Call to Action: Sign Petition to Put the Rider First

Seamless Bay Area launches drive to start Bay Area towards rational, integrated fares

Image: Seamless Bay Area
Image: Seamless Bay Area

Note: GJEL Accident Attorneys regularly sponsors coverage on Streetsblog San Francisco and Streetsblog California. Unless noted in the story, GJEL Accident Attorneys is not consulted for the content or editorial direction of the sponsored content.

In response to continued parochialism from transit directors, the group “Seamless Bay Area” has launched a petition to create a single, rational, integrated fare structure for the Bay Area’s 27 different transit systems.

From the advocacy group’s petition page:

Public transit must work as one seamless, connected, and convenient network across the San Francisco Bay Area and beyond. Getting around on transit must be as fast and easy as driving a car. Coordinated bus, rail, and ferry routes and schedules should encourage effortless transfers. Consistent and clear customer information, branding, and maps should make using transit simple and dignified.

“We launched the petition both to build support for fare integration, but also for broader reforms that may be introduced over the next year, particularly as discussions over a future ‘mega’ transportation funding measure continue,” wrote Seamless’s co-founder Ian Griffiths in a direct message to Streetsblog.

The petition, which was launched just before the Independence Day holiday break, will be sent to a range of lawmakers, from state Assemblymember Phil Ting to state Senator Jim Beall, BART board chair Bevan Dufty, and the SFMTA’s Malcolm Heinicke.

Hail a Lyft or an Uber, and you pay one fare, with one app, and one rational, distance-base charge to get from your origin to your destination. But take transit from A to B, and you’re faced with a disassociated, irrational, and confusing bunch of charges, depending on whether you use AC Transit, Muni, BART, or any of the other 27 systems. This has long been the bane of Bay Area transit advocates–and Seamless wants to fix it.

A map of the London transit system, with its fare zones, all integrated under a single fare umbrella. Image: TfL
A map of the London transit system, with its fare zones, all integrated under a single fare umbrella. Image: TfL

The group wants Bay Area transit fares to work as they do in Toronto, London, Switzerland, and elsewhere. In those places, an umbrella agency collects fares in a rational, integrated way, so from a rider perspective it doesn’t matter if they’re taking an equivalent of Caltrain, or SamTrans, or VTA–fares, over the same distance, are the same, and paying them is simple. Riders, in fact, don’t even always know they’re transferring between systems. “The Seamless Transit Principles have been developed to guide local, regional, and state decision-makers to pursue a seamlessly integrated, world-class transit system that works for people,” writes the group on its page.

Just last month at the nine-member Clipper Executive Board of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, managers of Caltrain, BART, AC Transit, VTA, and other agencies voted not to even study fare integration, despite the pleas of transit advocates from Seamless, SPUR, and Friends of Caltrain. This makes statewide efforts to integrate transit fare systems look like a mere academic exercise.

A few days after the vote, Streetsblog spoke with MTC chief Therese McMillan about the decision, and she insisted that fare integration is “not going to be put aside.” She pointing out that the next time the issue will be considered by the MTC, in the fall, there will be different people voting and heading up key transit agencies, including at BART and SFMTA.

The transit advocates hope that, with this petition, those new managers will be encouraged to take a more regional perspective.

“The petition has been in the works since before the Clipper vote but the timing has worked out well such that we can now use the petition to channel people’s anger about that event into action, and hopefully get that study back on track,” wrote Griffiths.

Read more about the group’s Seamless Transit Principles. And be sure to sign the petition.

  • chris

    I’m very sympathetic to almost all of the principles. I do wonder about how fare integration would work given that different jurisdictions have made very different decisions (often through ballot measures that can only be changed at the ballot box) about how much to spend on transit. Would fare integration suck resources away from urbanized areas such as San Francisco that have made transit more of a priority than many suburban areas? If so, would redistributing money away from areas that are more conducive to transit to areas that have much more car-dependent land use patterns result in a better regional transit system?

  • David

    To answer your question, no. Fare integration comes more in the manner of free transfers between systems. Considering how much fare evasion exists on Muni to begin with, who cares if somebody transferring to Muni from AC Transit gets a free ride? At least some percentage of the AC Transit fare would find its way to Muni, as opposed to Muni not getting any money period. Plus more riders overall means we can offset any revenue loss from an individual person with more money from somebody else.

  • david vartanoff

    Can we gut MTC in the bargain–as an MPO they are the largest single impediment to improving transit in our region.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG