Caffeinated News

1. In case you missed it (I posted after the state senate transportation committee's late afternoon vote yesterday): With the enthusiastic and sarcastic support of the Democrats, the Republican-controlled committee unanimously passed a bill sponsored by conservative senator Doug Ericksen (R-42, Whatcom County) that defies GOP opposition to funding transit, and even more taboo, using gas taxes to do so.

His bill expands a rural Whatcom county gas tax that was only authorized for "street maintenance and construction" to now be spent on "transportation improvements, including high capacity transportation, [and] public transportation" as well.

The typically chatty Senator Erickson didn't get back to me yesterday afternoon, but the pro-transit liberals at Transportation Choices Coalition were quick to spin it. "It is uplifting to see the senate Republicans reevaluate the rigidness of the gas tax being restricted to road use," TCC policy director Andrew Austin said. "Point Roberts [the Whatcom County town that's being authorized to spend gas taxes on transit] is a unique community, but the need for more flexible local options is not. Let's extend this newfound enlightenment to other areas of the state and give a hearing and pass Sound Transit 3 authority in the senate."

2. As Seattle gets set to use the money from Prop. 1, last year's voter approved local bus funding measure—$45 million a year over the next six years from a 0.1 percent sales tax and a $60 vehicle license fee for 223,000 in additional service hours this year—a tension between Metro's countywide goals and Seattle's own goals has emerged.

King County Metro's "transit service guidelines" prioritize directing additional buses to address overcrowding, unreliability (a.k.a., late buses), and increased frequency (a measure of the overall market demand). Seattle's transportation blueprint, Seattle's "transit master plan," is more nuanced than that. When it comes to that third priority, the overall market includes Seattle's goal for a "frequent transit network," which, by assessing things such as car ownership, tries to add an equity or social justice screen to bus service. For example, Seattle's transit master plan looks to serve low-wage workers.

As a result, in the Seattle proposal for the post Prop. 1 contract, more new hours are going to night time bus service (34 percent) than to peak service (29 percent).

A Seattle Department of Transportation (SDOT) memo about the new hours notes: "Work trips increasingly occur outside of the traditional weekday 'nine to five' shift. A tremendous number of Seattle workers need reliable transit at nonpeak times."

North Seattle (Northgate) and suburban King County Council member Rod Dembowski challenged the equation when SDOT presented the plan to the county last week. "A particular interest to us is to make sure—I'll call them our 'best customers'—that use our service and are on those jammed buses and delayed buses, that they see the value of this investment and benefit from it."

King County Council Member Rod Dembowski

Dembowski flagged the "discrepancy" between Metro's goals—which prioritize the first two points, overcrowding and unreliability vs. the more nuanced third point as it's broken down in Seattle's plan, the "frequent transit network"—saying: "We're willing to go along with Seattle's priorities on that level three, but I think that there's consensus on priorities one and two that we really do want to deliver on those, and we might want to include language in the legislation that says it's the policy makers' preference that priorities one and two be met on a continuous basis and that service be adjusted accordingly."

I talked to Dembowski yesterday to ask if he was deprioritizing Seattle's equity goals. "There is definitely a difference. They are investing money in that third box [building out the frequent network]. In the third priority level they are choosing to invest it differently than our service guidelines call for."

He added: "I'm okay with them not following our guidelines because they're writing the check, they have a plan that fits their needs for a city that's different than the rest of the county. That's okay. I just want to make sure that when we talk about priorities one and two [overcrowding and delays at peak hours] that we fully address those needs. I want [the contract] to be flexible enough to continue to address those. If we get through this, and we're still leaving people on the curb. That's not what this was about. We want to at least address those serious crowding and scheduling delay problems. Me personally. I like what the city's doing [with the third priority], but there is a difference."

3. Last year, Governor Jay Inslee vetoed a bipartisan bill to require law enforcement agencies to get a warrant for drones. Inslee didn't like the legislation because he thought it undermined rescue missions and public disclosure laws.

The bill is back again this year and the ACLU says the bill has addressed the governor's concerns by simply narrowing the bill so that it only applies to  drone operations that are specifically intended for collecting personal information; the bill makes an exception for emergency situations where the warrant can be obtained afterwards. If the warrant is denied, the information can't be used.

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