Major Wins for Transit, and Other Takeaways from Election Night

While the country awaits the results of the final vote count in a handful of key states in the Presidential race, the results from many transportation ballot measures are in. Despite uncertainty over how voters would respond to major bond and tax measures during the pandemic, voters approved a vast range of major transportation measures. This is similar to results in past years, and further demonstrates the public’s willingness to raise taxes for major transportation investments. 

Voters approve major regulatory changes governing vehicle telematics data and gig worker classifications.

In Massachusetts, nearly three-fourths of voters approved a “Right to Repair” measure, which would require car manufactures of telematics-equipped vehicles to install a standard open data platform beginning in 2022. This would allow independent auto repair shops and owners to access a vehicle’s telematics data, which is typically transmitted wirelessly to a remote server, through a mobile app. This measure expands on a previously passed law to allow owners and independent mechanics to have the same access to vehicle diagnostics data stored onboard the vehicle but exempted vehicles that transmit this data wirelessly. Automakers and opponents of the measure cited cybersecurity and data privacy concerns in their opposition, and NHTSA issued a broad statement warning against possible cybersecurity risks in July.

In California, Proposition 22 was approved by nearly 60 percent of voters. Proposition 22 overturned a statewide law classifying ridehail and delivery app drivers as employees, rather than independent contractors, entitling them to standard benefits including health and unemployment insurance, and sick leave. The measure allows drivers to remain classified as independent contractors, but requires the companies to provide limited benefits including health insurance stipends and a pay floor that is contingent on factors including active driving time. The measure was backed by ridehail and delivery companies like Uber and Lyft, Postmates, and DoorDash, which spent nearly $200 million to support its passage, making Proposition 22 the most expensive ballot initiative campaign in the state’s history. The measure was opposed by many Democratic elected officials and labor unions.

Most transit measures passed overwhelmingly

Voters approved most major transit measures – among the largest of any of the measures on the ballot this year in terms of scope and revenue generated – by overwhelming margins.

In Austin, nearly two-thirds of voters backed Proposition A, which would generate the local match for Austin’s proposed $7.1 billion transit system expansion. With Proposition A passed, the next step for the proposed transit expansion will be for the Austin City Council and Capital Metro Board to appoint members to the Austin Transit Partnership: a new local government corporation that will be tasked with delivering Project Connect.

Major transit measures passed in the Bay Area and Seattle, too. Voters in the Bay Area overwhelmingly passed Measure RR by a 70 to 30 percent margin, easily clearing the measure’s supermajority requirement to enact a 1/8-cent sales tax and create a dedicated revenue source for CalTrain. Seattle voters also approved Proposition 1, a 0.05-cent sales tax increase, to fund bus service and low fare programs by a huge 81 to 19 percent margin.

In Portland, however, 57 percent of voters rejected a 0.75-percent payroll tax measure for transit and corridor projects, putting the fate of the proposed Southwest Corridor MAX light rail line up in the air.

The largest measure on the ballot this year – a $13 billion transit expansion in Gwinnett County, Georgia – remains effectively tied as ballots continue to be counted in the state, though the current tally indicates a narrow defeat.

Results from other transit measures on the 2020 ballot:

  • Fairfax County, Virginia: voters approved a $160 million bond measure that will fund the county’s annual payments to WMATA for service, capital projects, and other transit improvements.
  • San Antonio, Texas: voters approved a reallocation of an existing 1/8-cent sales tax to the city’s transit agency, VIA. However, the revenue from the tax will initially flow to the City of San Antonio to fund COVID-19 recovery and workforce development until 2026, when the revenue will be dedicated to VIA indefinitely.
  • Missoula, Montana, voters approved a 20 mill levy increase for the Missoula Urban Transportation District, helping fund expanded bus service and frequency, a zero fare program, and conversion to an electric bus fleet.
  • Bellingham, Washington: voters renewed a 0.2% sales tax for street maintenance, bike lanes and sidewalks, and bus service.
  • Sonoma County, CA: voters continued a 0.25-cent sales tax that generates $26 million in annual revenue for transportation improvements (bus service, road repair, pedestrian/bicycle infrastructure, and evacuation route improvements).
  • Newton, County GA: voters rejected a 1% sales tax that would have raised $56 million for roads and transit

Many state and local transportation funding measures approved overwhelmingly.

Alongside major victories for transit, many state local transportation funding measures were also approved overwhelmingly by voters:

  • In Arkansas, more than half of voters approved of the statewide measure making an existing 0.5-cent sales tax for roads and highways permanent (the tax was set to expire in 2023).
  • Charlotte, North Carolina: more than three-fourths of voters approved three major general obligation bonds for housing, neighborhood infrastructure improvements, and major transportation improvements. These bonds included a $103 million transportation bond for traffic signal improvements, bridge replacement, pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure, and enhancements to improve access to the LYNX Blue Line, and a $45 million neighborhood improvement bond for sidewalk, street, and bike lane improvements.
  • Austin, Texas: in addition to the city’s major transit referendum, voters also approved Proposition B – a $460 million general obligation bond for multimodal transportation improvements (including sidewalk, bikeway, road, and signal enhancements) – by a 58 to 42 percent margin.
  • Bend, Oregon: voters approved a $190 million bond measure for road improvements, better east-west connections in the city, and pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure.
  • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: three-fourths of voters approved a $134 million general obligation bond, of which $48 million will fund street and sanitation projects, and nearly $5 million for transit improvements.
  • Toledo, Ohio: 54 percent of voters approved a temporary 0.25-percent income tax to fund road improvements. The approval comes after a similar 0.5-percent income tax increase measure failed in April of this year.
  • Denver, Colorado: voters approved Measure 2A, a 0.25% sales tax that would raise $40 million annually for climate-change mitigation programs, which can include investments in transit, elective vehicles, and pedestrian/bicycle improvements. Voters also approved Measure 2D, which creates a 19-member advisory board for the city’s Department of Transportation and Infrastructure (which was created by a voter-approved measure in 2019).
  • Pflugerville, Texas: voters approved a $101 million bond to fund road improvements.
  • Marion County, Florida: voters continued a 1% sales tax to raise $196 million for road projects and public safety improvements over four years.
  • Mesa, Arizona: 70 percent of voters approved a $100 million general obligation bond to fund transportation projects and improvements for streets, bridges, signals, lighting, trails, and highways.

One sizeable measure was rejected by voters. In Kootenai County, Idaho, voters rejected a proposed increase in vehicle registration fees ($25 for motorcycles, $50 for all other vehicles) that would have raised $540 million for roadway projects.

As we continue to collect final results, it is clear that voters willingness to pay for major transportation projects was largely unaffected by the pandemic. Results from major initiatives in places like Austin and the Bay Area suggest that voters saw and supported the long-term value and utility of public transit, even in the midst of short-term ridership declines.

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