We’re constantly being told there are too many people driving in Seattle.
Our roads can’t handle all the single-occupancy vehicles clogging up the geographically-restrained city.
But without all those vehicles, government and some agencies would be losing out on quite a bit of money.
Tuesday morning, Gene Balk with The Seattle Times pointed out that, when looking at census data from 2010 to 2015, the number of personal vehicles has grown at the same rate as that of the population — 12 percent. The number of vehicles exceeded 430,000; equaling 5,185 cars per square mile, according to Balk.
Though the number of car owners isn’t growing as fast as it used to — Balk says we may have peaked — the number is still growing.
Many argue that we should be driving less and taking alternative modes of transportation more. I agree. A reliable bus ride or trip on light rail is much better than idling in traffic. But we aren’t there yet, and in order to get there, more money is needed.
If there were fewer car owners, the state would be making less from the gas tax. That tax pays for building and maintaining our roads, bridges and ferries. Washington state has one of the highest per-gallon gas taxes in the country. Fewer car owners would also mean less direct money for ferries. It’s much more expensive to take a vehicle across Puget Sound than just walking. Can you imagine having to pay $20 for walking on the ferry?
In Seattle, the department of transportation uses vehicle taxes to help supplement the money the city collects off property tax to pay for transportation projects — bike lanes, anyone?
But putting those example aside, let’s take a look at the expense that has car owners questioning how they voted on last year’s November ballot.
If the number of car owners drastically decreased in Seattle and King County as a whole, as well as Snohomish and Pierce counties, Sound Transit would be collecting less for light rail expansion in the Puget Sound region due to a decrease in the number of people paying for car tabs. The Sound Transit 3 program, which also includes property tax and sales tax, charges car owners $110 per $10,000 assessed vehicle value. The transportation package relies on approximately $28 billion from the higher taxes.
That wouldn’t be good for an agency that has vocally opposed proposed cuts from the federal government and could face further delays in its overall plan.
In his article, Balk is told that as a young city, it’s no surprise so many rely on the car. Notable growth occurred after World War II. In a way, we as a city are trying to reverse that, becoming less reliant on vehicles. But in order to become less reliant on vehicles, local agencies need to make more money and will continue to benefit from all those car owners.