Sound Transit (Regional Transit Authority) taxes FAQ

Sound Transit is funded by a combination of local taxes, federal grants, fares, interest earnings and miscellaneous revenues. Local taxes make up just over half of Sound Transit's total funding. In 1996, 2008 and 2016, voters within the RTA district approved tax increases to build and operate the regional mass transit system. These taxes are assessed only within the Sound Transit district:

Tax Total Imposed/Levied*
Sales & Use 1.4% ($0.14 on a $10 taxable purchase)
MVET (Motor Vehicle Excise Tax) 1.1% ($110 annually for each $10,000 of vehicle valuation)
Property Tax $0.25 annually per $1,000 of assessed valuation ($100 annually on a $400,000 house)
Rental car sales tax 0.8 percent ($0.80 on a $100 car rental)

* These rates include expanded transit funding approved by regional voters in November 2016: an additional 0.5 percent sales and use tax effective April 1, 2017; an additional 0.8 percent MVET tax beginning March 1, 2017 with new and renewal vehicle registrations; and a new property tax of $0.25 per $1,000 of assessed valuation beginning Jan. 1, 2017.

An additional rental car increase of up to 1.372 percent ($1.37 on a $100 car rental) can be authorized by the Sound Transit Board in the future.

Click on a question below to expand and read the answer:

Who pays Sound Transit Taxes?

Sound Transit's taxing district includes the most populated areas of King, Pierce and Snohomish counties. It appears on tax statements as RTA (Regional Transit Authority). The RTA district generally follows the urban growth boundaries created by each county in accordance with the state Growth Management Act and electoral precincts as established in 1996.

PDF iconSound Transit district boundary map (pdf)

Do I live in the Sound Transit District?

Check out the Address locator tool. The tool will open a new window, so make sure your pop-up blocker software is turned off. Should you be unable to find your address within the address locator tool, you can contact Sound Transit at main@soundtransit.org or 877-755-4550.

Do the Sound Transit boundaries ever change?

The RTA boundary was established in 1996 and can only change as a result of annexations. By law, unincorporated areas outside the RTA boundary only become included inside the RTA boundary upon annexation by cities within the RTA. Periodically Sound Transit updates the authorized legal description of the boundary to reflect annexations that have occurred. 

What do these taxes pay for?

RTA taxes pay for the construction and operation of regional mass transit services, including Link light rail, Sounder commuter rail and ST Express buses. Mass transit provides an alternative to congested roadways, delivering riders to their destinations quickly and reliably every day.

I don't use transit service. Do I still have to pay these taxes?

In the November 2008 and 2016 elections, voters living in the RTA district approved mass transit expansions. Related taxes apply to all the citizens living in the district. Everyone within the Sound Transit district benefits from enhancing overall mobility throughout the region regardless of whether they personally use transit or not.

How is the RTA car tab tax calculated?

The RTA tax is a motor vehicle excise tax (MVET) calculated from the depreciated value of your vehicle. It is determined by using a formula based on the vehicle manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP), or purchase price for commercial trucks and commercial trailers, and a depreciation schedule set by state law based on the age of the vehicle (years of service).

This method of calculating the tax ensures that owners of the same type of vehicle pay the same amount of tax. The MVET value is not based on the fair market value of the vehicle and can be either higher or lower than the vehicle’s fair market value or the amount the owner paid for the vehicle.

Contact the Department of Licensing with questions about the RTA MVET, such as types of vehicles subject to the RTA MVET, vehicle values, depreciation schedules and exemptions.

What depreciation schedule is used to determine vehicle value for the Sound Transit MVET?

Regional voters in 1996 approved Sound Move, which initiated a 0.3 percent Regional Transit Authority (RTA) Motor Vehicle Excise Tax (MVET), or $30 per $10,000 of vehicle value, to fund mass transit investments throughout Puget Sound. In 2016 voters approved Sound Transit 3 (ST3), increasing the MVET by 0.8 percent for a total of $110 per $10,000 of vehicle value to fund further expansions.

The RTA MVET is calculated from the depreciated value of a vehicle.

Sound Transit is using the same depreciation schedule that was in place statewide in 1999 when bonds were sold to finance Sound Move transit investments, pledging MVET revenues to pay off those bonds.  The commitment to bondholders was based on the depreciation schedule in place at that time.  The Washington State Supreme Court has ruled that the schedule could not be modified under the existing bond contracts.

A depreciation schedule which is more favorable, especially to owners of newer cars, was adopted by the Legislature in 2006.  This newer schedule will go into effect when the Sound Move bonds are retired in 2028. At that time the original 0.3 MVET will also expire and the tax will be reduced to 0.8 percent.  

Why is the RTA tax on my vehicle higher than it was last year?

The 2016 vote in favor of Sound Transit 3 (ST3) increased the MVET rate by .8 percent to a rate of 1.1 percent annually, or $110 for each $10,000 of depreciated vehicle value. These taxes will be used to extend the light rail system region-wide, from Tacoma to Everett and from Redmond and Issaquah to Ballard and West Seattle; expand Sounder Commuter rail to serve more passengers; provide bus service in key corridors; and add parking and access improvements at rail stations.

I received a Shortage letter. What is it?

Sometimes this tax is not collected at purchase or renewal. If that happens you will receive a shortage letter from the Department of Licensing (DOL). The RTA tax has to be paid before you can renew your car tabs.

Information about how to pay the shortage bill can be found in the shortage letter.

PDF iconSample shortage letter (pdf)

Why did I receive more than one shortage letter?

MVET is assessed by vehicle. If you own multiple vehicles, you will receive a shortage letter for each vehicle that was not assessed the tax at the time of its car tab renewal.

I already paid a shortage, why am I paying it again?

If you own multiple vehicles, the shortage previously paid may have been for a different vehicle. Check each VIN and associated year of shortage to make sure it is not a duplicate. If it is a duplicate, please contact Department of Licensing (DOL) customer service or 360-902-3770.

Certain addresses along the RTA boundary may have been assessed shortages multiple years in a row due to timing of annexations or state GIS updates and car tab renewal periods. If you have received a shortage letter for more than two years in a row for the same vehicle while being located at the same address during the entire two year period, please contact Sound Transit customer service at main@soundtransit.org.

How can I find out if my shortage payment was received?

Sound Transit doesn't have car tab account information. The Department of Licensing (DOL) administers and collects the RTA tax on behalf of Sound Transit. To obtain shortage payment or other information about your car tabs, contact your local DOL office or the DOL Olympia office or 360-902-3770.

I lived in the RTA when I renewed and paid the RTA tax. Now that I've moved, can I get a refund?

The RTA tax is assessed at the time of renewal using the vehicle's address of record and is not pro-rated or refundable. Please make sure your address is updated with Department of Licensing (DOL) in accordance with state laws each time you move.

When did I start paying property tax to fund Sound Transit?

Voters approved a property tax increase of $.25 per $1,000 assessed property valuation in November, 2016 in order to fund Sound Transit 3 (ST3). The tax goes into effect in January, 2017.

How is my property assessed?

This tax is based on assessments of property valuations done by Assessor's offices in King, Snohomish and Pierce Counties.

What relief from property taxes is available to senior citizens and to people with disabilities living at low income?

Senior citizens and people with disabilities whose primary residences are in Washington State who meet household income and other eligibility requirements can utilize programs that help reduce or defer property taxes and/or special assessments.  Visit the Department of Revenue for information about property tax exemption or deferral programs.

How much of the Sales and Use tax does Sound Transit receive to build and operate mass transit?

With voter approval in November 2016, the RTA portion of the sales and use tax you pay for purchases made within the Sound Transit District has increased from .9 percent to 1.4 percent, or 14 cents on a $10.00 purchase. To see the total level of all state and local sales and use tax collected in your city including the RTA tax, visit the Department of Revenue.

Question still not answered?

Please email Sound Transit at main@soundtransit.org.