Friday, May 8, 2009

Public Transport in the Stimulus Universe.

BART is breaking ground on an extension to San Jose! Excellent!

Meanwhile... in the real world, Bay Area Transit Riders step up to the plate.

Strike 1: BART

With the agency facing a $54 million deficit for the coming fiscal year, BART officials have outlined a proposal that would hike fares by ten percent and cut back on the number of trains operating at night and on weekends.

The agency is also considering charging parking fees at some stations where parking is now free.

If approved, the changes would go in effect July 1.

Annoyingly (to me anyway), the hardest plank to push through politically is an increase in parking rates. Parking in most East Bay stations is $1 per day. Riders who drive into the stations complain very loudly that BART is killing the incentive to use public transportation - yet were they to drive to San Francisco they would pay $20 per day or more for parking. The highest price to park in the system is in West Oakland - but not because there are so many drivers in West Oakland. Drivers from far flung places were bypassing their local stations to park just on the East side of the Bay Bridge Toll and San Francisco Parking costs. Regardless, most clearly this little Warm Springs Project moves ahead while current riders get the shaft.

Strike 2: San Francisco MUNI

Muni chief Nathaniel Ford released the performance record Tuesday, and today the Budget & Finance Committee for the supervisors will meet to discuss the transit agency's budget, which calls for cutting service, raising fares to $2 and boosting parking fees.

A showdown is setting up between the Board of Supervisors and California Gubernatorial Candidate Gavin Newsom - who is also ostensibly the Mayor of San Francisco. Can there be a duel if one combatant is in San Francisco and the other is in Washington DC, Palo Alto, La Jolla, or whatever other gladhanding destination is on the agenda today?

Supervisor David Chiu just might have the votes to block the MTA budget and make them go back to the drawing board.

Budget Committee Chairman John Avalos said that's not enough.

"Muni is one of those core services that San Franciscans rely on, and it needs to be protected," he said.

Newsom said that's a position that can play well with the public but doesn't take into account the economic reality that there's not enough money to meet the demand for services citywide.

"We're at the point now where we can't get down to zero (deficit) without tough decisions," Newsom said. "I hate the idea of raising fares. I don't want to cut Muni service. But I ask (critics), 'What ideas do you have that do not eviscerate public safety and health and human services?' "

Newsom is in a bad spot here, in my opinion, and he's using a red herring to distract from the situation, using a scare card against the Supervisors. Another problem - if the battle gets more tense, will Newsom have to leave the road and come back to San Francisco at the expense of his fundraising, only to lose a political battle at home?

Strike 3: Caltrain

Starting in October Caltrain may stop running weekend service, levy a $1 surcharge on bicyclists and raise rider fares for the second time this year, agency officials said today.

Caltrain - which I take every workday - is in my opinion one of the best values in public transit around - from a taxpayer standpoint. Held together with bubble gum and bailing wire, the service is relatively inexpensive (compared to say - BART), and runs a 98% on time record. And you can take your bike on it, allowing seamless connection to your destination on the Peninsula, which is a transportation desert.

Removal of weekend service would render the Peninsula a car-must place, replacement service on VTA or SamTrans is less frequent and much slower. A bike surcharge would by any reasonable analysis cost Caltrain money, between fare collection and enforcement and by riders abandoning the train - the base fare is on average 4 times as much as the proposed surcharge. Raising fares I would grudgingly accept, but it is incredibly ironic that just as the public is starting to turn to public transportation, with all of its inherent value to society, fares are being increased.

It seems bitterly ironic that with an $800 billion stimulus package going out the door in Washington, basic public transportation is being slashed and burned - especially three systems in the populous Bay Area that have heavy adoption - 300,000, 700,000, and 40,000 daily riders respectively on BART, MUNI, and Caltrain.

1 comment:

ammon said...

Weekend caltrain and bart service is already inadequate, so why not cut out a service that currently fails to provide? Then in a few more years, as ridership declines further, there'd finally be the justification to just get of the services altogether. After-all, peninsula towns would rather much have a gigantic, expanded freeway dividing their real estate than an unsightly train!

The only time caltrain runs early enough to be useful for most events I want to get to is when covering a special event like bay to breakers: which gets an extra 3 early morning cars.

It used to be possible to catch bart to Orinda for the Berkeley Hills road race, but Sunday service now won't arrive until 9am! This leaves us with zero ncnca road races accessible by transit.