Getting Real About Seamless Transit

There’s been a lot of recent talk in the Bay Area about seamless transit. Different people and groups seem to have different opinions of what the term means.

To get this straight, it is necessary to start with an objective. In the first place it is obvious that traffic congestion has gotten out of hand in many places. In addition most scientists now agree that man’s excessive use of fossil fuel energy is causing global warming, including such disastrous “byproducts” as hurricanes, habitat destruction, ocean rise, fresh water shortages and wild fires. In as much as 45% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions comes from transportation, seamless transit can be regarded as an effort to reduce transportation’s share of the problem.

To cut greenhouse gases and ease traffic congestion will require in part that our bus, train and ferry boat systems become convenient enough to convince many travelers to drive less and use transit more. So what would it take to actually bring this about?

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For one thing the Bay Area’s transit network would have to become a lot more seamless than it is today – which means not just fare integration, not just better maps, not just easier and more convenient transfers, not just safer and more comfortable interiors, and not even just faster and more reliable transit travel. Significantly reducing the vehicle-miles traveled per year would require that we get serious about all of these needed transit improvements.

Moreover, any such program would require that different measures be taken in different parts of the region. In terms of housing and commercial density, topography, life styles and driving patterns, the Bay Area is very diverse. What might constitute a reasonable approach in one locale might therefore be totally out of place in the next. At the same time the overall effect would need to be to make the entire regional network inviting to more people.

San Francisco’s Muni is the closest thing to seamless transit that currently exists in the Bay Area (Some San Franciscans may scoff at this, but until recently at least, it has been relatively easy to get around in San Francisco exclusively by Muni). However additional improvements are needed, both in San Francisco and elsewhere throughout the region.

So, how to get things moving in the right direction? Right now the regional focus seems to be on setting up overlapping coordinating groups, hiring consultants and waiting months or years for their reports, all leading someday to a grand regional plan that will take additional years or decades to implement. Does this sound adequate? Not to anyone worried about the oncoming effects of climate change. So why wait? With goodwill and good communications, underpinned by support and encouragement from MTC, the transit agencies could step up their coordination between and among themselves on behalf of eliminating the service gaps as well as the bad timing, traffic-clogged bus trips, fare uncertainties, uncomfortable bus interiors and lack of adequate information that currently deter many would-be transit users. There might also be opportunities, again assisted by MTC, to consider new technologies, new operating methods and ways in which seamless transit could be applied differently in different parts of the region. The response of some properties to this has been “ah, but we serve the transit-dependent”. Good but not enough.  The fact that 95% of the motorists who are currently clogging roadways and impeding transit travel are not transit-dependent speaks for itself.

Getting more people to use a well-integrated network of transit vehicles would be a win-win, because it would offer efficient new opportunities for travelers, increase transit ridership and maybe even ease traffic a bit.

5 thoughts on “Getting Real About Seamless Transit

  1. The ‘Goodwill Model’ (BART and MTC co-project managers on Fare Integration) needs to be embraced and actively used by all the Bay Area transit Operators in order for our elected officials to begin moving money/funding towards ‘seamless’ operations in the Bay Area.

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    • Rick…I think we neglected to reply to your thoughtful comment of 12.08.21. Sorry.

      MTC was formed in 1971. Ever since then there’s been talk about both regional fare integration and “seamless” (which in those days used to be called “transit integration”). I can’t recall anyone ever objecting to either idea, but the results have been less than electrifying. It took 30 years for MTC bring the Clipper Card system on line. Seamless has gone no where.

      It would be nice to think that time things will be different. But we’re not holding our breath.

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  2. I recall looking at the MTC’s first “regional transit guide” way back in ’78. Back then, Bay area transit was extremely balkanized and nothing has improved in the intervening years. I do not think anything will change.

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  3. Bill, Since you raise the subject here’s a speck of history for you:

    In 1977 George Moscone was SF Mayor and Quentin Kopp was President of the SF BOS. They were political enemies and seldom agreed on anything.

    At the time I had just finished the BART/Muni Coordination Study and had become quite interested in regional coordination.

    So I drafted a letter inviting MTC and all the big transit agencies in the region to a meeting in San Francisco to discuss regional coordination and asked Moscone and Kopp to sign it. Both did without hesitation. I was the City’s rep at the ensuing meeting, to which every transit agency, including AC Transit, BART, Muni, Golden Gate Bridge District, VTA, Southern Pacific and Greyhound all showed up right on time, all interested and all more than willing to talk about how the regional network of trains and buses could become better integrated.

    I knew that Paul C. Watt, MTC’s talented and very likable first Executive Director, would have fully backed the idea, but unfortunately by the time of the meeting he been replaced by Paul Bei. Mr. Bei arrived 20 minutes late, with 4 staffers in tow, stiff as a board. As you have guessed, Mr. Bei’s message was: SF’s meeting is inappropriate. This is MTC’s responsibility and “we will shortly be addressing the problem”. Forty four years have passed and here we are.

    Jerry Cauthen

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  4. Jerry: Have you given any thought of writing your memoirs? Except for the story of BART, I do not think much from the last 40 years has been written down.

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