Liias introduces bill to protect transit services, reduce congestion

Legislation introduced today by Rep. Marko Liias would give transit agencies a temporary tool to protect local transit service and reduce congestion.  The bill is limited to King, Pierce and Snohomish counties, where service cuts have limited transit options for communities relying on them.

“People here know good transit options benefit the whole community, not just those on the train or bus,” said Liias, D-Edmonds.  “While the economy struggles, more people are choosing to save money by using transit, making this exactly the wrong time to stand idly by while massive cuts are made.”

Under House Bill 1536, each agency could enact, through a vote of the board or a public vote, a congestion reduction charge of up to $30. The charge would be paid at the same time as vehicle license renewals, and all funds would be dedicated to transit operations and capital projects.

The charge would be temporary and would end in December 2013.

Community Transit’s CEO Joyce Eleanor is supportive of the legislation, especially now during the economic slowdown.

“While the economy has not yet recovered, people are returning to work and many of them will rely on transit to be there for them to get to work,” Eleanor said.  “Transit makes our roads more efficient. Having less transit service available forces people to either add to traffic or become less productive, delaying the recovery even longer.”

King County Metro Transit General Manager Kevin Desmond also believes it’s important for the Legislature to act now to prevent even further transit cuts.

“This new funding source will help offset Metro’s shortfall until a sustainable longer-term statewide funding solution is developed,” Desmond said.  “This temporary bridge funding will help us preserve bus service, which will be critical in supporting access to jobs as the region’s economy improves.”

The measure would generate up to $38 million annually for Metro in addition to other cost-saving measures and efficiencies the agency has taken to reduce costs.

The bill has bipartisan support, including support from 30 cosponsors, representing legislators from across the state.  The proposal also includes accountability measures, including the development of a congestion reduction plan and two reports to the Legislature on the use of funds.

“Good transit means cleaner air, reducing our need for foreign oil, transportation for car-free families, and ultimately, a better quality-of-life in our communities,” Liias said.  “This temporary, optional tool will allow counties to decide locally what will keep their communities strong.”

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