Editorial: For a Mega Measure to Work, the Rider Must Come First

The voters need to know it won't be business as usual if there's to be any hope of passing a huge measure to reinvent transit in the Bay Area

Image: Bay Area Rapid Transit
Image: Bay Area Rapid Transit

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The San Francisco Chronicle had a great story today, reviewing why BART doesn’t go across the Golden Gate Bridge to Marin.

From the article:

A 1956 poll found that 87.7 percent of Marin residents wanted a BART line. Two San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit Commission studies, one in 1955 and a second in 1961, reached the same conclusion: The bridge was structurally capable of carrying trains on a lower deck with minor modifications. It seemed like the simple, fiscally responsible solution. BART’s trains could glide on a retrofitted Golden Gate Bridge to serve a transit-deprived community that overwhelmingly wanted BART.

This sentence really stood out in light of the region’s germinating $100 billion “mega measure” to expand regional transit throughout the Bay Area:

But commuters riding BART trains on the bridge would likely mean fewer people driving across the bridge, which meant fewer people paying bridge tolls. And less toll revenue was not something the Golden Gate Bridge District directors were going to accept sitting down. Behind closed doors, they plotted to quash the plan.

Unfortunately, putting the interests of millions of Bay Area commuters behind the parochial interests of bureaucrats and agencies is, all too often, still the prevailing attitude.

Caltrain and BART refuse to coordinate schedules. There are virtually no discounts between BART, Muni, and other systems. We have BART lines that could run at five or ten-minute intervals but don’t because of union interests requiring that every train have an operator, even on lines where there’s clearly no need for one (such as on the 1.7 mile Millbrae-to-SFO spur). We have trains and buses full of hundreds of people waiting behind individual motorists.

And we have a Metropolitan Transportation Commission, ostensibly the agency that should be leading a regional transit vision, continually punting on fare integration.

If this remains the attitude from public officials, how will advocates ever convince the majority, let alone two-thirds of the region’s population, to vote “yes” on a sales tax or any other revenue generator for a $100 billion measure? For that matter, how will transit advocates even convince themselves?

Fortunately, it’s not too late–if the agencies take inexpensive but concrete steps with current services to show that the rider is going to be first.

That means the Clipper Executive Board of the Metropolitan Transportation Commission approves a fare-integration study and vows to move away from revenue neutrality. That means Alameda County Transit starts to serve Treasure Island directly, instead of making current and future residents ride to San Francisco to get to Oakland. It means running five-minute BART shuttle trains between SFO and Millbrae, with no additional fare for Caltrain passengers, so there’s a little less encouragement for people to use Lyft and Uber to get to the airport.

And how about cutting the bars between Muni and BART?

In fact, why not do a press event to officially announce the mega measure in the Civic Center or Embarcadero stations, where the heads of SFMTA, BART, MTC, the transportation union, and mayors from throughout the region pick up an angle grinder and each cut a bar between the two systems. What better symbol to show that these agency heads are willing to get their hands dirty and physically intervene to build a regional system that puts the rider first?

The bars between BART and Muni. Another example of the way customers are mistreated by transit agencies. Photo:
The bars between BART and Muni. Another missed connection, and a great example of the way customers are mistreated by transit agencies. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

And then we should find symbols such as these cage bars, dividing different transit agencies physically and in every other way that makes it harder to get from A to B throughout the region, and continue hacking away at them.

That’s what it will take to convince voters that they’d be supporting a tax that would build a better system for riders, not just more trains that don’t connect, take too long, cost too much to ride, and are still subordinate to motoring interests.

What would it take to get you to trust our region’s planning and transit agencies to shepherd a $100 billion mega measure? Post your thoughts below.

Also, be sure to sign Seamless Bay Area’s petition for fare integration.

  • Great ideas! I’d add that for me to support it, the “Mega Measure” needs to be a progressive funding source. A regional sales tax is even more regressive than bridge tolls. It’s time for the Bay Area’s employers to pay their fair share.

  • Ethan

    I’ll have to see the list of what the money will go towards, how much per project, what’s the plan when projects start going over budget, and why I should trust there won’t be more examples like BART diverting voter-approved money out of one pot to fill a deficit in another pot.

  • mx

    This is all great, and I share JspiderSF’s concern with the regressive nature of a sales tax increase. To this great list, I’d also add that I’d love to see a lot more quick-fix improvements of the “walking around and pointing at stuff that’s broken” variety. BART ticket machines shouldn’t be covered in a confusing array of paper signs. Muni bus stops should be more noticeable than a yellow rectangle hidden behind a parked car. Maps should be easy to find at stops and on transit vehicles. Make the escalators and elevators work. When they don’t work, have the basic respect for your customers to post a sign saying when they’ll be fixed and pointing to the nearest ones that do work; people are dragging luggage up stairs because they don’t know there’s a working elevator around the corner. Go stand at Powell Station, help the confused tourists, and fix everything about the place until all their questions are answered. Fix all the signage, everywhere, to make transit easier to navigate. Clipper cards should always give you the cheapest price, with automatic accumulator passes, and not require esoteric knowledge (how is anyone supposed to know that Caltrain requires you to seek out a hard-to-find machine to tag out, while you can’t tag out from Muni?). Paint bus lanes, and enforce them, all over the place.

    None of this stuff costs billions of dollars or takes decades or requires large-scale regional cooperation. What it requires is leadership who ride transit daily and are constantly taking action to improve their systems. Do that, and it would go a long way toward rebuilding trust.

    But mostly, what I want isn’t $100 billion in huge capital projects. I want the service we have now to come frequently and reliably. A future where we spend billions on a second transbay tube only to now have two tunnels with 25-minute waits for trains on the weekend is essentially pointless.

  • david vartanoff

    The tax measure MUST include fare integration mandares as well as levels of service. No more “reprogramming” of funds or I, transit dependent, vote NO. About the bars at Civic Center, I have an angle grinder…

  • KJ

    I would like to see serious consideration of bringing back trains to the Bay Bridge (which it was built for!) rather than another underwater BART tunnel. Also, Dumbarton rail rebuilt (connecting Caltrain, ACE, BART, Capitol Corridor, etc.) before we even discuss more BART lines and/or tunnels. And yes, a focus on transit-only lanes and bikes & pedestrians. All of these things should be done pronto.

  • p_chazz

    Only the west span of the Bay Bridge was originally built for trains. The east span and the ramps from the bridge to the Transbay Terminal were not.

  • p_chazz

    The existing, balkanized transportation system needs to go. There first needs to be consolidation among transit agencies. It would be possible to cut costs by reducing overhead. This would be accomplished by eliminating administrative staff and realizing economies of scale in procurement.

  • JustJake

    #1 – The abolition of MTC. It’s proven corrupt & inept.

    “What would it take to get you to trust our region’s planning and transit agencies to shepherd a $100 billion mega measure? ”

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