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Hope for Bay Area Transit as State Budget Deal Reached

It's not 100 percent guaranteed yet, but a last-minute deal seems to have restored billions in transit funding that will allow BART, Muni, AC Transit and other agencies to maintain services

New BART train

Thanks to the efforts of thousands of advocates and hard-working politicians and staff, a last-minute deal was hammered out in Sacramento over the weekend to provide emergency state funding for the Bay Area’s transit agencies. From a statement issued Monday from San Francisco’s Senator Scott Wiener, who lead the fight:
The Legislature’s budget agreement is a very positive first step toward securing the future of public transportation in California. Though significant work remains to avoid our transit systems’ fiscal cliff — which was created by the end of federal pandemic emergency aid before transit ridership fully recovered — this budget agreement solves a significant portion of transit systems’ collective operating deficit. It does so by allocating $1.1 billion in largely cap-and-trade funds over three years to public transportation operations — allowing those funds to be flexible and thus eligible for transit operations. This is a very meaningful step in tackling the fiscal cliff, and we estimate that, over the next three years, this flexible funding eliminates as much as half of the Bay Area’s transit fiscal cliff.The Legislature’s agreement also reverses the Governor’s proposed $2 billion cut to transit capital funds, which are absolutely essential for shoring up, improving, and expanding public transportation in California. The agreement then allows the entire fully restored $4 billion capital fund to be flexibly used for transit operations. It is my strong hope that public transportation agencies will be able to minimize their use of these transit capital funds for operations. Transit capital projects are critically important for our economy and climate goals. Moreover, due to Congress and President Biden enacting the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law last year, we’re seeing the largest federal investment in infrastructure, including transit infrastructure, in generations. For every dollar California invests in transit infrastructure, it will receive up to $10 in federal matching funds. It would be short-sighted to cannibalize significant transit capital funds and forfeit billions in federal matching funds.
By cannibalize, Wiener is referring to a previous budget draft from Governor Newsom that offered to restore threatened capital funding for transit and allow agencies to use it for operations if they chose – which would have forced BART, Muni, AC Transit and other systems to choose between planned improvements or reduced schedules and slashed services. “I’m thrilled that the California Legislature has stepped up to fund transit operations,” wrote District 3 BART Director Rebecca Saltzman in an email to Streetsblog. “The $1.1 billion in cap and trade funds will prevent immediate devastating service cuts that many transit agencies, including BART, had been considering.”
The crowd earlier this month in front of City Hall in San Francisco. A similar rally was held in Oakland. Photo: San Francisco Transit Riders
“The funding that looks like it’s going to be available from Sacramento will make a real difference in continuing to allow BART, Muni, and AC Transit to provide the level of service the Bay Area expects,” SPUR’s Nick Josefowitz told Streetsblog.But as with past emergency funds from the federal government, the regular struggle to beg and bargain for dollars to keep transit solvent points to a much larger issue with how the region’s trains, buses, and ferries are continually given short shrift.“We don’t expect libraries to fund themselves. We don’t expect public schools to fund themselves. We don’t even expect highways to fund themselves,” said Josefowitz. “The expectation that transit is a business as opposed to a public service is misplaced.”Along those lines, District 4 BART Director Robert Raburn told Streetsblog that the funds will go towards making BART more of a public service, rather than a quasi for-profit enterprise tasked with moving relatively wealthy commuters from the suburbs to 9-to-5 jobs. “I don’t think it [the budget deal] solves all of our woes, but it definitely gives us an opportunity to move towards continuing our service and building ridership,” he said. He added that in September the plan is to start offering twenty-minute headways on all of BART’s lines on weekends and late in the evenings. Currently, trains run at thirty-minute intervals on the branch lines during off-peak hours. He also said BART is hiring police, rolling out more secure fare gates, and cleaning cars more frequently, all of which he argues will increase ridership in a post-COVID, work-from-home world. “I think we can climb out of this by getting more butts in the seats. It’s that simple.”
Protester dressed as Gavin Newsom finishes smashing a Caltrain pinata at last Thursday’s demonstration. Image: Cyrus Hall’s Twitter
Advocates, meanwhile, breathed a sigh of relief. “A lot of people worked very hard over the last few weeks,” said Robin Pam of Kid SafeSF. “I think it shows that when advocates come together and really rally around an important cause like this, the leaders listen and we can make a big difference.”“I’m glad to hear about the additional funding for public transportation, and I’m grateful to Senator Wiener and the countless advocates — many of who are grassroots volunteers — for their work on securing critical funding for our public transit agencies,” wrote advocate Luke Bornheimer, who helped organize a demonstration last week with the group Safe Street Rebel. “It’s long past time for Governor Newsom and other policymakers to increase funding for public transportation and lead on transportation justice and climate action.”“We’re grateful to the legislators, including Senator Wiener, who have worked to make the Governor’s proposed budget into a better one for people who use public transit – and for the health and well-being of all Californians. Sustaining and improving public transit is essential to meeting California’s commitments to equity, sustainability, health, and housing for all,” wrote Livable City’s Tom Radulovich in an email to Streetsblog.The legislature votes on the budget Thursday.The post Hope for Bay Area Transit as State Budget Deal Reached appeared first on Streetsblog San Francisco.

The post Hope for Bay Area Transit as State Budget Deal Reached appeared first on Streetsblog California.

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