Advocacy Group Fights to Put the Transit Customer First

Group commits to fighting inter-agency politics, arduous transfers, and irrational fare structures

Image: Seamless Bay Area
Image: Seamless Bay Area

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Imagine if the Bay Area’s 27 transit agencies took the same tickets, billed passengers by the same rate for distance traveled, and all the rail, bus, and ferry systems operated under a single brand as far as the rider was concerned.

That’s the dream of Seamless Bay Area, founded in May of 2017 by a group otransportation planners and advocates, including Ian Griffiths and Beaudry Kock. Both have lived and worked in other cities and seen how world-class transit systems can be integrated successfully. But for some reason the Bay Area, along with other American regions, seems incapable of getting its act together when it comes to rationalizing fares and coordinating schedules among different transit agencies.

Streetsblog sat down with Griffiths and Kock to talk about why, what they hope to do about it, and why they decided to start the Bay Area’s newest advocacy group.

***

Streetsblog: So for, well, forever, SPUR, the Transit Riders, TransForm, Friends of Caltrain, and many others, including Streetsblog itself, have been banging their heads against the wall trying to get the Bay Area’s transit agencies to abandon revenue neutrality, coordinate fares, coordinate schedules, etc. We’ve got Clipper and a few transfer discounts but so far nobody’s been able to really crack this nut. Why will you succeed where everyone else has failed?

Ian Griffiths: I moved away a few years ago to take a job in Toronto, to work for their regional transportation authority, Metrolinx. They’re an effective, and relatively new, agency with the power to mandate regional integration to create a vision for a region. Like the Bay Area, Toronto has multiple transit agencies. But here there’s basically nothing going on in terms of vision. So when I got back here–I’m a planner at BART now–I started asking around in my network here and at the nonprofits. They’re all saying that no group is really taking on this issue of our flawed governance model.

SB: There’s the State Rail Plan. That’s a start, if it ever gets done.

IG: That’s exciting. But what I heard from the Transit Riders, from SPUR, Friends of Caltrain, and from TransForm–the more I spoke with them, they said that no organization was taking it on and it’s important and worthwhile to have a group focused singularly and primarily on governance reform.

SB: It’s so interesting that the one thing that requires no real big infrastructure should be the hardest to fix.

IG: It’s the low-hanging fruit. It’s the easiest thing to do. But when it comes to governance, people act like ‘you don’t touch this.’ So in May we formed this group along with a bunch of other transit professionals and advocates because we all want the same thing.

SB: Beaudry, you have a similar story? You used to work for Ford.

Beaudry Kock: After I left Ford, I went to the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, and they have similar problems to the Bay Area. You have a regional operator entity, but from a rider standpoint, if you’re a bus rider you’re treated differently from a train rider, a train rider is treated differently from a ferry rider–and the whole experience for the customer of trying to navigate the systems is crummy and crappy. It’s like Millbrae.

SB: Yes, the poster child for bad transit integration–BART, Caltrain, but nothing’s coordinated and you can waste an hour transferring from one to the other.

BK: Right. My hope is that this group, if we can just get the agencies to act differently, a lot of this stuff could be done by cooperation rather than legislation. They could plan better, coordinate schedules, operations. SFMTA has all-door boarding on its buses, so why can’t that spec be shared with the other Bay Area bus operators? Why is there no sharing of structure and organization funding? We need to get them to think this way, like a Transport for London (TfL).

SB: I lived in London. Right–you have the Oyster Card and a zone fare system, and it doesn’t matter if you take the tube, a surface train, it’s all the same ticket and the same fare. So that’s your vision for the Bay Area–an Oyster Card, zone system?

BK: The fares vary by mode, distance and other factors, but the fare payment system and branding is unified.

IG: The first thing that we need is a bold and inspiring vision of what transportation could be in the Bay Area. We want people to know what it would look like and feel like and attempt to calculate some of the real improvements people would experience in time-travel savings and improved reliability. We want to paint that picture of an excellent future transportation system that’s seamlessly integrated. Then we have to agree on how to get there. State legislation is one path–something that would change how agencies relate to one another and centralize functions such as scheduling and fares, customer experience, and branding. There should be a state mandate to do it at a regional level. We know there’s potentially other ways of getting there, other mechanisms, such as a ballot measure. We will approach each of the agencies separately, but first we want the vision to get excited about because it’s harder to come up with excuses for why this is not possible if everyone is excited about it.

SB: I’ve always thought any ballot measure funding should absolutely mandate regional coordination in order to receive any of the funds. I mean, we need to make it impossible to build another station if it’s going to be operated like Millbrae.

IG: Right now the agencies are all planning for a different future. When I look at Muni and BART and they have a new project, it’s depressing to think, even with the planning for a second Transbay Tube, there’s currently no confidence that we’ll be doing things in a better way if and when it’s built.

SB: Meaning they’ll build a new transbay tube for BART and Caltrain but they’ll still run on uncoordinated schedules with different fares. Yeah, that would be depressing.

BK: That’s really possible, because we just don’t deal with the issue of governance. Take Transport for London (TfL)–they increased bus ridership 70 percent and subway ridership went up 40 percent just from the consolidation of operations and management and the work of a highly professionalized staff. By contrast, can you imagine Golden Gate Transit hiring a service designer like TfL or Metrolinx did? TfL got a team that built up Oyster.

SB: It is seamless over there. You never really know–or have reason to care as a rider–that you’re transferring from agency to agency as you move through the system. So what’s London got that we haven’t got?

BK: The mayor and political side of the city are woven into the board and direction of TfL, so there’s accountability.

SB: Right. London’s Mayor Sadiq Khan is chairman of the TfL Board.

BK: With BART you don’t have an accountable regional system. Who is accountable for actual regional mobility? It’s not BART. They consider their responsibility only from the moment you enter the BART station to the moment you leave. We have the appearance of accountability, but all the local agencies resist; they want to keep that local control. We have this fragmented landscape. So nobody is accountable for the region.

SB: What about the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC)? Isn’t that their job?

BK: But they have no real supervisory authority.

SB: MTC can’t fire anyone at SFMTA or BART or SMART for not getting with the program.

BK: I don’t think so.

SB: I’ve heard people at MTC say we’d love to push for more integration, but it’s not in their mandate.

IG: MTC has existed for 50 years and we have the system we’re in. Something has to change at MTC. Let’s envision the system we want and design the governance to get us there.

BK: MTC is just not empowered to do this. They do planning but with very few teeth.

IG: There might be some simple modifications to the law that can change that. Or we might have to rethink MTC and many other agencies.

SB: Maybe we can just buy an angle grinder and get someone to cut the bars at Civic Center between Muni and BART [note to the BART police below*]. You’ve heard of tactical urbanism. Do you see room for tactical transit integration?

How often have you climbed up from the BART platform and missed your Muni transfer because of the awkward connection? Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
How often have you climbed up from the BART platform and missed your Muni transfer because of these pointless bars? Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

IG: From a tactical point of view that’s something we think about a lot about. What are some of the small things we can tackle? Beaudry’s term is “tactical seamlessisms”

BK: Yes, like tactical urbanism.

IG: The weird thing is BART owns the whole station. But no one takes responsibility for making sure there is a seamless and convenient transfer for customers. There are things we can do to help people experience what it’s like to not have these barriers. That might help us fix the broader issues. Some members are specifically interested in working on those things.

SB: How many members are we talking about?

IG: There are about 100 on the mailing list and a core of about twenty who are actively involved.

BK: Building grassroots support is really really important to building political support.

IG: We’ve been trying to talk with people within the agencies. There’s been many attempts to fix this from inside, trying to get the board of MTC to talk with BART or Caltrain–to try and fix the problems from the inside, but that’s always failed. It’s worth a shot, but we’ve failed at the previous attempts.

SB: So they’ve integrated transit in Switzerland, Germany, France, the U.K. Why are we so far behind again? It’s that governance thing?

BK: There has been an ideological struggle in the U.S. between people who don’t trust government and people who want government to do more. The resulting strong localism rooted in U.S. political history has made it hard to think regionally. U.S. transportation has been a casualty of the larger ideological divide where people don’t trust government, so they split up the power structures. So we end up with 27 different agencies to run one transportation system.

IG: 28 if you add the new Tri-Valley San Joaquin Valley Regional Rail Authority.

SB: 28 now? Oy.

IG: Each agency is grappling separately with TNCs and coming up with their own policies about how to deal with them. Everyone’s doing their own original pilot programs around these things. It’s ridiculous that’s not happening on a regional level. The future of public transit is in danger unless we get our act together.

SB: Has any U.S. state managed this kind of regional integration that you seek?

IG: Yes. Georgia just passed legislation mandating the centralization of a number of functions of the transit systems, including a unified brand, and integrated fares across the 13-county Atlanta area. Seattle too… Sound Transit was pushed by a grassroots movement to create more transit and to do the capital planning for the entire region. It was central when they passed their funding measure.

SB: So before any more funding can be released, the transit agencies must sign onto a sort of transit constitution…is that your idea?

IG: A passenger ‘Bill of Rights.’ It’s about the public funds.

BK: Every missed train or bus connection is a waste of human potential. And that all stems from the agencies failing to do simple things.

SB: Where do you see yourselves in five or ten years?

IG: We don’t want this to be just another advocacy organization. It’s about achieving a goal. Some day we want to cease to exist. It’s a fundamental conversation to have… we need to have it before we start asking the voters for a lot more money. SPUR came up with the Seamless Transit report in 2015, of things to do, and none of these recommendations that were supposed to be low hanging fruit are going anywhere. When you don’t have the governance piece figured it out it is hard to move anything forward.

SB: And that’s the key part you aim to fix.

IG: Yup, that’s where we come in.

Beaudry Kock and Ian Griffiths next to an AC Transit bus that they hope one day will have the same brand, fares, etc with every other bus and train in the region for a Seamless Bay Area. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

*Metaphorically speaking. And thank you for your service.

This interview was edited.

  • chris

    Isn’t a big part of the problem the different sources of funding for the different transit agencies? Some jurisdictions are willing to tax themselves or mandate various sources of revenue for transit and some aren’t. It’d be difficult to convince agencies who’ve managed to get relatively generous sources of revenue to give some of that away to agencies with stingier constituencies. In other words, if San Franciscans value transit more than Marinites (is that what they’re called?), it’ll be politically difficult to convince SFMTA to transfer money to Golden Gate Transit or Marin Transit in order to make it easier to travel between the two counties.

  • Wanderer

    You’d need to start by convincing the 90% of Bay Area residents who live outside San Francisco that “transit integration” isn’t code for “give all the money to San Francisco.”

  • david vartanoff

    Actually the basic issue is the costs of the services are so high that none of the agencies is willing to give up a single dime to give riders better service. Example; a decade or so ago I said to an AC mid level mgr, that it was crazy to charge riders a double fare if they used BART as an express between two AC local buses. He replied AC needed every rider they could get. And, from the other side, I was glad to see Z Mallett turned out because he objected to Muni Fast Pass bearers getting a discount on BART within SF.
    If MTC were not a Taj Mahal builder, it would make sense to have them run everything; unfortunately that would be even worse than what we have.

    As a baby step toward ending duplication, we ought to find a way to get all of the payroll, accounting, and other office stuff unified and outsourced to some company that does it mostly with machines. Next should be joint bus procurement so as to have more clout w/ the builders.

    About the angle grinders, yes those bars were a retrofit after the transfer of the upper level to Muni–I have BART paperwork showing their route to St Francis Circle which is why the joint use stations have full length platforms and the narrow Muni tracks are offset away from the side walls.

  • david vartanoff

    One way to address that would be to unify the taxing but distribute to the operating agencies on a fixed fee per rider–if you don’t attract riders, you don’t get much funding.

  • Ethan

    Should the fixed amount be adjusted for transit lines that today charge by distance? If so, how? Otherwise how will those providers be convinced to join the program?

    Also, doesn’t the program take away the option of raising fares when needing to balance the budget? Without that, a shortfall could mean service cuts on low ridership lines or times of day, and increased service frequency where it produces more ridership. Great for those folks. Bad for people with their service cut.

  • Liz Brisson

    I definitely agree that governance is the problem and I don’t see a solution that doesn’t involve state intervention. MTC is the only transpo entity that represents the entire Bay Area region, but their governing board is predominantly suburban (each county and the cities of each county get 1 seat, typically a city council person or county supervisor plus a few miscellaneous ones). Many have values and priorities that relate to highways or roadways or support transit but not the density needed to justify it. I think a clearer transit system management mandate and the powers needed to enforce it would help. What I’m not sure is whether it’s better to have a new transit governing board comprised of elected or appointed officials. Both have drawbacks.

  • Sean

    Steve Heminger basically runs the show at MTC. He is like the Don that if he helps you out you may have to pay back the favor years later. If he wanted to restart the TSP, he could.

  • Michael Escobar

    This is the first I’m hearing of the Tri-Valley San Joaquin Valley Regional Rail Authority. They want to build a rail line over the Altamont Pass. So why is California High Speed Rail building a tunnel underneath it?

  • Edward

    Wrong pass. CHSR will build under Pacheco Pass to connect from the Central Valley to San Jose via Gilroy.

  • p_chazz

    It was suggested by the Train Riders Association of California (TRAC) that CALHSR use Altamont Pass, the pass that railroads have used for 150 years but the consultants and contractors saw to it that a much more expensive route was chosen.

  • keenplanner

    “MTC can’t fire anyone at SFMTA or BART or SMART for not getting with the program.” MTC controls the purse strings for Bay Area transpo projects, so they can, absolutely. Will they? Have we seen them prioritize efficient transit so far? They seem to love pouring money into BART projects.
    SPUR un-deftly skirted the issue when asked point blank about unifying Bay Area transit agencies. They just wanted to point out how many now take Clipper and change the subject. It made me wonder who they are working for.
    Most drivers will say that they would ride transit if it were convenient and fast, so someone needs to sit down study origin/destination data and see what key routes are missing. Bay area transit seems to still think that all the jobs are in San Francisco.

  • keenplanner

    …and TRAC still can’t get past CAHSR’s decision to use a different route. To me, it makes sense to run through San Jose. Much more so than running through Palmdale.

  • keenplanner

    Heminger’s legacy will be all the spineless Plan Bay Area documents that fail to reduce GHG enough to meet State goals, the botched Bay Bridge process and the slow but expensive Oakland Airport Connector, and, probably, failing to make the buses run on time.

  • keenplanner

    And every transit agency represents another little political fiefdom with funding that locals aren’t willing to let go of, public be damned.

  • keenplanner

    Funding is complex and I would guess that all agencies get local, state, and federal funding. Funding sources all have different hoops through which to jump. Will the money be used for operating costs, new rolling stock, parts and repairs, expanding services, etc.
    A combination of funding is the rule.

  • jonobate

    I would argue that the issue here is that the MTC governs an nine-county area that is far too large for a single transit agency, while the currently existing transit agencies have service areas that are far too small and often overlapping.

    The census defined San Francisco-Oakland Urbanized Area (shown in the image below) is a good starting point for defining an SF-focused transit agency. This agency would control all the local bus service in the that area, and also commute services such as rail and express bus that would extend beyond the boundaries of that area into the exurbs.

    In practical terms, this means consolidating Muni, BART, Caltrain, AC Transit, Golden Gate Transit, Samtrans, and the ferries. I would probably suggest ceding to VTA Fremont & Union City on the east side of the bay, and Menlo Park & Redwood City on the peninsula, as residents in these cities are more likely to commute south to Silicon Valley rather than north to SF.

    https://globaltransitblog.files.wordpress.com/2016/03/sf-urbanized-area2.jpg

  • Michael Escobar

    I seem to recall vaguely that the debate about the route included considering whether to bring HSR through San Jose or not. Didn’t Atherton and the other Peninsula cities try to push the Altamont option? On the other hand, if going via Altamont, then you have to cross the Bay somehow. Although I suppose it might be possible to cross the Bay for cheaper than it will cost to tunnel under Pacheco… #notanengineer

  • p_chazz

    As I recall, TRAC’s proposed routing followed the UP tracks to Fremont, where there would be a BART connection and the tracks would split, with some trains going south to San Jose and others going west and north to SFO and San Francisco. That was something of a workaround. But the real stickler for me was the fact that the elevation of Pacheco Pass is twice as high as Altamont Pass, requiring construction of a 13-mile long tunnel, the longest in North America, A bay crossing would probably be a lot cheaper, but with Elon Musk’s Boring Company, who knows? .

    I think that CALHSR will end up like the Superconducting Supercollider, in Waxahatchie, Texas. It would have been the largest particle accelerator in the world, until it ran out of funding after spending $2 billion.

  • I live in San Francisco and for decades I’ve watched infrastructure funding and operating subsidies pulled out of the city and into the suburbs. City residents do not get anywhere near their per capita share of the infrastructure funding. BART lives in the East Bay and looks east for new construction. Every BART ride gets about three times the operating subsidy of a Muni rider. That is even though almost half of all public transit rides in the entire Bay Area occurs within in the city. I fear that a regional super-agency would act as a way to funnel even more money out of the city to subsidize inefficient, low density suburbs. The only way I would agree to vote for this would be if the regional agency were located in the city, near the majority of their customers and experiencing what they do (and hopefully fixing some of it), and if current Muni per capita funding were guaranteed as an unbreakable minimum floor.

  • mx

    That’s part of the governance problem. Nobody besides professionals and the most hardcore of transit geeks know who Steve Heminger is (or even what the MTC is). In a city like London, people know who is responsible for transportation, and they’ll blame TFL and the mayor if something isn’t working. Here’s the guy responsible for regional transit in the entire Bay Area, and not only is he accountable to nobody, nobody has even heard of him. Nobody is cursing Steve Heminger’s name because they’re waiting an hour at Millbrae because the schedules aren’t synchronized or because they got locked out of their Clipper card for a week after their credit card expired.

    It’s not too much better at the agency level either. SFMTA’s independence was billed as a way to stop political meddling, but the result is that politicians are insulated from service failures. When Muni Metro has one of its frequent meltdowns, nobody even bothers to get a quote from the mayor anymore; it’s just not even news. It doesn’t happen when things go really wrong, and it sure doesn’t happen when routine failures happen day after day, such as being stuck in the tunnel for 20 minutes waiting to get to West Portal.

    We’re not going to get better transit unless elected officials are somehow held accountable for it.

  • mx

    That plan seems like it would trap bad transit where it is. You don’t have enough riders because the service is too poor, but you can’t improve the service because you don’t have enough funding, but you can’t get more funding because you don’t have enough riders.

  • Bernice Greenspan

    What do you care about rules. You bring your bike on the escalator despite signs everywhere telling you it is against the law. Thats a fact!

  • As I argued above, the real transfer is the other way around. Just because urban transit is more efficient does not mean it should get dramatically less per capita funding.

  • Kevin Withers

    Well you are in luck! MTC spent an obscene amount of public money to purchase and remodel its new Taj Mahal HQ, in SF.

    They sold the project to the public at $48 mil, then went on to spend $218 mil… because Heminger is czar, in case you forgot.

    “The only way I would agree to vote for this would be if the regional agency were located in the city, near the majority of their customers and experiencing what they do”

    As a city, SF…. yes it’s true, merely 10% of Bay Area population, but believe they are everyones daddy.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    The real question is why anyone would build a railroad _over_ Altamont. Tunneling through Altamont would be a most minor engineering achievement.

  • David

    Yes, funding is complex. However, agencies already have agreements that split up various pots of money. For example, STA and TDA funding formulas are established on a per-county basis with a rail-then-bus hierarchy. Transit agencies already have the ability to track their finances, so this existing infrastructure could be used to make sure the money goes to the right place.

    For example, AC Transit–one of 28 different transit agencies in the Bay Area–has three distinct funding-based service zones. That is why Fremont has so much more bus service than warranted compared to Richmond. And they split up their TDA/STA with BART, AC Transit, and so on.

  • p_chazz

    But aren’t “locals” the “public”? I don’t think you can fault people for not wanting to sacrifice their immediate self interest for some nebulous greater good.

  • David

    MTC already theoretically coordinates things like fares and bus procurements. They don’t actually, though, because they are too busy being in the real estate business to care about more than distributing transit funding across the region using the status quo method. The biggest obstacle to solving the Bay Area’s transportation coordination problem is MTC itself. After all, its CEO decided to waste over a hundred million dollars moving its HQ to SF rather than staying in more centrally located, easier-to-reach-by-BART downtown Oakland.

    So sometimes transit agencies try to coordinate things themselves. For example, several transit agencies joined together for a recent bus procurement. But weirdly, however, the buses ended up being more expensive for some of the agencies because of the way the private sector priced their bids. Agencies like Golden Gate Transit and Marin Transit both paid in the neighborhood of $100K more per bus by being part of the County Connection order than if they had gone out on their own.

    And you know why they even did that in the first place? Because CARB was threatening to put burdensome restrictions on new bus orders that would have literally meant that transit agencies could no longer buy heavy duty transit buses. Sure we could armchair quarterback the process and say GGT and MT should have called CARB’s bluff, but what if CARB hadn’t been reasonable? GGT and MT would have ended up with no buses!

    As you can see, there is a lot of broken bureaucracy in this state. The rot starts at the top (California, Caltrans, etc.) and gets worse with MTC. Then all these little agencies like SamTrans and Santa Rosa CityBus are left to fend for themselves. It’ll take some meaningful regionalism to fix these problems, but as long as you have guys like Aarson Peskin around who don’t let people sneeze in their fiefdoms without express approval, it’s going to be an uphill battle.

  • David

    Don’t forget the Taj Mahal headquarters because he wanted to retrofit an industrial building into offices in SOMA (so he could pretend to be a tech CEO?) rather than have a new building built in downtown Oakland for >$100 million less. Plus let’s not forget the absurdly over-designed new Transbay Terminal, which didn’t quintuple in price like the Bay Bridge but definitely doubled or so.

  • p_chazz

    Good luck, but I don’t see this going anywhere anytime soon. There was a move on for a “Greater San Francisco” in the early 20th Century, spurred by the consolidation of the New York boroughs into New York City, but it went nowhere. People have every reason to be suspicious of consolidating local authority into a larger organization over which one exerts no control for some nebulous greater good. Unless you can demonstrate that service will improve or fares will come down fuggedaboudit.

  • David

    SPUR seems to have really cowered on regionalism. I was involved in a project related to regionalism that had received MTC funding, but somehow the project magically disappeared and turned into a few quaint workshops with Stanford business grads. To say I was disappointed is an understatement.

  • David

    Muni carries a fraction (i.e., less than 50%) of the Bay Area’s total transit ridership, and it consists of a fraction (i.e., less than 50%) of the Bay Area’s residents. Sure its per-capita transit ridership is much higher, but if you want to fix the problem of broken public transit, you need to invest in public transit in the entire region. After all, where do you think all those cars in SF came from? Hint: Marin, the Peninsula, and the East Bay. With your parochial mindset, nothing will ever get fixed.

  • Again, I did not ask for anything additional (not even the same subsidy BART or CalTeain riders get). I just asked to protect what little we have. I am not interested in seeing Muni gutted to pay for further relatively low-ridership BART extensions – which is what I expect will happen.

  • LazyReader

    Transit nationwide loses 50 billion dollars a year because it’s run by bureaucracy that’s more interested in providing benefits to transit agencies and rail engineering firms than it is providing actual demand based transportation. Public transit as we know it will inevitably collapse by 2030. the four horsemen of the transit apocalypse include:

    – Low fuel prices: Whether gas………..or future, electricity price of electricity is 13 cents per kilowatt-hour ( 8 bucks to charge a Chevy Bolt), even the most expensive electricity in Hawaii at 30 cents per kw-h costs the driver 18 dollars to charge.
    – Ride-sharing services: have eaten away at nearly half of new transit riders. Even urban millennial’s, the most car hating group of tattooed, starbucks loving hipsters, have basically swarmed ride hailing services.
    – Maintenance backlogs: Tens of billions of dollars of crucial maintenance has gone
    ignored, mostly the finances have gone towards, expanding and construction of rail transit services beyond geographic relevance.
    – Unfunded pension and health-care liabilities: The biggest Nail in the coffin. The danger is that, when transit agencies lose their customers, they’ll still have hundreds of billions of dollars in debts and unfunded liabilities. Unlike the maintenance backlog for high-
    ways and bridges, which could be easily eliminated with a small increase in fuel taxes or other user fees, the transit industry has no hope of fixing its backlog by raising transit fares. Those fares do not begin to cover operating costs, much less the costs of maintenance or improvements.
    This is why it is important to begin now to plan the transition from publicly subsidized transit and massive urban rail projects in cities without the population to a small scale, demand oriented or privatized transit services. This means the industry should
    stop building new rail lines; replace most existing rail lines with buses as they wear out; pay down debts and unfunded obligations; and target any further subsidies to low-income people rather than continue a futile crusade to attract higher-income people out of their cars.

  • David

    I think your username is pretty accurate, because this argument fails to recognize several learned lessons in and the very nature of the public transit industry. Just a couple points for you to chew on…

    1. It is not an interest in providing benefits to employees and contractors that causes so much expense but rather a requirement that public transit serve the public under the framework of Title VI and ADA requirements. The private sector is not obligated to follow the strict requirements set forth under these laws, which allows them to offer demand-based services at a fraction of the cost of public transit.

    2. One of the primary causes of the decline in transit ridership is the availability of driver licenses for undocumented residents. Politicians passed a feel-good measure without acknowledging the consequences to a large, publicly subsidized industry. This is exactly the same sort of failed acknowledgement that occurred when beefed up Title VI requirements were set out under the Obama administration and ADA was introduced under the Bush Sr. administration.

    Baby boomers have an addiction to free money, as demonstrated again by recent tax cuts approved by the Trump administration and Congress, and they continue to kick the can down the road hoping to reach a point in time when they expect to have died, forcing their children to pay the price for their extravagant lifestyles. Expect a massive contraction of our country’s wealth and financial position in the indeterminate future. Unfunded pension and health-care liabilities won’t matter when the United States becomes so economically subservient to China, who owns a considerable amount of our country’s debt, that we lose our national identity. We might have a chance to right the ship, but it seems unlikely with our current trends, so imagine the economic collapse of countries like Greece and Venezuela but at an exponentially larger scale.

  • LazyReader

    Funny you bring up Greece and Venezuela, because they’re bankrupt for exactly the right reasons. Excessive spending. It is not easy to accept that new technologiesare replacing one’s core business, a prospect that is currently facing many retailers, such as Sears. Private companies such as RadioShack and Blockbuster Video have been able to wind down their operations without fuss, but owing to its self-perception as serving the public good, the transit industry continues to feel entitled to its $50 billion in annual subsidies. Instead of caving in to demands for more subsidies, elected officials and policymakers should begin to prepare for an orderly phase-out of publicly funded transit services. Transit agencie should stop building rail transit. Buses made most rail systems obsolete nearly 100 years ago. Cities and municipalities shouldn’t be saddled with billions of dollars of debt. Existing rail lines as they wear out (Rail infrastructure has a 30 year life span, at that age, either replace/refurbish it or let it fall apart), replace them with buses. The costs of rehabilitating lines suffered from years of deferred maintenance is as great as the costs of building them in the first place. Unlike rail buses are not an irreversible commitment of resources. New York City and the surrounding metro is the ONE PLACE where rail lines make any sense. But even there, the use of electric buses or rubber tire metro should be considered an alternative to spending Billions on rehabilitating rail infrastructure (New York had the opportunity to repair the subways in the 2000s’ Instead of spending to fix it’s 7 Billion dollar maintenance backlog they instead are spending 10 Billion for the 3.5 mile long East Side Access to connect long island to grand central. Spent 4.5 billion on the first 2 miles of the 8 mile Second Ave Subway, pus 2.4 billion on the 7 Subway line extension). Transit agencies should make priority of paying down their Debts and unfunded pension/healthcare obligations. Agencies should not saddle future taxpayers with those obligations. Finally instead of subsidizing all transit riders, target subsidies to low income and disabled people. Transportation maybe vital to the US economy, Public transit however is not, especially outside New York City. When Ride sharing will make it operationally redundant. Whether driverless cars render public transit out of business in the next 10-15 years, agencies should stop wasting money on expensive noncompetitive transit services and focus on providing basic cost effective services for those that need transit the most (The Poor, the disabled, the elderly or urban residents whre traffic is too intense)

  • Andy Chow

    Basically with these TNCs and so called private transit, people who are the workhorses are not considered employees, and not entitled to basic things like worker’s compensation, sick days, and minimum wage. Saving money by not treating people right is self delusion. The transit demand is there, and people still have to make a living (and take care of the health).

    It will be a very sad day if a transit agency is laying off its workers and telling them to drive “with” a TNC while redirecting money from transit operations to TNCs.

  • Andy Chow

    WETA/SF Bay Ferry basically unified all the public ferry operations in the Bay Area except Golden Gate Ferry. It was a state intervention. Ferries of course are very minor in terms of overall transit ridership and expenditure, and therefore are less problematic to merge operations.

  • Liz Brisson

    I don’t think you can blame Steve Heminger for the Transbay Terminal. I would reserve that for the TJPA Board and staff http://tjpa.org/tjpa/the-board/about-the-board

  • xplosneer

    Are you familiar with the idea of an externality?

  • xplosneer

    “Next should be joint bus procurement so as to have more clout w/ the builders.”

    Hello I work for Gillig please do this I want to build nice things instead of 102348792374 customizations for the 1-bus orders we get.

    (punctuation intended)

  • JustJake

    Unless the stale, long over-ripe Steve Heminger is forced to leave the MTC, we will never see improvement. The guys ego has no limits.

  • Sean

    I took the Oakland Airport Connector to and from the airport last week. Rather than gambling on traffic in an Uber, I was there and back quickly. I was with one other person so the price would have been the same as Uber, but that ignores that Uber is losing money too (they subsidize the price of the ride in order to compete with driving and mass transit).
    An article from a year ago claims the connector is losing money (doesn’t most mass transit lose money). Is it still in the red, or is it in the black now?
    When I took it, the car was full. Maybe if they roll back the price a bit to compete with Uber, they’ll make the same anyway. Why not do this until Uber stops subsidizing their rides in a few years (I’m assuming once the taxi industry is almost gone)?

  • DG

    With Proposition 6 on the Ballot in November 2018. If the Proposition 6 is passed could that be a wake-up call for our Governance to get its act together.

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Overcoming the Barriers to a Seamless Bay Area Transit Experience

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Ratna Amin is SPUR’s Transportation Policy Director. This piece originally appeared in SPUR’s The Urbanist. The Bay Area’s prosperity is threatened by fragmentation in the public transit system: Riders and decision-makers contend with more than two dozen transit operators. Inconsistent transit experiences and disjointed planning and investment make our transit system less efficient, less usable, […]