Advocates Want Transit Boards to Keep Zooming

Who really has time to get downtown and sit around for three hours to make a two-minute comment anyway?

The County Transportation Authority board in 2017. Remember in-person meetings? Advocates want a virtual option to remain for public comments. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
The County Transportation Authority board in 2017. Remember in-person meetings? Advocates want a virtual option to remain for public comments. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

Allowing the public to speak at board meetings of the Bay Area’s transportation agencies is, in theory, a great way to get input from riders. But in practice, people with jobs and kids and life’s normal obligations don’t have the time to travel to downtown Oakland or San Francisco to attend meetings and wait around for several hours to make a two-minute comment.

Pandemic Zoom meetings have changed that dynamic.

Now people can get about their day and listen in until it’s time to speak–and no trek to some office building is required. There’s also a huge equity component to this. “Only white wealthy people have time to show up in person at any kind of ‘regional’ meetings in downtown San Francisco in the middle of the day (i.e. MTC meetings),” wrote Ian Griffiths of Seamless Bay Area.

That’s why Seamless is lobbying hard to get a virtual meeting option maintained for public comment after all pandemic limits on in-person meetings are lifted.

“During the pandemic, virtual public meetings turbocharged transit advocacy across California, enabling many more people to speak up for rider and worker safety, integrated and equitable fares, service restoration, and more,” wrote Seamless’s Stephanie Beechem in a recent blog post on the matter.

BART director Rebecca Saltman agrees:

“The ability to provide remote public comment has been powerful for transit riders who are able to make their voices heard without having to schlep to boardrooms for long meetings, enabling more people who have work and family responsibilities to participate,” wrote Green Caltrain’s Adina Levin in an email to Streetsblog.

Members of the MTC Blue Ribbon Transit Recovery Task Force participate in a virtual meeting in May 2020. (Photo by Seamless)
Members of the MTC Blue Ribbon Transit Recovery Task Force participate in a virtual meeting in May 2020. (Photo by Seamless)

“Now, as the state plans for a full reopening in June – and Gov. Newsom’s executive orders are slated to sunset once California is no longer in a state of emergency – transit agencies and other boards have started to discuss how future public meetings will be managed. These discussions have important implications for California residents and advocates,” continued Beechem in her post. “Without attention and advocacy now, Californians across the state may lose virtual access to public meetings when the pandemic ends. This will make public advocacy for more seamless and frequent transit – and many other areas of interest to our region – much more difficult. That’s why it’s so important to speak up now in support of continued virtual and dial-in access to public meetings.”

Seamless has put together a list of upcoming board meetings where readers can chime in and ask that a virtual option continue.

SamTrans Board meeting – Wednesday, June 2, 2:00 p.m. PT

  • Agenda will be posted here

Caltrain Joint Powers Board meeting – Thursday, June 3, 9:30 a.m. PT 

  • Agenda will be posted here

WETA Board meeting – Thursday, June 3, 1:30 p.m. PT

  • Agenda will be posted here

VTA Board meeting – Thursday, June 3 at 5:30 p.m. PT 

  • Agenda and meeting details will be posted here

“Enhanced access to public boards and leaders via virtual meetings has been one of the few silver linings of the pandemic. It would be a major setback for California residents and advocates to lose this essential access now,” concluded Beechem in her post.

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