if not more, interest in the cost side.
I don’t have a lot of confidence in our Mayor. From Day One, beginning with establishing his key staff and their impressive salaries, the theme and emphasis has been “we have to pay more to get what we need.”
I fear that philosophy applies across-the-board, and especially for the development of City budgets and associated ballot initiatives. I hope “Move Seattle” and similar measures doesn’t come to mean “Move OUT of Seattle” because the tax burden is too much.
@28–Pattyandjoey–OK, if the government doesn’t have enough money, what exactly do you propose they stop buying?
I think the state needs to loosen restrictions on things like strip clubs and other establishments. Tax it and our problems are solved. Plus, if rules like this were in place then maybe we wouldn’t have so many pharmacies popping up in Wallingford and instead have some places to go after work.
Fruitbat: Well, actually I didn’t say they are buying anything. They spend our tax money on things like destroying our streets with bicycle pathways and building tunnels that the public voted down. They could spend our tax money by purchasing useable land and building homes for the homeless, they could spend their time putting a lid on rent increases and developing laws that keep landlords from making it impossible for middle class and low income people to live in comfortable housing on their meager salaries.
Like I said, let’s get some ladies up in here. I’m not trying to be funny. Let’s do it!
Neighbor2You, I agree with you in focusing on the cost side as well. The Seattle Move effort has a lot of costs that should come out of the operating budget. I, too, do not have any confidence in the Council when it comes to efficient management.
@28 the point of diverting taxes away from sales tax and property tax toward income tax is precisely that income tax can be controlled such that those who can afford to pay, pay. it would have to be written into the law that income tax is levied only on those with income, say, some percentage above the median income. it would have to be written so that it would be extremely difficult to change (as in drift downward to lower incomes). it is totally doable, and would take the burden off the regressive sales and property taxes.
I understand what you say about an income tax but a state income tax is definitely not controllable. All the state has to do is increase the tax at any point in time. The words “would have to be ” is the stickler. There is no way to enforce the author of the income tax law to write it in the way you describe and after seventy years of watching the politicians it is without a doubt that the law would not be written properly to protect anyone with even a slight income like a pension or social security. All of that is income and all of that would be taxed by the state. If you take a look at the states which currently have a state income tax you will see that those states are not better off than we are, California has been operating in the red for years and has had a state income tax for years. I say, no more taxes period.
Gee, pattyandjoeyj, if an idiot like Tim Eyman can write legislation to make our state more regressive, surely someone could do it to make it less regressive!
Well runyararo, I suppose you are correct, I am not well versed in writing legislation.