Bay Area Transportation won’t get Better until Government gets Better

Bay Area Transportation won’t get Better until Government gets better.
It was recently noted that until local and regional transportation agencies become functional the Bay Area’s transportation problems will just get worse. Not every agency in the Bay Area is dysfunctional but quite a few engaged in the transportation field are. Here are five examples. We will have more to say on this subject in subsequent editions of this Newsletter.

Caltrans. Caltrans has 22,000 employees and is therefore is very influential in California’s political circles. Its top executives and published planning documents now acknowledge the futility of expanding highways because they invariably induce more traffic, which is especially damaging and counterproductive in crowded places like the Bay Area. Unfortunately in practice the organization continues to expand its freeway system in various ways, as it has ever since the 1950’s. Anyone who doubts this is referred to the hundreds of roadway projects listed in California SB1 which, because of the November  6th defeat of State Prop 6, are now destined to get built. There continuous to be an enormous disconnect between what the State of California says is necessary and how Caltrans actually operates. Needed at Caltrans is new leadership strong enough to bring Caltrans into conformity with State policy and the best interests of crowded and growing metropolitan regions like the greater Bay Area. This is no time to be expanding the capacity of roadways to encourage an ever greater flow of cars and trucks.

MTC. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission was set up by the California Legislature in 1971. At the time it was recognized that the Bay Area needed regional transportation leadership because when it comes to transportation, everything affects everything else. In the ensuing years MTC has engaged in lots of activities. It brokers deals between large cities and strong political cabals. It moves money around. It conducts a vast array of outreach programs. What it does not do is plan regionally or assert regional leadership when regional transportation problems arise. To ensure that MTC carries out these vital functions will require State legislative action designed to make basic changes to MTC’s organizational structure.

AC Transit. AC Transit’s No. 1 problem is that its 155 bus lines served by a fleet of 630 buses don’t carry nearly enough people. In fact the ridership in 2017 of 169,000 riders a day was substantially below what it was in the Year 2000. There are a number of reasons for this. An assertive forward-looking Agency would be struggling to identify the reasons and then acting aggressively to eliminate them. However things on this front remain pretty quiet at AC.  Except for a handful of route changes and toying with exotic forms of bus propulsion, there’s not much to report. What is most needed at AC are some fresh faces on the AC Transit Board and an objective operational analysis conducted by an acclaimed group of outside bus operating experts.

City of Oakland. Many of Oakland’s departments are dysfunctional. However on November 6th the voters of Oakland had the good sense to return Courtney Ruby….known for her independence and unvarying dedication to rooting out incompetence, inefficiency and corruption….to the job of City Auditor. Ruby’s return to another four year term couldn’t have come at a better time. We hope that among her first priorities will be Oakland’s contract-awarding, purchasing and assorted transportation departments. In this, Auditor Ruby can count on BATWG’s strongest support.

SFMTA. San Francisco’s Municipal Transportation Agency, with over 6,000 employees, has jurisdiction over Muni, transportation capital improvements, parking, taxis, and the design and operation of San Francisco’s streets. The Agency now suffers from two fundamental problems. First since the reorganizations of 1999 and 2007 the SFMTA has become too independent of SF’s duly elected representatives.  For this reason the terms of its appointed Board members should be cut from 4 years to no more than 2 years. Secondly, elements of the organization are currently unwieldy, uncoordinated, unaccountable and often seemingly oblivious to San Francisco’s unsatisfactory overall transportation condition. Until the SFMTA is able to function effectively it should be subject to a top to bottom management audit conducted by an acclaimed management auditing firm at least once every three years.

This article was featured in Newsletter Issue 7. Click here to go back to the newsletter.