King County Council approves $20 car tab fee hike to save Metro

King County Council approves $20 car tab fee hike to save Metro
SEATTLE - The King County Council has approved a $20 car tab fee hike to save Metro bus service from drastic cuts.

The measure was approved by a 7-to-2 margin, meaning it passed with a supermajority and will not require a public vote.

Voting "no" Monday evening were council members Reagan Dunn and Pete von Reichbauer, who said they preferred an option that would have sent the fee to a vote of the people in November.

One key point in the plan is a phase-out of the downtown Seattle "ride-free zone," which is used by 9,000 riders each day, by October 2012.

The plan's other four points:

• A transit incentive program would provide eight free bus tickets worth up to $24 for anyone who pays a car tab fee. Tickets can be donated to a pool of human service agencies.

• Increased bus ticket affordability for human service agencies

• Accelerate "right-sized" bus service consistent with the King County transit plan

• More bus service for corridors subject to tolling, such as Highways 520 and 99.

The measure is expected to raise $50 million for King County Metro Transit service through a two-year "congestion reduction fee."

Metro officials, whose budget has been hammered by the down economy, say they would have to cut 600,000 hours of bus service, or about 17 percent of current levels, without the $20 increase.

The vote follows three public hearings during the last month which transit riders turned out en masse to lobby on Metro's behalf.

Metro already has raised fares, eliminated 70 staff positions and cut bus service by 75,000 hours to plug a two-year, $215 million gap in the latest two-year budget. Transit agencies depend heavily on revenue from the sales tax, which has plummeted in the down economy.

State lawmakers granted King County the authority to use the temporary car tab fee after transit supporters lobbied the state for help over the past two years.