Change for the Sake of Change?

There’s been much recent talk of BART taking over Caltrain.

But what do transit riders and would-be riders think? What do they want? One can be pretty certain that their first choice would be for an efficient, well-integrated network of trains and buses that gets them where they want to go safely, quickly and reliably, regardless of whose logo appears on the sides of the trains and buses.

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But in the zeal to make changes, the interests of transit users often get lost. When there is more than one organization and things aren’t working well, there is always talk of combinations. When a combination of agencies is failing to measure up, the focus turns to splitting things apart. The combine/ split up/ recombine phenomenon has been ongoing in San Francisco for decades. Have things gotten better? Not noticeably. MTC recently took over ABAG and as a result now struggles to cope with the Region’s housing crisis and its transportation needs. Has this helped? Again, not noticeably.

Caltrain is currently a well run and popular system with a steadily increasing ridership (pre-COVID) that until recently at least has been hampered by the lack of a reliable funding source. BART, also well used pre-COVID, has traditionally had ready access to large amounts of both development capital and operating money. However, in recent years BART has been beset with numerous complaints about its indulgent wage and salary policies, over-crowding, high fare evasion rates and unsafe conditions on BART trains and in and around BART stations.

There is no harm in discussing amalgamations, provided that the discussions are conducted thoughtfully and with far-sighted objectivity. With respect to Caltrain, there appear to be many loyal riders whose reaction to the current combination fervor is: “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

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