SEATTLE It's official -- King County drivers will soon have to shell out an extra $20 for their car tabs.

The county council approved the tab increase measure Monday evening by a 7-2 vote, in an effort to help cash-strapped King County Metro bus services. Councilmembers Reagan Dunn and Pete von Reichbauer voted against the fee.

Money raised from the fee would help prevent King County Metro transit from cutting service. According to county officials, over the next two years, over $50 million would be generated by the fee.

The fee would go into effect in 2012, six months after it is signed into law.

Over the past few weeks, some 1,500 people attended public meetings to give their opinions on whether to enact the fee. Councilmember Kathy Lambert said she's dealt with threats. While Lambert wouldn't go into detail, she said she has a bodyguard for the time being.

With the new money generated by the fee, King County Metro has laid out the following action plans:

  • Develop a Transit Incentive Program to provide eight bus tickets worth up to $24 for each car tab renewal. People can use the tickets for rides to work, play or special sporting events. They may also choose to donate the value of those tickets to a pool of nearly 150 human service agencies to provide mobility for those in need.
  • Phase out the downtown Seattle Ride Free Area in October 2012. The Council's 2009 performance audit called for Metro to update its formula for collecting revenues in the Ride Free Area (RFA). When first established in 1973 as the Magic Carpet Zone, a city subsidy funded 100 percent of the fares Metro no longer collected in that area. Today the city of Seattle pays Metro $400,000 a year to support the RFA, which is about 18 percent of the $2.2 million annual cost for Metro to operate the RFA.
  • Increase the pool of funds that provides sharply discounted bus tickets to human service and homeless programs. Metro now discounts tickets worth nearly $2 million annually. The tickets are currently sold to human service agencies at 20 cents on the dollar. Metro will either increase the current ticket allocation, or further increase the discount while giving the public the option of donating their tickets under the incentive plan to those in need. Metro will seek the advice of human service agencies in how to best help those in need.
  • Implement right-sizing of service consistent with the Transit Strategic Plan. In communities where it makes sense, Metro will deploy lower-cost, more efficient Dial-a-Ride Transit service (DART), community access transportation services, Vanpools and vanshares, making service more efficient and responsive to our riders.
  • Consider routes that carry more riders due to the effects of highway tolling as candidates for added services. This language in the proposed legislation is consistent with the principles to enhance Metro's productivity developed by the Regional Transit Task Force and adopted in the County's Transit Strategic Plan.

King County Executive Dow Constantine said last week there were enough votes on the King County Council to pass his plan to raise car tab fees. Because enough council members support the measure, it was not part of the November ballot.

Voters have made it known through the initiative process that they wish to cap car tab fees, and I believe that any altering of this should be done by a vote of the people, said Councilmember von Reichbauer after Monday's vote.

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