Op-Ed: Funding & Reforms Needed to Prevent Bay Area Transit Going off a Cliff
If our region doesn’t act quickly to both identify a major new sustainable source of funding - and introduce governance reforms to create a seamless system - Bay Area transit may never be able to recover, let alone thrive.
An important conversation begins this Monday, December 13th from 2-4pm with an MTC Listening Session on a Regional Ballot Measure; it will be more important than ever for riders to speak up!
Twenty-one months into the COVID-19 pandemic, it might appear that public transit, like many aspects of life in the Bay Area, is settling into a “new normal.” While service isn’t as plentiful as it was pre-pandemic, BART is at least back to running trains until midnight again; Muni and AC Transit are running 75-85% of pre-pandemic service. While most buses and trains don’t come as often as they used to, some might conclude that maybe that’s not so bad – after all, people are commuting less, and working from home is likely to be more widespread in the future. Perhaps we just don’t need as much transit as we used to.
Unfortunately, despite the perception that public transit is “back,” it is very much operating on borrowed time in the Bay Area and is nowhere near approaching a new, sustainable normal. We have only been able to keep the reduced transit service we have thanks to one-time federal aid, which staved off catastrophic service cuts. Nearly every Bay Area transit agency is now approaching a ‘fiscal cliff’ when the federal dollars run out. The Bay Area’s largest transit agencies, BART and SFMTA, are each projecting annual shortfalls $250 million in 2024; Caltrain, AC Transit, and other agencies are in similarly challenging financial positions, facing a combination of very slow recovery of ridership, reduced local tax revenues, and increased costs.