It now costs $102 to renew your vehicle registration in King County, Washington (the county containing Seattle)! Why? Because the King County Metro transit system is broke. It is facing a $1.2 billion revenue shortfall for 2008-2015. This has led to the adoption of relatively expensive fees attached to vehicle registrations in the county. The breakdown of a typical registration bill now looks like this:

“Filing fee” $3
“RTA tax” $6
“Transportation Benefit District fee” $20
“Gross weight fee” $48
“State Parks Account donation” $5 (“Donation”? Aren’t those voluntary? This is like mandatory gratuity at a restaurant.)
“Congestion reduction charge” $20

The “congestion reduction charge” was added by the King County Council in 2011. It is effective 2013-2014 to help pay for the KC Metro Transit shortfall and their efforts to improve efficiency and get back in the black… “Metro will receive about $25 million in each of the two years the charge is in effect, for a total of $50 million,”… and it won’t even come close to closing the gap:

…some of the actions to narrow the budget gap, such as tapping reserves, will be exhausted after 2013, and the congestion reduction charge expires in mid 2014. That means Metro will face a $60 million ongoing annual revenue shortfall to maintain existing service unless new funding for transit is approved. Metro needs another $15 million to replace aging buses that provide existing service, making the total funding shortfall $75 million.

So, in summary… I get to pay fees for a bunch of stuff I don’t use, based upon laws I didn’t vote for, because the state can’t manage a transportation “business” of which I am not a customer? Allow to take this opportunity to praise the supreme fairness of Democracy… no, I changed my mind.

Here’s a fresh idea: With $50 million or $20 each, residents of King County could fund/charter a small number of competitive, non-monopolistic, accountable, private-sector transit providers instead of paying off the King County Council under threat of fine and/or imprisonment to keep their failing transit system afloat for a few more years. When there is still a problem in 2015, what recourse does the public really have? Our money will have already been spent. Perhaps if passengers were customers who had the option of taking their business to another provider, those providers would have incentive by competition to find efficient solutions and have better logistics than the others. If King County can’t maintain a transit service, maybe it’s time to let someone else take a try at it.

It’s time for municipalities to look for “outside the box” solutions. It’s almost like King County Metro is “too big to fail”… This is really just a bail-out, isn’t it?

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