November 2012 Transit Ballot Measure Results
As usual, it was a good election day for transit – out of the twenty-one ballot measures with a large transit component on Tuesday’s ballot, fourteen were approved with one still to be decided - an essential one in Pierce County, WA - home of Tacoma. (Review all the ballot measures here) . Overall, 79% of ballot measures increasing taxes for transit have been successful in 2012; 2012 has also had the most ballot measures seeking transit tax increases since at least 2000. Learn more about how transit is funded .
The biggest win for transit was not a tax increase; rather, it was the Honolulu Mayoral Election, where pro-rail candidate Kirk Caldwell handily beat anti-rail Ben Cayetano. While the Honolulu Rapid Transit Project is currently held up in court over a technical matter, with all the necessary funding virtually assured we should see significant progress on this line over the next four years. With the nation’s most congested roads and highest gas prices, Honolulu residents will eventually enjoy travel much faster than would be capable on any bus service, including BRT service without significant construction of segregated right of way.
Another big win for transit was the approval by Orange County, NC voters of a tax increase for better bus service and an eventual rail line connecting the different parts of the Research Triangle area. Once Wake County, NC approves the sales tax increase (Durham County has already passed such an increase), regional transit improvements can begin in earnest. Other successes include a bond measure for Washington Metro capital projects being approved in Arlington, VA, and an advisory vote clearly indicating that residents of Virginia Beach, VA desire the extension of Hampton Road Transit’s fledgling Tide light rail line into their city and to the sea. Richland County, SC (home of the state capital of Columbia) approved a tax increase, 25% of which will go to improve local bus service.
Two major transit ballot failures in California, where measures to increase sales taxes in Alameda County (home of Oakland) and Los Angeles County both failed to garner the unreasonably large support of 2/3 of voters. In fact, both measures were favored by 65% of voters – just short of the requirement – which means that while a majority of residents in the Oakland and Los Angeles areas support better public transit, they were stymied by a minority of no-taxes-at-any-cost Republicans and the misguided Bus Riders Union, in the case of Los Angeles. While a “yes” vote on Los Angeles’s Measure J tax extension of Measure R – not an increase – would have accelerated a wealth of projects, including a subway along Wilshire Blvd, Bus Riders Union members will continue to “enjoy” an extra hour of travel time on Wilshire Rapid Bus Route 720 in lieu of a quicker ride on the subway. Fortunately, the defeat of these two measures will have no immediate negative consequence in terms of higher fares or service reductions for those areas.
Another failure was the approval of a continuing diversion of 25% of Houston Metro’s 1% transit sales tax for non-transit measures, mainly local street repair. Considering the declining funding that most transit systems continue to experience, it is unconscionable that some of the funding transit does receive be diverted for purposes that should be funded out of local property tax revenues.
Next was the lopsided loss of an attempt to raise the gas tax in Memphis, TN by one cent to vote the local bus system. Since there is more of a nexus between the gas tax and transit than there is between the sales tax and transit, it would have been nice to see this measure be successful but the loss does not surprise me, as Americans are extremely sensitive about even the slightest change in gasoline prices. Of course, the failure to raise the federal gas tax since 1993 is a major reason why the Highway Trust Fund can no longer fund all federal transportation spending by itself.
While the vote is still uncertain, it is looking increasingly likely that Pierce County’s sales tax increase will join Clark County, WA’s sales tax increase in the failure column. Failure to increase the sales tax will result in the elimination of all evening and weekend service in Tacoma, WA operated by Pierce Transit – truly a disastrous result (Sound Transit will continue to operate some regional-oriented service in the area).
Still to Come
Still to come in December are two special elections, one in Los Angeles and one in Kansas City, that will ask property owners in areas served by proposed streetcar lines whether they would like to tax themselves to pay for the streetcar.