The problem: BART, Caltrain, light rail, Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) and SF Muni ridership have dropped because of more people are working from home, the pandemic has forced some businesses to shutter, and the transit companies are losing money. They each are offering different solutions, but all are based on "we need more money." So bills being proposed are a new area-wide transit tax, more money from the feds, more money from the state, and possibly higher ridership fees, the San Jose Mercury reported.
“It’s a pretty big crisis" said Laura Turkoff, a transportation expert in a transportation think-tank in the area.
Area residents, by a large majority (62 percent), oppose an area transit tax -- but the agencies want to impose one, anyhow. There are other solutions they also are considering – reducing the number of trains daily, for example, hourly instead of half-hourly trains, or higher fares for all commuters whether they use Caltrain, BART or VTA.
None of those sound, to me, like a way to get people more enthusiastic about commuting on public transit – it’s easier and faster to drive, many say.
To add to the problem, keep in mind that with the zealous drive for more affordable housing and the need for more public transit, the problem looms large.
So how will you, our new guru, get this done? It sounds, to me, like an almost impossible task. But we can’t just give up on our public transit in the Bay Area, particularly since so many other cities have made their systems work.
Even the VTA is hurting – badly. As the Mercury also reported, while the current budget is financially stable, forecasts of future expenses are now worrisome.
A Santa Clara County Civil Grand Jury report last June described VTA as one of the “most expensive and least efficient transit systems in the country.” Yet amid a declining ridership, in 2020 the VTA subsidized BART passenger trips $19.30 a ride.
But there’s more. Last May 26. a disgruntled VTA employee went to the bus yards early in the morning and proceeded to shoot nine co-workers (and then himself)
– one of the worst shootings in Santa Clara County in recent years. The VTA board responded with sympathy and gave paid time off for its workers, so the light rail stopped for six weeks and bus schedules were pared down. It then gave each of it 1,500 employees a hardship bonus of $3.500, and more recently a 10 percent raise over the next three years. However, that super generous award will cost the VTA $38 million over the next three years, and the raises will mean high future outlays for employees for years to come. Is that good management?
Yes, the employee monetary gifts are a nice way to appreciate employee work, but if it means steep future deficits it makes me wonder where the board’s practical budget management comes into play. Does it simply expect getting more money by taxing each resident to make up for their deficit? Is that a fair way to cover their overruns, particularly since most of us in the county don’t use BART or VTA?
I don’t know the answer.
So, what to do? Will more money help? Will people continue to work from home? Or should we look into whether better management is needed?
Yet, as aguru, you need to find an answer. We can’t just do away with public transit in this county.
One thought is to ask Gov. Newsom to use some of his $45 billion budget surplus to help pay for public transit in the heart of Silicon Valley, which has been a thriving business center for years. Newsom’s current plan is to fund the COVID-19 response, climate issues and homelessness.
I could argue that a good transit system resulting in fewer auto trips is a climate issue. And the state has not had such a huge surplus in years, so maybe Newsom and the legislature could see funding local transit may help their next reelection. Everything, is political, as you, our new guru, know so well.
We could also see what other states have done to improve their transit funding.
And we could get some expert opinion of how efficiently all these transit systems are run, and make improvements based on the report’s conclusions.
Let's do whatever it takes!