Tag Archives: Transit

Shortsighted San Diego – Rejecting Transit for Sprawl?

The global population will pass 7 billion within days. The worldwide oil supply is dwindling. We’re already living in an atmosphere which has exceeded ideal carbon concentrations. The CO2 parts per billion are projected to rise exponentially in the decades to come, together with related environmental and human health impacts. And on Friday, San Diego is poised to commit the next 40 years to building more highways at the expense of desperately needed transit – unless they hear from us.

California is famously the nation’s incubator for smart policy, and it’s taken the lead at the state level to reduce greenhouse gases. SB 375 (California’s Sustainable Communities and Climate Protection Act) has been effective since January 2009, and requires that metropolitan planning organizations throughout the state create “Sustainable Community Strategies” (SCS) to meet greenhouse gas reduction targets.

San Diego County is the first in the entire country to draft a comprehensive plan intended to serve the transportation needs of a growing population while attempting to reduce cumulative carbon emissions, meaning this plan will set the national standard. In charge is the San Diego Association of Governments, SANDAG, comprised of local elected officials throughout the county’s 18 cities.

For decades, SANDAG has favored funding more roads and freeway widening to serve sprawl development as the City has grown. Despite a transit emphasis promoted by stakeholders throughout the drafting of the Regional Transportation Plan/Sustainable Communities Strategy (2050 RTP/SCS), SANDAG leaders are poised to approve this sprawl-first model of ‘sustainability’ that will set a precedent for the nation and commit the region to 40 more years of the same misguided planning principles. For most of us, that’s a lifetime. We have a chance to seize this opportunity to achieve sustainability goals, but the current Plan will only serve to promote further sprawl and greenhouse gas emissions, perpetuating poor land use and traffic congestion.

Although the very goal of SB 375 is to reduce Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT) and by extension emissions, San Diego’s 2050 RTP/SCS would actually increase VMT in the region by 50 percent over the next 40 years. By 2050 it will only achieve a 9 percent GHG reduction per capita – if it even reaches the levels mandated by SB 375 at all.

The many fundamental flaws in the proposed plan even drew rebuke from Attorney General Kamala Harris. In a recent letter, Harris cautions that “the RTP/SCS seems to be setting the region on a course that is inconsistent with the State’s climate objectives” and the agency has “set too low a bar” in determining how the Plan would affect communities that are already overburdened with pollution. You can read the letter and coverage of the Attorney General’s objections here.

Advocates of SANDAG’s plan argue that the plan includes transportation alternatives and will achieve “balance.” However, these alternatives largely serve to justify further highways expansion. “Balance” in this case means defining transit as intensified bus service and adding buses to new, pay-HOV lanes. Comprehensive and specific transit options are not detailed in the Plan, and implementation is postponed until the latest phases, if they’re eventually funded at all. As a result, the Plan fundamentally fails to serve as a catalyst for compact, urban development.

The failure of SANDAG to contemplate a plan that will achieve a meaningful shift in realistic sustainability planning runs contrary to the results of multiple public polls and community outcry for an effective integrated light rail/multimodal solution. In response, the Cleveland National Forest Foundation (CNFF), through its Transit San Diego campaign, has submitted an alternate planning model for SANDAG’s consideration. This “50-10 Transit Plan” commits funding 50 years’ worth of transit infrastructure into the first 10 years of implementation. CNFF has also submitted multiple comment letters promoting transit first and opposing SANDAG’s sprawl-development-friendly plan throughout the planning process.

Prioritizing transit as in the CNFF proposal would finally address the fundamental transportation challenges instead of just doubling down on more cars for another generation. We know that SANDAG’s choices will be felt throughout the region and across the country. Indeed, we’ve already seen the chair of SANDAG lobbying for the rollback of EPA standards in order to accelerate highways throughout Southern California. Before this accelerates further, we have a chance to demand responsible transportation development this Friday – but we need all the help we can get.

Make sure they hear from us. Email SANDAG at: [email protected]

Governor Brown vetoes another pro-transit bill

(Cross-posted from Groundswell, the California League of Conservation Voters blog.)

Every day for the past couple of weeks I've been checking Governor Brown's website to see if he's taken action on California League of Conservation Voters (CLCV) and Green California's priority legislation. I've also been following press stories closely to look for hints on whether he's going to sign or veto particular bills. And most days, not much happens. On Monday though, Brown posted an update on bill signings and vetoes. I had almost reached the end of the list, thinking he again hadn't acted on any of our priority bills, when I saw something very sad – our governor had vetoed AB 650 (Blumenfield), which would have established a task force to find solutions to California's transit funding crisis.

This is particularly upsetting to me – both as a transit rider and a environmental advocate – since this was not the first pro-transit bill Brown vetoed this year. This summer he vetoed SB 582 (Yee), which would have established a commuter benefit pilot program to encourage employees to ride public transit, carpool, or bike to work.

In his AB 650 veto message, he wrote this about the proposed task force:

This is a matter well within the jurisdication and competence of the Assembly and Senate Transportation Committees. Moreover, Caltrans and the California Transportation Commission are also equipped to probe into these matters.

Rather than creating a new entity, let's use the resources we have.

I understand Governor Brown's point here, but unfortunately, none of these bodies have succeeded in solving or getting close to finding a solution to California's transportation funding crisis. Over the past several years, the State has cut funding to public transit multiple times. Transit agencies throughout the state are hurting, and most have been forced to cut service and/or raise fairs.

I don't own a car so our transportation funding crisis has had a big impact on my life. This summer, my bus fare increased for the third time in recent years, and last year the bus line that used to take me to my favorite park was cut entirely.

But at least I can still travel to work quickly via transit. Others aren’t so lucky: service cuts have forced them to walk long distances or to take circuitous routes with multiple transfers to reach their destinations. Here in Oakland I've heard many stories of students who don't show up for class because they cannot afford the increased bus fares.

Public transit is key to meeting California's greenhouse gas reduction and air quality goals.  In fact, a single person can reduce her greenhouse gas emissions by 4,400 pounds annually and cut production of deadly air pollutants by 90% if she takes public transport instead of driving alone.

With so much at stake, it would have been great if our existing state agencies and committees would have addressed this growing funding problem sooner, before it reached crisis level. But they haven't, which is why Assemblymember Bob Blumenfield authored AB 650. As he explained in a guest blog post last month:

Assembly Bill (AB) 650 establishes a blue ribbon task force to craft a public transportation development plan for California based on an assessment of what transit we have, what amount of transit we need, and how we can finance transit construction.  The task force will be composed of 12 experts in finance, transit, the environment, and public health who must complete their plan by September 30, 2012.  This work would be undertaken, in part, through workshops conducted across the state.  And, it would be financed from existing transit moneys provided through California's gas tax, specifically those devoted to transit planning.

The blue ribbon task force is a tried and true way to help California find solutions to complex and enduring problems, like public transportation.  In recent years, task forces have helped California enact comprehensive fisheries protections off our coast and achieve breakthrough reforms that balance our state's water supply needs with environmental protection.

To meet California’s greenhouse gas emission reduction goals, we must invest in transit to make it convenient for current riders and to attract new riders. This task force would have been a huge step in that direction so I am disappointed that Governor Brown vetoed AB 650. I hope though that he will urge the legislative transportation committees as well as the California Transportation Commission to focus on this incredibly important issue.

AB 650 was not signed into law, but the bill moved the conversation on transportation funding forward. For this I am incredibly grateful to Assemblymember Bob Blumenfield, CLCV members who took action on this bill, Environmental Defense Fund, Sierra Club and the allied Green California organizations that moved this bill forward.

Why is BART paying half a billion for a service nobody wants?

The BART board apparently decided that a “train” that will require switching of cables halfway through the line, is an excellent use of nearly half a billion dollars.

I would describe my indignant response, but TransForm, a transit advocacy has done it pretty well for me in a press release today:

In a historic vote today, the BART Board voted to approved a huge boondoggle called the Oakland Airport Connector that will likely be the most expensive project per new passenger built in the Bay Area.

Oddly, BART is announcing the creation of a “swift” project. The Connector will travel at an average speed of just over 23 mph. Which is swift for some cyclists, some dogs and the rare Olympic sprinter, but not for a “automated fixed guideway” system, actually a slow cable car.

The project will:

   * Cost $492 million dollars just to add 600 riders (if you believe their outdated ridership projections). General Manager Dugger confirmed that BART is assuming 4,350 riders in 2020, not the 10K that BART has presented recently.  That is just 600 more than they would have had with AirBART service.  Wow, 600 riders for nearly half a billion dollars.

   * Have vehicles stop for 10-20 seconds in the middle of the journey while vehicles switch ropes and restart (not even the cable cars in SF stop to switch cables! Think of the last time you were on a rail vehicle that stopped halfway through the trip for no apparent reason!)  I guess that’s what happens when you take the lowest bidder and they are a ski lift operator.

It was confirmed at the meeting that this very short connector has a projected fare of $6 each way on top of your BART ticket, despite BART’s insistence that this was not necessarily the case.  Transit advocates throughout the region are enjoying BART’s “swift” decision.  (TransForm)

This is a ridiculous waste of money. That money could be spent in any number of more intelligent ways: improving service, expanding service outwards, whatever, you name it. But $492 million for a few miles that is already well served by AirBART?

It’s a joke.

BART Strike Likely Averted, But Problems Still Loom

After a ton of negotiations, BART and their two largest unions agreed to a deal last Friday.

A 27-hour bargaining session finally led to a tentative contract between BART and three of its five unions Friday, ending nearly four months of negotiations and the threat of a commute-crippling strike.

Three of BART’s unions tentatively settled on four-year contracts that will save the transit district $100 million over the life of the contracts. BART officials had demanded that amount of savings to help relieve a projected $310 million deficit.

Representatives from BART and the unions declined to reveal details, saying they wanted to present them to their members first. But they include changes in work rules and caps on benefits, among other concessions. Union officials said the proposals would “keep the trains running” without any layoffs or pay cuts. (SF Chronicle 8/1/09)

However, the unions will still need to ratify these deals, but from indications from union leaders, that will happen. That being said, BART still faces huge problems. In June, ridership was down a whopping 9 percent in June, year over year. This shouldn’t surprise all that many people, as the recession has trimmed the number of commuters.  Yet in terms of BART’s bottom line, it is huge. It could take $27 Million out of their annual $642 million operating budget.

Fare increases have taken effect, but that isn’t sufficient to stem the tide of red ink.  And then of course, the lower costs of parking these days in some garages combined with those higher BART fares might encourage some to drive to work.  This, to put it mildly, would be bad.

So yes, the $100 million of concessions from the unions was important for BART’s continued health.  But, there is a lot of work left to do to reduce costs, or we’ll see more fare hikes in the future.  

BART Union Rejects Contract Offer Unanimously

Last night, the Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 1555, unanimously rejected BART’s contract offer.

Amalgamated Transit Union, Local 1555, is the second-largest union at BART, with about 900 members. Members voted throughout the day on whether to accept or turn down the proposal, which includes a three-year wage freeze, a small raise in the fourth year, reductions in health and pension benefits and changes to work rules.

The decision on whether to strike will not be made until BART’s largest union, Service Employees International Union, Local 1021, which accounts for about half of BART’s 2,800 unionized workers, votes on management’s offer Thursday.

“Negotiations are about meeting the other side halfway, and we don’t feel that BART executives have been doing that up til now,” said [1555 President Jesse] Hunt.

BART spokesman Linton Johnson, speaking for district administrators, described the vote as disappointing but not ending the chance to broker an agreement that meets management’s cost-savings goal of $100 million over four years.

For the time being, any strike would wait for these negotiations.  They’ve been pretty on and off for a few weeks now, but bargaining in the current state of budget flux can be quite treacherous.  The importance of BART to the Bay Area’s economy cannot be overstated. It is a critical link for commuters throughout the region. Hopefully the negotiations will go forward in good faith and will result in a fair contract that keeps BART moving.

The Gas Tax and Transit “Armageddon”

Crossposted from the California High Speed Rail Blog

One of my lingering concerns about the Obama Administration has been that they might be tempted to claim victory with the $8 billion in HSR funding added to the stimulus and not follow up on that money, which as we know merely pays for some initial costs. But Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood made clear last week that in fact, the $8 billion in HSR stimulus really is intended as a signal to America that Obama is truly serious about building HSR:

LaHood said that for Obama building high-speed rail networks is, “if not his No. 1 priority, certainly at the top of his list. What the president is saying with the $8 billion is this is the start to help begin high-speed rail projects.” He added that the administration “is committed to finding the dollars to not only get them started but to finishing them in at least five parts of the country,” although he declined to elaborate on where these projects might ultimately be built.

And don’t worry about the right-wing freakout over the Vegas HSR project – California is in better position than any other HSR project in America to use that stimulus funding. We can begin construction in late 2010 or early 2011; no other project is anywhere close to that point.

This couldn’t be better news for us in California, where we have long known that at least $15 billion in federal aid, spread out over 10 years, will be needed to build the SF-LA line. Unfortunately the news is tempered by the fact that the Obama Administration’s support for HSR did not extend to mass transit as a whole. Here in California the state has decided to zero out the State Transit Assistance account, costing local agencies over $500 million in funding. The federal stimulus isn’t nearly enough to make up the difference. And as the San Jose Mercury News reports, that’s setting up a situation where HSR may be pit against local transit agencies:

The MTC meeting Wednesday in Oakland could turn contentious, as the current plan calls for allocating $75 million to help build the Transbay Terminal in San Francisco, which would serve as the final stopping point for a high-speed rail line and Caltrain (UPDATE: the MTC now plans to seek train box funds from the $8 billion HSR stimulus, not the general transit stimulus funds – see Transbay Blog for more info) and $70 million to build a BART spur to Oakland International Airport. Those two projects alone would take 43 percent of the $340 million headed to the area in stimulus funds for local transit.

Some want money for those new two projects scrapped or reduced – and redirected to cover the cost of paying for day-to-day transit needs.

But MTC officials counter that building the Transbay Terminal now will save millions of dollars in later costs, and combined with the $8 billion in stimulus funds set aside for high-speed rail could accelerate that program.

I support using that money for the Transbay Terminal, although I’m less certain about whether BART to OAK is all that necessary; the AirBART buses work pretty well (I used them on numerous occasions when I was an undergrad at UC Berkeley, although that was 10 years ago).

But I really hate it when HSR pitted against other forms of transit. I have said it before and I will say it again – HSR and other mass transit need each other to be successful. It should not and must not be an either/or choice. I don’t blame the MTC for being stuck in this position – that blame lies in Sacramento and Washington DC. But we transit advocates need to not fall out along modal lines.

I’d like to propose a solution, one that I don’t even know is possible under state law but makes a ton of sense to me. The nine-county SF Bay Area region should implement its own gas tax, which will solely be used to fund public transit. I haven’t penciled out the numbers so I don’t know exactly what the tax amount should be, but it should be indexed to the price of gas, and not a fixed cent number.

This money would initially be used to backfill the loss of STA funds, and allow the federal stimulus money to go to new transit infrastructure such as Transbay Terminal or BART to OAK. Ultimately the STA funds must be restored by a statewide gas tax increase, but it is much more politically possible to implement a gas tax in the Bay Area first than to try and get the Central Valley and the Southern California exurbs to buy into this (they can be brought on board later, once the 2/3 rule is eliminated).

It’s very difficult for folks living in the nine counties to evade the tax, with the possible exception of Gilroy residents who might drive to Hollister to fill up. Most folks will simply pay the increase rather than drive far out of their way to get a cheaper gallon of gas.

I’m not sure if this option has been explored by the MTC and the member counties, but it ought to be. It’s a sensible solution that would not only help spare transit agencies from “Armageddon” but would itself be a long overdue policy shift that would give a real boost to transit efforts in the SF Bay Area.

California Transit Agencies Need Stimulus Too

As the Congressional battle over Obama’s stimulus heats up, so too is progressive activism over the deliberate underfunding of mass transit. Peter DeFazio, an Oregon Democrat, is leading the charge to redress the problem, as shown in this important discussion with policy geek Rachel Maddow:

DeFazio isn’t just complaining on TV – he is offering an amendment to provide $2 billion in direct aid to local transit agencies that have had to cut service or raise fares – or both – as a result of the economic downturn and state budget problems.

Here in California this problem is especially acute, as Arnold is having success in his effort to defund mass transit. As a result local transit agencies have been hit hard. From the Monterey Bay and SF Bay Areas alone:

* San Benito County Express in Hollister and San Juan Bautista raised fares 33% earlier this year and will reduce service 35% effective on February 1, with some routes eliminated entirely.

* Monterey-Salinas Transit hiked fares 25% this month, though they were able to avoid service cuts. (The fare is now $2.50 per ride.)

* SamTrans in San Mateo County (the Peninsula) will raise fares 17% in February.

* Caltrain increased fares on January 1. Caltrain is the commuter rail service between San Francisco, San Jose, and Gilroy.

These cuts are especially damaging in this economy. Many Californians depend on affordable and available bus service to get to work. When routes are cut or fares increased, many can no longer get to work, and job losses merely increase.

It also makes it more difficult to build a sustainable transportation system, since these cuts can be difficult to restore. It took well over a decade for AC Transit to recover from the service cuts of the early 1990s – and even that progress may be set back without federal assistance.

Transportation for America has a map of the transit cuts being proposed or implemented across America. And they are leading the charge for restoring this funding. DeFazio’s amendment will come before the House Rules Committee tomorrow, and T4America is asking folks to call Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-NY) to ask her to send the amendment to the House floor.

California has three Representatives on that committee, and their contact information is as follows:

David Dreier – Republican from 26th District (San Gabriel Valley foothills). Phone numbers: DC office (202) 225-2305, San Dimas office (909) 575-6226, Toll-free (888) 906-2626

Doris Matsui – Democrat from 5th District (Sacramento). Phone numbers: DC office (202) 225-7163, Sacramento office (916) 498-5600

Dennis Cardoza – Democrat from 18th District (Stockton, Modesto, Merced). Phone numbers: DC office (202) 225-6131 or (800) 356-6424, Merced office (209) 383-4455, Modesto office (209) 527-1914, Stockton office (209) 946-0361.

Congress Funds Amtrak – While Arnold Proposes Transit Cuts

I will be discussing this and the state budget this morning at 8 on KRXA 540 here in Monterey

California is undergoing a profound change. The land where the car was assumed to be dominant always had a higher amount of transit ridership than folks realized – LA’s bus system is one of the nation’s busiest – but with gas prices blowing right past $4 and headed for $5, Californians are flocking to transit – buses, light rail, subways, Amtrak, you name it.

And how does Arnold Schwarzenegger, avowed friend of the little guy, always looking out to protect Californians from taxes that might lighten their wallets, react?

By proposing a $1.4 billion cut to public transit. This is nothing short of madness. Rising ridership is limited by available buses and train cars, while soaring fuel prices put stress on transit agency budgets. MUNI’s Nathaniel Ford puts it well:

“Even with California’s massive deficit, scaling back the state’s support for public transportation makes no sense environmentally or economically,” said Nathaniel Ford, who runs the San Francisco Municipal Railway.

“Every dollar spent on transit helps clean the air by getting people out of their cars. And with gas prices continuing to escalate, we should be doing everything we can to encourage, not discourage, transit use.”

Arnold likes to tell Californians he looks out for their jobs and their wallets, but how on earth is does starving public transit of funds and shackling Californians to their cars and to rising gas prices do anything at all to help grow the economy and keep money in voters’ pockets? The Vehicle License Fee that Arnold cut costs the state $6 billion a year in order to save drivers an average of $150 – which they’ll spend on higher gas prices in the space of a month. He still hasn’t restored the $5.8 billion he has diverted from transportation funds over the five years he has been in office.

Congressional Republicans have voted $14 billion for Amtrak – so why is Arnold instead attacking mass transit alternatives in California? Surely it doesn’t have anything to do with massive contributions he has received from big oil companies.

Arnold’s silence on gas prices – THE topic of conversation across the state right now – provides a golden opportunity for Democrats. Californians are screaming for more transit – more buses, more trains, more opportunities to save money and have an easier, faster commute. Democrats ought to ensure they have it – voters understand that the cost of a new tax will pale in comparison to the cost of rising gas prices. Strong Democratic support for high speed rail would also show voters that Dems mean business, whereas Republicans literally have no plan whatsoever to deal with gas prices.

A day out in the City for Health Care and Transit

IMG_2953Well you know I took public transit, right? I'm normally kind of bad about using the car, but I really took the MUNI, I promise. It seems it would just be too hypocritical to drive to a public transit rally. (plus, it would have been slower to drive). Anyway, I digress from the point about the two rallies I attended. 

The first was for It's OUR healthcare. They even have a live feed of the event. Hey that's cool. At this Civic Center Rally political leaders like Supervisor Tom Ammiano, Asm. Mark Leno, and Senator Carole Migden signed a letter for the Governator. Just to let him know what's up, and what's down, with his health care plan.  Also at the event was some people talking about how their particular Holy Books affect this debate, giving a spiritual element to this story. 

The next rally had an entirely different tone. It was a rally for public transportation and against Gap Founder, and GOP major donor, Don Fischer. It seems Fischer has given about $80K so that he can park his many vehicles wherever he wants in the city. Specifically, he has helped fund the campaigns of Yes on H and No on A. The Campaign sent out a pretty dishonest mailer (PDF here) this week, and now, well, he's getting his name in the headlines. 

Board President Aaron Peskin, along with labor and transit leaders, spoke about the importance of defeating Prop H. Furthemore, SF Democratic Central Cmte. member talked about the role of Fischer in Republican politics in general. He’s given hundreds of thousands of donors to some of the worst politicians across the country, including the Worst President Ever. While some politicians have felt it appropriate to praise him, that doesn’t take away what he’s done to promote class warfare.

More photos over the flip. Flickr set here.

Health Care: 

IMG_2942  IMG_2949 

No on H, Yes on A:

IMG_2970  IMG_2996

August 31, 2007 Blog Roundup

Today’s Blog Roundup is on the flip. There wasn’t much today — everyone’s already checked out for the long weekend, apparently — so I just dumped it in. Let me know what I missed.

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