Cause: Dysfunctional Public Institutions / Effect: Regional Transportation in Shambles

For the last 8 years BATWG volunteers have worked to improve Bay Area transportation. In the process we’ve come to realize that in the Nine County Greater Bay Area, many of the region’s jurisdictions and large public agencies are failing to deliver effective transportation solutions and that without significant governmental change there is little chance of their doing so in the future.

Here are a few examples of how and where things have gone awry:

(resume reading here)

S.F. County Transportation Authority:  Seismic upgrading of Doyle Drive cost five times the original budget set forth in SF Prop K in 2003.

MTC: Bay Bridge East Span went from $2 billion to almost $7 billion and took 24 years to build.

SFMTA:  SF Municipal Transportation Agency’s disastrously-disruptive Central Subway project is reportedly at least 2-1/2 years late and $150 – $200 million over budget.

BART:  Rampant fare evasion, and bad on-car and in-station behavior are causing many would-be riders to think twice about using BART.

Santa Clara VTA:  Proceeding with a grotesquely overpriced 4.8-mile subway through downtown San Jose.

Sonoma Marin Area Regional Transit (SMART):  Commissioners seem content with a farebox recovery pre-COVID rate of just 9%, thereby loading the other 91% of SMART’s exorbitant $50 per ride operating cost on the tax payers.

Mayor of Union City:  Determined to blight her city with a 1950s style highway.

Caltrans: Always ready to expand its highways, regardless of whether or not the results are positive.

Absent strong, committed leadership these things will continue to happen. In many cases the wrong people are making the decisions. It is not ok for inexperienced and unqualified people to be attempting to define large infrastructure projects. It is not ok for legislators and agencies to proceed with wasteful, short-sighted ventures. It is not ok for EIR’s and EIS’s to cost too much and take too long to complete. And it is not ok for construction projects to take much longer than necessary and be subject to constant scope and cost increases. Because of such practices billions of State and federal transportation dollars have been wasted on ill-conceived, overpriced and poorly managed public projects.

Could Things Get Better? Yes…..if…..

If ethical standards were established and maintained, with stiff penalties for violators.

If politicians and connected insiders would stop altering the intent of voter-adopted propositions.

If the California State Legislature would stop trying to impose one-size-fits-all edicts on California’s towns, cities, counties and regions.

If large public agencies were subjected to independent management audits once every three years.

If agencies collaborated on behalf of meeting common regional objectives.

If the Media went back to looking beyond the press handouts.

If the transportation agencies dedicated themselves to providing “customer-centric” and well-integrated transit services.

Capital Improvement Programs:

If government would set priorities based upon objective criteria and logic rather than on who with influence was demanding what.

If only dedicated, experienced and otherwise highly-qualified individuals were appointed to sit on consultant selection committees.

If critically-important schedules, cost estimates and alternative analyses were given the experienced, high-level attention they deserve.

If EIR’s and EIS’s were appropriately limited in time, cost and size.

If public agencies administered their construction projects fairly and efficiently,

…by consistently securing compliance with the plans and specifications,

…by efficiently processing change orders without delay,

…by promptly acknowledging and taking responsibility for Agency mistakes

…by expeditiously paying for work satisfactorily completed.

Needed Most

Experienced, committed leaders with the ability to collaborate, make fair and astute decisions and get the job done.

2 thoughts on “Cause: Dysfunctional Public Institutions / Effect: Regional Transportation in Shambles

  1. I have sat on the County Transportation Citizens Advisory Committee until I realized how little value it added as it was being used.

    Here are some suggestions that I believe would help that parallel your suggestions above.

    1 A grand jury should recommend a serious reform of the CAC system for Charter amendment:

    2 When the BOS requests an “audit” it should be a performance and efficiency audit where the consultant scope of work is not written by the affected Department and the consultant is not selected by the affected Dept.

    3. Only un-allied, qualified professional/residents should sit on CACs — not identity-based interest groups

    4. Staff should identify “need” objectively on the basis of statistics: cost effectivness, use, (a mid-night bus line with 2-3 occupants may not be as cost effective as cab fare or Lyft)

    5. Best practices in Cities throughout the Bay Area should be considered as options;

    6. Each BOS district should receive its per-capita fair share of transit capital projectors, maintenance and operations.

    Bob Switzer (415) 586-7656


    • Robert,

      I came across this which we apparently didn’t respond to before.

      Having been to a couple of ACTC CAC and seen it in inaction, I do completely understand your first point. Here are some comments on the rest of your points:

      1.) Last Fall we did contact the Grand Jury asking it to take a look at the ACTC….no response. That doesn’t mean the issue is closed. We’ll keep at it.

      2.) I totally agree that to have any value a management audit should be totally independent. In fact we’ve made this point to the City and County of SF BOS and Mayor a number of times with respect to its poorly functioning SF Municipal Transportation Agency. To no avail. From the Alameda County BOS I’d expect even less.

      3.) I fear that the genie is out of the bottle on that one.

      4.) We continue to make that point. For instance, see the article on the need for transit agencies to react realistically to the pandemic….Newsletter #31, distributed on 1.11.21.

      5.) We struggle with this all the time. There are strong indications that the small entities (e.g.the Golden Gate Bridge Highway and Transportation District, Contra Costa County Transit Agency, Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority) and the smaller cities (e.g. Sausalito, Piedmont) perform more efficiently and responsively than the behemoths (e.g. SF Municipal Transportation, Santa Clara VTA, Caltrans and the City of Oakland, MTC/ABAG/BATA).

      6.) Getting this right is about as easy as distributing the vaccines efficiently and fairly. Some areas are blessed with only light traffic. Others must deal with everyone else’s incoming and/or pass-through traffic including heavy trucks. BATWG’s emphasis has been on improving the non-automatic modes of travel, coupled with measures designed to reduce solo driving. In so far as freight movement is concerned, the more on trains and the less on trucks, the better.


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