Looking Forward

The Bay Area transit agencies were not always so dysfunctional as they now seem to be. Here are three successful transit improvement projects all of which proceeded efficiently and without fanfare,

Baby Bullets: Caltrain’s new Baby Bullet system opened in 2004. This successful project was created with minimum cost by the simple act of rearranging the train service to better fit the needs of local, middle-distance and long-distance riders. The new system was instantly popular and Caltrain ridership surged.

E-BART Extension: BART’s e-BART extension from the Pittsburgh/Bay Point BART terminal to Antioch was completed in 2018. By using Diesel Multiple Units (DMU’s) and existing standard gauge track, BART completed the 10-mile extension at moderate cost. The result is a fast and reliable e-BART service that today links the DMU’s to regular BART trains via a convenient cross-platform transfer. The system was an immediate success, to the point where the size of the access parking lots had to be doubled.

Read More Here

Capital Corridor Upgrade: The 168-mile Capitol Corridor line extends from the Sacramento area to San Jose. Beginning in 2014 the Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority released a series of reports which together defined a proposed upgrade of the system. Staying mostly on existing track kept costs down and the proposed upgraded system would integrate unusually well with other bus and rail services along the route. This project was well conceived and warranted early action. Instead it was shelved and now has been swallowed up in the Link 21 maul, meaning that implementation is likely now decades away.

Next Steps: Automobile use in the Bay Area has now risen almost to pre-COVID levels. But transit ridership has remained\at roughly half of what it was pre-COVID. Moreover, it is far from certain that ridership will ever return to pre-COVID levels, or that the lavish State and federal transit largess of the last two years will continue.

For these reasons, the Bay Area’s Transportation Establishment should be thinking about reforming the manner in which it defines its major projects, tightening its belt and making every dollar count. To maintain its economic viability the Bay Area continues to put a high priority on mobility. People need ways of getting around and despite Caltrans’ long and storied history of widening the highways every time they got congested, in dynamic built-up areas like the Bay Area, a greater emphasis must be placed upon improving the non-automotive means of travel. See this revealing MTC video on the subject: https://mtcdrive.app.box.com/s/s1hvkzwn94sc7l0p7h0yspmecugopger

Until the congestion problem is addressed head-on and dealt with, the hundreds of millions of hours per year lost in roadway backups will continue.

Here are some common-sense steps that the Bay Area jurisdictions and transit agencies could take that would both speed things up and improve results:

  • End the practice of concentrating on “leveraging” small local donations with much bigger State and federal subventions and instead focus on defining and advancing cost-effective projects that actually make things better.
  • Keep the developers and special interests the hell out of the decision-making!
  • Ensure that only carefully evaluated top managers who are seasoned “doers” of proven effectiveness are put in charge of major infrastructure projects.
  • Put these projects on tight, detailed and vigorously enforced Critical Path Schedules (CPM’s) very early in the process. It is essential that the time between the commencement of the project and the commencement of Final Design be greatly reduced.
  • End the extraordinarily destructive and wasteful practice of letting agencies without the requisite skills and expertise take on a large and complex infrastructure project in a futile attempt to “tough it out”.
  • Hold people accountable and act to correct bad situations quickly.
  • Stop treating studies, reports and power point presentations as end points. While sometimes useful, they are not end points.  New and improved systems up and running are the endpoints.
  • Stop waiting for MTC. Some towns and cities have already started to take steps to protect themselves from unacceptably high traffic congestion. The individual transit operators need to sit down and look for opportunities to improve the connectivity of their respective services. The objective should be to create a regionally integrated transit service as attractive to as many transit riders and would-be riders as possible.
  • With respect to day-to-day operations, the objective should be to obtain universally safe, clean, reliable, well-maintained and efficiently run transit services.

Unless and until current agency practices are altered in a major way, little will change and nothing will get any better.

End of February 2023 Newsletter

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