MTC Report Shows Dismal Future for Transit Operators

cost_to_run_small.jpgImage: MTC

The 2009 Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) Annual Report paints a sobering picture of funding crises at nearly every Bay Area Transit operator — crises we’ve covered extensively on Streetsblog — and sums up the situation bluntly: "There is no way to sugarcoat it: These are difficult, daunting days for public transit in the Bay Area."

The report rightly points to endemic land-use and auto-centric development problems in the Bay Area that make transit less attractive for many than driving: "The Bay Area’s transit system operates under the difficult combination
of unpredictable revenue sources and unsustainable cost structure on the
one hand, and underpriced auto alternatives and insufficiently
transit-supportive land uses on the other."

One of the more troubling aspects of the report, as KALW’s Nathanael Johnson wrote on the Bay Area Transit blog, is that the picture is only going to get worse without a significant change in course. Operators have already cut service and raised fares, but new capital costs will add additional burden and farebox recovery rates aren’t going up.


"The MTC added up the projected budgets of the agencies and found that operating costs would exceed revenues by $8 billion over the next 25 years, while planned improvements (like new buses and the Warm Springs BART station) will require someone to dig up an additional $17 billion in spare change from under the couch," wrote Johnson.

The report also contends that transit operators have fallen short in performance. Since 1997, after adjusting for inflation, transit costs in the Bay Area have increased by 52 percent, while revenue hours of service increased by only 16 percent and ridership increased by only 7 percent.

"That is a terrible return on our regions’ transit investment and it should cause us to think long and hard before committing future funds to such a low-yield strategy," the report concludes.

The report compares Bay Area transit systems to a patient with
chronic illness, and the most recent two-year difficulties as a spike in
the fever: "When the fever passes, this patient will not be restored to
good health. Unless fundamental changes are made, the underlying,
chronic conditions will reappear, and all energies will be channeled
into the struggle to cope, with no real hope of thriving."

While the report is negative and cautionary, the MTC states rightly that while the current system is unsustainable, it is not "on a path of irreversible decline" and transit is vital to the health of the region’s economy.

Furthermore, the growing imperative to combat climate change, according to the report, "means that our
growing population must learn to drive less — and to take transit more


As a result, the MTC is launching a Transit Sustainability Project focusing on three
solution areas for the transit dilemma: service design, cost containment and institutional arrangements. The MTC says it will conduct analysis of transit efficiency
across every agency similar to the VTA’s Comprehensive Operations
Analysis and the SFMTA’s Transit Effectiveness Project.

"Both have
pointed the way to a more rational system," according to the report.

Though the report’s authors acknowledge they "have more questions than answers as to how the region’s transit system
can be repositioned to achieve higher levels of efficiency and service
effectiveness," they make repeated reference to a solution that has come up numerous times at recent MTC meetings: Consolidate some of the 28 transit agencies that currently operate in the Bay Area with the goal of attaining efficiencies and reducing redundant service.

Without a transition from the current unsustainable course of action, the report says, "we will fall short of the resources our regional transit system needs by a cool $1 billion a year over the next quarter-century."

  • Is that picture an anti-transit ad?

  • Before I even read this, I’m with Aaron. WTF is up with that ad?

  • Jym Dyer

    =v= Where’s the accompanying ad showing how much the highways and other car costs stack up against farebox recovery?

  • Jym, sshhh – don’t disrupt MTC’s narrative.

    Also, maybe the MTC needs to come to grips with the fact that shiny fancy projects that get politicos photo-ops aren’t the best use of money for transit agencies. Warm-springs extension and Central Subway are just going to exacerbate current operational cost problems – all while sucking up needed funds (and yes, I understand that most capital improvement money can’t be used for operations).

    But man, that 4th bore is so so needed.

  • Jym Dyer

    =v= Comments on the graphics aside, now …

    It is the MTC’s job to fund the region’s transportation, not to sit on the sidelines wringing its hands with “more questions than answers.” The MTC solicits public input for periodic Regional Transit Plans and the result is always the greenest document you’ve ever read, which is then immediately ignored when they allocate funds.

    Nothing will change until the MTC’s funding priorities do.

  • bob rogers

    How about we start by getting rid of the MTC? How much money is wasted in this bureaucracy? How about the money they stole from tax payers to change the name of the translink card? It’s time to see what $100k and $200k salaries we can get rid of from our local transit agencies. First person to go should be Muni’s Nat Ford.

  • mrcawfee

    Honestly do you expect a person who is running an organization of thousand employees to work for 50k or 100k a year?

    seriously how could you get an administrator to take on that many employees and that much responsibility and get paid crap? the only people that would be willing to accept that are going to be terrible.

    I never understand why any time the budget debate comes up atleast half the comments are “nat ford makes too much money” when you will NEVER find a top administrator in the private sector with that many employees making so little money. It boggles my mind about that is the thing that people looove to point at all the time.

  • bob rogers

    Do you honestly believe that man deserves that kind of money??? Look, I am all in favor paying administrators a competitive salary – WHEN THEY DESERVE IT.

    There are lots of people working in government making lots of money for doing very little wor. Their only qualification is not what they know, but who they know.

  • Noah

    bob rogers, at best you are arguing that we should hire somebody better for the job. But, that won’t help with the budget issues.

    More than anything, what this shows is that the “fares are too high” folks are off their rockers.

  • FYI, the graphic shown in this article isn’t an ad — it’s p. 5 of the annual report that’s linked in the story. About half the pages are graphics that pull out main points of the report (this is common practice for an organization’s annual report). So I think we can all breathe a sigh of relief, as there’s no reason to believe this image will be appearing at a bus shelter near you.

  • Njournalist

    Not everything has to be partisan people. The report also makes it clear that failure is not an option – that as population booms in the Bay Area and as we work to reduce ghg emissions we are going to need good, affordable transit more than ever. This isn’t an anti-transit report – it’s just saying that we need to make some big aggressive changes if we really want to achieve these goals.

  • Njouralist, the message was received. I fully understand what they are saying, but talking and doing are two completely different things. And looking at MTC’s track record, this is just blowing smoke out their ass.

  • And Sasha, it isn’t an ad. I just was typing quick. But where in the MTA report is a picture of some commuter sitting in traffic with the same tag line about the cost of roads/highways vs fees recovered?

    Those types of pictures (whether part of an annual report or not) are exactly the mis-information that stifles constructive transportation dialog.

  • Daniel Jacobson

    It’s okay, I’m sure building BART to San Jose, BART to Livermore, and the Oakland Airport Connector will solve everything.

  • @Noah The statistic shows that the farebox recovery ratio is too low. You can look at one side of the ratio, fares, and say that since the recovery ratio is low fares are not too high.

    But I think our real problem is with the other side: we get far too little service out of each fare dollar we spend. Muni should be running massive surpluses on the core lines which are literally crammed like sardines during commutes, which would help subsidize the neighborhood routes.

  • Thomas

    BART should focus on building a line under Geary Boulevard which would instantly become a hit. BART to San Jose is a nonstarter when it comes being financially sustainable. And they don’t have to build a second tube for a Geary line. They could have the tracks somehow split between Civic Center and 16th street and continue down Geary. And you could run the Dublin/Pleasanton line through Geary mitigating the need for cramming in another train through the Transbay Tube.

  • david vartanoff

    Gotta chuckle. MTC is by law the arbiter of how Fed/State/local capital and operational funds are divvied up, and they have “discovered” that there is a funding problem! So now they want a TEP style analysis of how to savage local service and make it look like they are just eliminating “duplicative” efforts.
    For at least 20 years there has been a recurrent call to abolish most of the transit agencies and in the same period the LA MTA has devolved several local councils to have decisions made closer to the riders. On the east coast, the Wash DC Metro has been reducing bus service causing Montgomery County (and other jurisdictions)to create its own bus agency to serve its citizens both intra county and accessing Metro rail stations.

    As to the real money issues, first, the healthcare and pension deals ARE too ridership per driver has gone down as buses are ever slower, and yes Ford is overpaid as well as not getting the job done.

  • Quick, anybody nane one single occasion at which MTC Executive Director Steve “Quentin’s Boy” Heminger has ever acted in favor of the public interest over that of the transit-industrial contractor complex. Come on! Just one example!

    It’s pretty rich to see one of the most egregiously corrupt and kickback rewarding agencies in the state complaining about the poor value of thescams that its staff actively promote and fund with our tax dollars.

    “Wow. MTC’s transparently fradulent megaproject scams of the last 30 years have sure failed. Uniformly. Spectacularly. Whatever can we do? I know! Let’s give Steve “$5 billion Bay Bridge Cost Overrun” Heiminger more money to fix things! That will fix things, for sure this time!”

  • Mission Mom

    MTC has very little oversight over the operating budgets of the 28 Bay Area transit operators. MTC funds car-centric boondoggles that we will live to regret, yes. AND we have unsustainable, inefficient transit systems. We can’t just perpetuate the status quo. We (and transit) have to get dramatically better.

  • Bob Malito/BART Train Operator

    Why do these Managers get bonuses? These are companies funded by tax dollars and bonds. Why during the last 4 years, when front-line employees took NO increase in pay to do their part during the national financial crush, did BART managers take pay RAISES & BONUSES?? Mr. Margro & Ms. Duggar’s situations highlight Management’s complete withdrawal from reality! Maybe they are due money for vacation on the books but to earn over $30,000.00 in bonuses per year when they are not working anymore? The BART Board and the county Politicians responsible for overseeing that public monies are not misused haven’t been earning their fat paychecks with the job they are & have been doing for far too long!
    Where is the powerful investigative reporting on these issues? Where is the Public outcry for having their tax dollars wasted like this? When is enough, enough? The time is now, before it is too late! Write your Representatives, Congressmen, Senators, and local politicians as well as every Bay Area newspaper, radio and television station to get the word out. We, the Bay Area Transportation Employees, only want what’s fair: A living wage, decent retirement benefits, health care for us and our families as well as a safe work environment. When we are injured on the job, we get nothing paid into our retirement account. This is no longer acceptable as it never should have been! Make yourself heard!!!

  • Mel C. Thompson

    The FBI came out and admitted that they would investigate BART and MTC, (and the last time they investigated BART it was all contractor kickbacks), but that 9/11 has left them short of manpower. I called the State of California and they admitted that they do no oversight of BART or MTC. Then, if you call the Counties, literally none of the County Board of Supervisors knows anything about any of these transit systems nor anything about their internal workings, nor have they ever investigated it. So the MTC and BART are completely un-policed and are free to shower favors upon their contractors any time they like. In LA, where contractor sweethearts aren’t eating up every dollar, they get whole whole multiple rail lines built in the time it takes the Bay Area just to get one extra stop. You know what, now that I think about it. I’m old and sick. I don’t have a family. I think I should just go and be the one who demands an investigation. I’ve got no money, so I can’t be sued. I probably won’t be around that long anyway. Plus, I already know an assistant US Attorney. I’m sure he’ll know exactly who to refer me to. (MTC is currently in a love affair with contractor Cubic, who can supply all of London with Clipper Card Readers, but not a few buses in Contra Costa, although you can be they got the contract and money. It’s time we got these books opened.

  • Mel C. Thompson

    So Ford is the sweetheart contractor eating up the money out there. Yeah, well, I’ve yet to see corruption on Bay Area Scale. And what’s funny, is if you go to any BART employee and say, “I know our money’s being stolen,” they all readily and enthusiastically agree and all freely admit, at every level of government, that they’re pretty sure billions are being stolen from us, and they all admit that no one wants to be the one to start this ball rolling because, frankly, there is probably no major politician who isn’t being paid by these subcontractors not to open this up. In fact, when I said to one Northern California Board of Supervisor person decades ago: I know who you take bribes from, he didn’t even dispute it. He just told me to go, and then the next week that subcontractor’s workers had surrounded my house, and suddenly, “The street around my house needed repaving, although it had just been repaved.” The Contractors OWN Northern California, in the pocket.

  • Mel C. Thompson

    Once you get South of Alameda and San Francisco and Marin and Contra Costa County, all of the sudden transit dollars work efficiently again. Why is that? That’s because San Francisco, Alameda and Marin, especially, are simply and utterly just all bribes and kickbacks to transit contractors; and that’s why it takes ten times the money to open a transit stop in Northern California as in anywhere south of San Mateo County. The Mafia’s influence starts to wane when you hit Santa Clara County and South. But anything San Francisco, Oakland, Marin. Our union was all organized crime. It’s all mostly just pure stealing. The Bay Area differs from other areas. Other areas all have contractor skimming, biribes and kickbacks, but they skim at about 10%, so you don’t feel it so much. In the Bay Area the stealilng is so crazy that it’s literally like several hundred percent stealing per every dollar of actual service delivered. I mean, if we pay a dollar in tax money to a transit provider, I’m saying that three dollars will be stolen out of four dollars we give them. For every dollar given, three are stolen. So the ratio is so crazy. And what’s weird is, I walked up to contractor workers and said, “You’re all mafia,” and they all shook their heads enthusiastically and agreed. So I called the police, and the police said, “But don’t you know that everyone already knows this. No one will ever bust them.” Then I called the City and said, “It’s all stealing,” and they were like, “Oh yeah, for sure. So what can we do for you?” So no one is even embarrassed. I think they Feds got paid off so handsomely that essentially SF, Alameda and Marin are an FBI no-go-zone, so the contractors and governments all know that it’s 100% guaranteed that they get to do all the bribes and kickbacks they want. You’ll never hear of the FBI taking one step near any SF agency. Decades ago, when they used to, before the FBI got paid off to never investigate SF agencies, every time the FBI went in, they’d have to bust almost every manager. You almost can’t find one whose not on the take. So, it’s weird, because you’d think progressives in SF would care, but they don’t because they’re too busy hating Israel or whatever they do on Market street out of sheer impotent uselessness. Funny, in the old world I grew up in, if just everyone knew and printed in public that all this stealing is going on, I think someone would have audited these agencies, so it’s kind of surreal that everyone knows who all the crooks are, admits to it freely, prints it, talks about it on the phone, and the Feds just shrug. Weird. It’s like Mexico, but more surreal, because I kind of had the illusion that we were a little better than that. It must have been an ethnocentric delusion on my part.

  • Mel C. Thompson

    MTC seems to only care for contractors. It’s just a contractor superfund, as far as I can see; and only most begrudgingly is any money really ever spent on much of anything to do with really serving the public. We really need to find an insider at the MTC, someone who’ll confess. I know a US Attorney in a Southern California County. He’s not bought off. I’m sure of it. It’s an old friend. I’ll see if he knows anyone in SF, at the Fed level who isn’t on the take. He specializes in bi investigations. We can’t prove anything yet. We have no evidence. So we need to establish probable cause. I think showing how LA can build a whole line or two with a dozen stops each in the same time it takes the Bay Area to add even a single stop. That discrepancy should establish that reasonable persons could need to know what the explanation for that difference is.

  • Mel C. Thompson

    Bob: Is there a way to vote the MTC out of existence. I’d devote my life to getting rid of those people. I’ve never felt in my heart, even though
    I have no proof, so strongly, that the MTC is at the heart of Bay Area transit corruption.

  • Mel C. Thompson

    The MTC got voted in my the California Legislature to “handle transit for the Bay Area.” Here’s what happened. The Legislature made a mistake, because they had no idea how corrupt the MTC we be. They had no idea that the MTC would just be hacks for super-contractors who would just pocket the billions and do almost no work. Literally, my Board of Supervisors is only just learning how bad BART and MTC are ripping us off. Your own Assemblyperson and State Senator don’t know. We need a ballot measure to disband the MTC so that transit agencies will get the money they need to operate without having it stolen from them. I mean, as it is, the Transit Agencies are themselves having to pay out bribes and kickbacks to the mob contractors, but the MTC ads another layer so that first the MTC showers goodies on tons of contractors, and then, after that, when the individual agencies get their tiny portion, after the MTC eats a tons of it, then the local thieves have to have their cut on top of that. So there’s literally nothing left, which is why trains are rotting and buses stink and there’s no transit police and no janitors to clean the bathrooms at stations, or the fake, “security” reason, so that in SF there’s not even any restrooms. What a scam. I reporting all this right now to the entire State Senate. And Jerry Brown was himself a prosecutor, but he had no way of knowing what the MTC would be like. Kamela Harris is out Attorney General. We need to call her and ask her to crack open this organization and look at where the money disappears to, and whose lifestyles are outsized compared to their salaries. We need to get some forensic accounting going on.


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