Local Advocates Mourn “Death of Transit” as Part of National Campaign

RIP_BART.jpgMock funeral for transit today in Oakland. Photos: Matthew Roth

Transit advocates, transit riders, politicians, and religious figures mourned the continual underfunding of transit operations by staging a mock funeral for public transit above the 12th Street/Oakland BART station today. The event was tied to a national campaign led by Transit Riders for Public Transportation (TRPT), the Transportation Equity Network and Transportation for
America to pressure Congress to provide funding for transit operations.

"Operating funds are desperately needed," said Rev. Scott Denman, Rector at St. John’s Episcopal of Oakland and President of Genesis, which helped organize the Oakland event with Public Advocates, Urban Habitat, TransForm, CALPIRG, and BOSS. "It’s time to understand and remember the grief that is in our communities because of what is happening to transit, the impact that transit cuts are having on our poor, the impact that it’s having on our economy, the impact it’s having on our environment."

As the recession deepens, public transit operators struggle with declining public funding and revenues, a situation that has led to fare increases (SFMTA, BART, AC Transit and East Contra Costa County buses) and expected increases (VTA, SamTrans, Caltrain) throughout the Bay area. According to press material from Public Advocates, operating deficits this year exceed $350 million regionally.


“I depend on AC Transit for everything I need,” said bus rider Sylvia Darensburg from East Oakland. “AC Transit used to run like clockwork. Now, however, routes have been cut and buses run less frequently, even as fares go up. Late buses have cost me jobs due to tardiness, and I’ve has been forced to turn down many better-paying jobs because they are inaccessible by public transit.”

With no help from the state budget, and judicial remediation for transit
at least a year off, speakers
at the funeral encouraged support of HR 2746, introduced by Rep.
Russ Carnahan of Missouri and co-sponsored locally by Rep Barbara Lee and
Rep Jerry McNerney. The legislation would give local transit
systems the ability to use anywhere from 30 to 50 percent of their
federal capital grants to pay for local operations.

"Transit service is a critical part of our transportation network," said Carli Paine, Transportation Program Director for TransForm. "And, by keeping our buses, trains and ferries running, operating funds accomplish a triple bottom-line: they provide access to people who rely on it, create jobs, and help meet climate and health goals."

Given the sorry state of California finances, it’s clear advocates have turned their efforts to Washington. Unfortunately, even if the house bill is passed, it could get caught up by California’s own Senator Barbara Boxer, who has already delayed the re-athorization of the transportation act for at least a year and a half.

"To cut congestion and pollution and restore our economy, we need Congress to give Californians more transportation options by investing in our local bus and rail services," said Emily Rusch, State Director for CALPIRG. "This week’s disappointing state budget deal cutting roughly $1 billion from California’s public transit agencies demonstrates that the solution lies in Washington."

  • marcos

    Looks like SOMEONE’s organizing around transit issues instead of just advocating.


  • This demonstration is intended to support H.R. 2746, which would allow transit agencies in large cities like New York to spend up to 30 percent of their federal funding on operations.

    My first reaction is that this would mean much less capital funding available for better transit infrastructure. Because fare hikes are politically unpopular, city governments will avoid them by killing capital projects and diverting the money to operations. Cities would give riders bargain fares (which would not even keep up with inflation) rather than funding capital projects to improve their transit systems.

    The sole purpose of this bill is to divert money away from capital spending to operations.

    Given the great need to improve transit infrastructure, I think we need to provide separate funding for operations in addition to existing capital funding, rather than reducing available capital funding to support operations.

  • marcos

    @Charles Siegel:

    1. Today’s transit capital spending is tomorrow’s transit operations spending.

    2. Transit will never pay for itself through the farebox.

    3. Increased transit use achieves stated federal goals of reducing reliance on imported petroleum as well as reducing the amounts of harmful pollutants released into the atmosphere.

    Federal operations funding consolidates on precarious resources already allocated before taking on more load that the system cannot afford to operate.

    It is critical that the federal government take a more proactive role, similar to that in which California had led the way for years, in subsidizing all aspects of transit.

    Even under the most ambitious of the proposed amendments, capital would still get, what, 2/3 of federal funding?


  • You need both operating and capital funding to keep transit service running. Presently, federal funding is almost entirely dedicated to capital projects, with a heavy emphasis on rehabilitation and expansion. These funding sources are statutorily protected from encroachment. Take for example 5309 New Starts, 5309 Bus & Bus Facilities, Surface Transportation Program — and most of CMAQ and 5307 Urbanized Area Formula Grants. Every transportation bond in California is restricted to capital as well. Operations funding, on the other hand, doesn’t enjoy such protection. We need dedicated federal funding for transit operations, and a firewall around it so it can’t be raided. When it is raided (as it is often the case), the first to feel the hit are the millions of low-income people who rely solely on transit service for their basic mobility. HR 2746, while not perfect, is a valuable first step in restoring federal support for transit operations.

  • Richard Mlynarik

    I don’t think there can be any doubt that MTC is a purely criminal organization designed solely to maximize public-private wealth transfer.

    Can anybody name any *single* instance in which its executive directory, Steve “$5 billion Bay Bridge cost overrun” Heminger or its board have every once advocated for or voted for the public’s interest contra the constuction/consultancy mafias’?

    BART to Millbrae, BART to San Jose, BART to Oakland airport, Caldecott Tunnel, new Bay Bridge span, TransLink, FasTrack, BART to Warm Springs … the list is endless, and the same cast of less than ethical operatives are behind it every time.

  • J. Austin

    I work for a transit agency. We’re just about to the point of holding bake sales to fund operations. But if it’s capital-related, it doesn’t matter how stupid the project is, there’s millions of dollars to fund it from the feds. Our Board’s approval rating is a function of how much benefit we can get the local taxpayer for his dollar. That benefit doesn’t even have to be in the form of transportation. It can be construction or IT job creation. Either way, what’s the best course of action for our Board? Bias our agency’s priorities as much as possible towards capital. That way, for our buck, we maximize the spending of other people’s money, namely, Uncle Sam’s. That’s why every Nowheresville, USA is getting a light rail system. If we don’t get it, someone else will. Most people assume the transit agency is in the business of transportation. Wrong. The transit agency is an apparatus for distributing federal money.

  • I am for HR 2746 (30% federal tax dollars to be used for transit operations). At this point every avenue should be exercised to ensure quality day-to-day operations of public works; that includes public transportation. The thing is that we still need to make sure these fed dollars are duly-distributed by transit authorities. I tend to agree with Richard M’s comment above that MTC’s real agenda is to transfer public wealth to private control. With the SFO-Millbrae capital expansion the target population to benefit were frequent flyers and tourists from the outlying Bay Area communities. When it was time to pay up, Millbrae couldn’t pay because that abundant fare, tourism income never happened. The price ticket was passed on to innercity bus and BART riders and taxpayers by minimum fare, parking increases and longer wait times for fewer trains. History threatens to repeat itself with the Airport Connector rail project. The local taxpayers (that means the urban and suburban taxpayers–including 3 commissioners) that attended the 7/22/09 MTC budget meeting–which I was there also–believe there is a more financially sound alternative to the 500 million dollars and climbing price tag on the rail Oakland Airport Connector project. A capital project that is promising to be much more, if MTC’s past track record holds true. Well, there were more against the approval of the Airporter plus the 3 commissioners that voted “nay”. Anyway the joint commissioners voted to proceed full speed ahead despite the red flags raised. Time to bust up that social club for the elite and bring in some real representatives ‘representative’ of all Bay Area residents’ transit needs.



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