Tag Archives: MTC

Transportation Day of Action in Oakland Tomorrow!

(Cross posted at Living in the O.)

Disclosure: I am working on a part time, short term basis for TransForm on the Oakland Airport Connector campaign. However, the thoughts expressed in my posts on this subject are my own and should not be construed to be those of TransForm.

You hopefully have already noted that the MTC hearing on the Oakland Airport Connector (OAC) is tomorrow (Wednesday) at 10am, but you might not know about the nationwide transportation day of action on which the hearing coincidentally falls. Several advocacy groups will be joining together to hold a mock funeral to mourn the loss of transit lines in the Bay Area due to lack of funding for operations. After the funeral, advocates will march to the MTC hearing to urge them not to provide further funding to the OAC.

Though the timing of these two events is coincidental, they are tied together quite closely. While the state and federal government have been slashing operating funds, the stimulus bill has pumped tons of money into capital improvements for transportation. So while BART and MTC may end up wasting more than half a billion dollars on the OAC, including $70 million in stimulus funds, BART, AC Transit, and Muni are slashing service and raising fares.

It's time we get our priorities straight, not only by prioritizing public transit over highway expansion, but also by prioritizing operations funding within transit funding. What is the use of a shiny new bus if we can't afford to pay someone to drive it? What is the use of an extension to the Oakland Airport that will only draw 400 new riders a day, when it will suck funding from the entire BART system?

Please attend the funeral tomorrow to mourn public transit losses and then head over to the MTC meeting to win back some of this transit funding by halting funding to the OAC.

Here is the info, via a press release from Public Advocates:


WHAT: Wearing black and carrying a coffin, transit advocates will stage a mock funeral to mourn the death of crucial public transit lines in the Bay Area due to a lack of funding for operations. The event is tied to a National Day of Action called by Transit Riders for Public Transportation (TRPT), a national campaign led by environmental justice and civil rights groups, to highlight the need to provide funding for transit operations in the Federal Surface Transportation Authorization Act currently being considered in the US House of Representatives.

WHEN: Wednesday July 22, 2009 8:30am-9:30am

WHERE: Frank H. Ogawa Plaza, Oakland, CA 94612 (Corner of 14th St. and Broadway, outside of the 12St/Oakland City Center BART station)

WHO: Representatives from Public Advocates Inc.; Urban Habitat; TransForm; Genesis; CALPIRG; and BOSS. John Gioia, Supervisor for Western Contra Costa County; Dominique Nisperos reading a statement from Congresswoman Barbara Lee. A number of other elected officials have been invited.

WHY: With transit service cuts affecting people locally and around the nation, operating funds for public transit are sorely needed. Federal legislation offers the best current hope for preventing further service cuts in our communities. Representatives Barbara Lee (D, CA-9th) and Jerry McNerney (D, CA-11th) are co-sponsoring HR 2746 (Rep. Carnahan, D, MO-3rd) which would give local transit systems the flexibility to use anywhere from 30 to 50 percent of their federal capital grants for local operations. Event organizers are calling on other members of the Bay Area congressional delegation to sign onto the bill and advocate for dedicating federal funds specifically for transit operations in any new federal transportation legislation.

And the info for the MTC meeting:

What: MTC Meeting on Oakland Airport Connector Funding

When: Wednesday, July 22nd @ 10 am

Where: MTC Headquarters (101 Eighth St near Lake Merritt BART)

Previous posts on the Oakland Airport Connector:

Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates takes transit leadership to the next level

 (Cross posted at Living in the O.)

The Chronicle featured a really inspiring story yesterday about Mayor Tom Bates of Berkeley. Much like I did last year, he decided to give his car up entirely and to walk and bus around town instead:

The 71-year-old mayor is trading in his 2001 Volvo for an AC Transit pass and a sturdy pair of walking shoes.

“I’m trying to reduce my carbon footprint to the absolute minimum,” he said. “I figure, if I really want to go someplace I can just rent a car.”

Bates’ long farewell to the Volvo began about a year ago, when he started walking to work as a way to lose weight and stay in shape. The 18-minute trek from his home in South Berkeley to City Hall was so invigorating he started walking everywhere he could – to Berkeley Bowl, the BART station, city council meetings.

This is a pretty awesome example being set by a mayor. Now I could take this opportunity to rag on Mayor Dellums for being the least green mayor in the Bay Area, since the Chronicle mentioned he’s chauffeured around in a town car that gets 19 miles per gallon, but fortunately, there’s more to commend Bates for.

When it comes to transit, Bates does not just lead by example, but leads legislatively as well. In February, he was the only member of the MTC to vote against using stimulus funds for the wasteful Oakland Airport Connector. He knew that this project was not the best use of MTC funds and could better be used by local transit agencies, like AC Transit and Muni, which have been forced to raise fares and cut service due to shrinking tax revenues and the state cutting funding.

Bates has also been a leader on the Bus Rapid Transit Policy Steering Committee, made up of reps from AC Transit, Berkeley, Oakland, and San Leandro. While Kriss Worthington, Berkeley’s other rep on the committee, has tried his best to tie up the project by making it contingent on unrelated projects, like a universal pass, Bates has tried his best to move the project forward. He is strongly committed to BRT, even though this makes him unpopular with a vocal minority in Berkeley that wants to kill the project.

And now Bates has taken his transit activism into the personal realm by getting rid of his car. I hope his continued committment to transit will inspire others to take up this cause.

Protect Bay Area Transit: Stop MTC from Wasting Stimulus Funds

 Cross-posted at Living in the O.

As Robert mentioned in his post this morning, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) will be voting this Wednesday on how to use federal stimulus funds. While they’ve scrapped one of their initial wasteful proposals, the Transbay Terminal train box, they are still proposing to use $70 million for the Oakland Airport Connector. V Smoothe summarized the proposed project and its history last week at OakBook:

BART’s Oakland Airport Connector is a proposed 3.2-mile elevated tramway that would ferry passengers from the Coliseum BART station to the Oakland Airport. Since the agency did not have enough funding to finance the project in full, they began seeking private partners to help build the rail line. All three interested parties dropped out of the project last year, citing concerns about profitability. At the time, BART officials said they would drop plans for the elevated train and begin exploring more affordable ways of providing a reliable connection between the station and the airport, such as dedicated bus lanes.

But then of course Congress passed the stimulus package, and MTC staff proposed to use $70 million of the funds to revive the Oakland Airport Connector project.

Now, I can understand why the Oakland Airport Connector is such a tempting project. I’m going to be taking BART to the airport this Friday evening, and a quicker and more reliable connection would save me a lot of time. The problem with the project as currently proposed is that it’s incredibly expensive, and like so many of BART’s projects, relies on ridership statistics that are entirely unrealistic. (They’re predicting that more people would use this connection than take BART to SFO!)


Another problem, as TransForm explains, is that the Airport Connector is not “shovel ready.” Meanwhile, transit agencies around the Bay Area are struggling, especially since the state has pulled all funding from public transit statewide. These local agencies, including AC Transit, desperately need these funds to continue providing an adequate level of service and to avoid raising fares. Even spread out among the regional transit operators, $70 million would have a huge impact.

The best part is that even if MTC decides not to provide this $70 million to the Oakland Airport Connector, BART already has sufficient funds to solve the problem of slow bus travel from the Coliseum BART station to the Oakland Airport. That solution is Bus Rapid Transit. BRT would take buses out of traffic and shuttle riders quickly and reliably to and from the Oakland Airport. And BRT could be completed in much less time and with far less money than the current proposed connector, shifting the $70 million to where it could make an impact now.

MTC staff seem pretty stuck on this idea so it’s up to us to convince the MTC that the needs of local transit agencies should take precedence over another pie in the sky BART proposal. Here’s what you can do, via TransForm:

Join us on Weds., Feb. 25th at 10am at MTC (101 8th St., across from Lake Merritt BART) in telling the Commissioners to direct new funding to critical public transit needs, not the costly Oakland Airport Connector. It’s important that we coordinate our message for maximum impact. Please let us know if you’re coming and get a copy of talking points by contacting Joel Ramos.

If you can’t make the meeting, email your comments opposing the use of recovery funds for the OAC to John Goodwin at MTC now at [email protected].

Eric at Transbay Blog agrees about the Oakland Airport Connector and provides more background on this project and the MTC’s funding proposal.

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.