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Why are people in Seattle more willing to pay for transportation improvements?

(iStock Photo)

Seattle has passed a $930-million levy to fund new transportation projects

Policy expert says people in Seattle have bought into what municipal politicians say they will do

SEATTLE (NEWS 1130) – As planners here continue to look for ways to move forward from the failed transportation plebiscite, Seattle is going ahead with its own expansion plan.

The Emerald City has passed a $930-million levy to pay for new projects.┬áMore than 56 per cent of voters said “yes” to the levy.

Transportation policy expert Mark Hallenbeck with the University of Washington calls it a “landslide” win and says the reason for it is pretty clear.

“The fact that it won with a fairly comfortable margin, despite a very well-funded ‘no’ campaign further indicates how badly the public saw the problems themselves and they realized it was up to them to actually do something about it.”

A lot of the criticism from “no” voters in the plebiscite here was their lack of faith in TransLink to properly execute expansion plans.

Hallenbeck says that’s a big difference between the two cities.

“The city (Seattle) is willing to look a little more holistically. That creates the trust issue where the [people have] bought into what the mayor and the city council has said we’re going to do. [They’re saying,] ‘This is how we’re going to solve these problems. It’s not all about the car. Yes, we have to be able to walk and bike more. Look, we’re already making these changes — we want to do more.'”

If Metro Vancouver and TransLink are looking to build similar trust, Hallenbeck has a suggestion.

“My recommendation, if you can get away with it, is to step back for two years or a year and a half and say ‘We’re going to prove that we have systems in place to pick the right projects, that deliver them on time and on budget, and that they will do what we said they were going to do.'”

Part of the credit for the victory in Seattle goes to the “yes” side’s marketing campaign, often called the “latte argument.” The message was that the improvements would only cost an extra latte or two a week.

Hallenbeck says the campaign certainly helped.

“The idea is the shift from ‘Golly you’re going to pay $1,000’… to say ‘No, no it’s only four dollars. Let’s give you a comparison that makes it seem small.'”

Among other things, the levy authorizes a 0.1 per cent sales tax hike over the next five years.