The Secret Worldwide Transit Cabal

Informed but opinionated commentary and analysis on urban transportation topics from the Secret Worldwide Transit Cabal. Names have been omitted to protect the guilty.

Our Mission: Monkeywrench the Anti-Transit Forces

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Thursday, October 24, 2002


"It is the unfortunate destiny of the ridiculous to be subject to ridicule." James Howard Kunstler

From the Cabalmaster:

(* from a 1970s Olympia Beer TV jingle)

The Secret Worldwide Transit Cabal continues its coverage of the Seattle monorail plan with the following websurfers' guide.

The monorail is "Proposition 1" on the November 5 ballot (how it got there is a story in itself). The plan outlines a 14-mile north-south starter line, known as the Green Line, between Crown Hill, Ballard, downtown Seattle and West Seattle. All of this is within the Seattle city limits, and the tax increase -- an annual 1.4 percent motor vehicle excise tax. -- would be imposed only within the city of Seattle. For example, the owner of a car worth $10,000 would pay $140 per year. The line would be built and operated by a municipal agency, the Elevated Transportation Company. ETC estimates the cost at $1.75 billion, projects ridership at 72,000 per weekday and states that the line could be operating by 2009. About 75 percent of the ridership is expected to come from existing bus services.

Various ETC estimates, forecasts and projections have attracted a great deal of skepticism from those who are not true believers. Anti-tax activists have labeled the monorail the "largest tax bill in the history of Seattle."

One of the more remarkable (!) aspects of the Seattle monorail plan: the tax would not apply to newly-sold cars. Although public documents state that "all" cars would be subject to the tax, ETC included this exemption to head off opposition from new car dealers. Monorail supporters have attempted to deflect attention from this issue, but the pro-monorail campaign and ETC have acknowledged that new cars would be exempt.

This drew ire from King County Executive Ron Sims, who has announced his opposition to the exemption on October 20 Sims said the exemption favors the rich over the poor, because the wealthier people are more likely to buy new cars than poorer people, and therefore be exempt from the tax. The exemption does not apply to people buying used cars.

Even more remarkable (!!): state and local officials agree that nothing in the law would prevent Seattle residents from using post-office boxes outside of the city and having their vehicle registrations mailed there -- thereby avoiding the monorail tax ETC does not see this as a problem.

Are you amazed yet? If not, then we've got another one up our (electronic) sleeve. Although the plan has a debt limit ($1.5 billion, equivalent to the $1.75 billion estimate after adjusting for inflation), the motor-vehicle excise tax has no expiration date. In theory, ETC could collect as much as $300 million in addition to the $1.75 billlion estimated cost. ETC chairman Tom Weeks has pledged that if the planned 14-mile line cannot be built within the anticipated budget, construction would not proceed. ETC anticipates receiving bids early in 2003, and says that if these are too high, it will go back to the voters. However, Weeks stated that ETC does not have a "threshold" figure that would trigger a re-vote.

Daniel Malarkey (ah, how we love that name), consulting economist for ETC, Hahvahd graduate and candidate SAP(tm), thinks that the tax can be removed in about 23 years if the project is finished on budget -- unless voters opt for more monorail lines. Malarkey believes that there is a remote chance that the tax might last as long as 40 years. He adds that the tax is more likely to bring in "far more" than needed, so that the 30-year bonds could be paid off early, or the tax reduced. (To paraphrase Amtrak president David Gunn: it sounds to us like someone's been smoking funny cigarettes.)

The ETC has a website (natch): The political action committee "Rise Above It All" has organized the campaign for approval, "Monorail Yes!" (The photo of a group of foamers marching across a street, carrying a model monorail in the manner of a Chinese dragon . . . or the Golden Calf . . . is priceless.) The opposition campaign organization is named "Citizens Against the Monorail" A critical evaluation of the plan "Seattle's Monorail Plan: Transit Miracle or Urban Toy?," has been posted on the Light Rail Now! Light Rail Progress website

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