The Metropolitan Transportation Commission is a troubled organization. Dan Borenstein’s excellent column (Opinion, Nov. 1) exposed some of the issues, but there’s more:
As Borenstein indicated, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) carves out a piece of the assets that pass through its hands to fund its own extensive administrative operation. But how do 200 MTC staff members occupy their time? Certainly it’s not to plan regionally. If it were, the Bay Area wouldn’t have the unenviable distinction of being the third-most congested metropolitan area in the country. Nor would its per-capita public transit ridership be declining as its per-capita automotive travel rises.
So, what’s wrong? For one thing, the focus these days at MTC is almost entirely on process. Somewhere along the line, the reasons for the existence of a regional planning agency have been forgotten. Here are a few of the Bay Area’s most important transportation needs that are no longer receiving the attention and priority they deserve:
- Rendering the region’s public transit systems as useful, attractive and connected as possible, so as to bring about a more reasonable balance between public transit use and automotive travel.
- Taking positive steps to ease the horrendous backups on the Bay Area’s oversized freeways.
- Ridding the region’s urbanized areas of worsening traffic strangulation.
- Coping effectively with BART’s oncoming transbay capacity crunch.
When was the last time MTC dealt substantively with any of these critical issues?
Another of MTC’s problems stems from the excessive amount of influence that its staff has over 18 part-time voting commissioners and Bay Area state legislators. All transportation grants are administered by MTC. Commissioners and state legislators, worried about these grants reaching their constituencies in a timely manner, are not well-positioned to oversee or otherwise challenge a large and powerful staff.
In an effort to give commissioners more authority, Assemblyman Marc Levine, D-San Rafael, has introduced AB 24, calling for the replacement of MTC with a new Bay Area Regional Transportation Commission overseen by directly elected commissioners. This would be a good start.
But even that would not fully address the problem. Commissioners would still have to drive too far and spend too much time dealing with complex regional issues far from their home jurisdictions and constituencies. If the new commission is to function effectively, then the key decisions the commissioners would be called upon to make would need to be ordered, so as to give them the best possible opportunity of making the right calls.
There are several approaches to bringing bona fide regional transportation planning to the Bay Area. The first director of MTC had this figured out. But since then it’s been all downhill. Now, thanks to MTC’s crude recent attempt to eviscerate its sister land-use organization in order to grab still more authority for itself, there may be a new opportunity to set things right.
Gerald Cauthen of Oakland is a founding member of the Bay Area Transportation Working Group, which advocates a better planned and coordinated transportation network in the Bay Area. He wrote this for this newspaper.