Large Transit Agencies Clamor for New Funding while Ignoring Cost-Cutting Opportunities

Dick Spotswood of the Independent Journal hits it on the head. Here are excerpts from his excellent article on the sad state of current Bay Area transit affairs.

“Raising Bay Area bridge tolls can’t be about preserving transit staff members”


PUBLISHED: March 7, 2023 at 10:30 a.m. | UPDATED: March 7, 2023 at 10:36 a.m.

“The Metropolitan Transportation Commission is in the early “talking stage” of creating a 2024 regional ballot measure to raise auto and truck tolls on Bay Area bridges. If this plan moves forward, it will be the fourth measure to raise the cost of transbay commuting. The last one, Regional Measure 3, passed in 2018. A collective majority vote in the nine Bay Area counties is needed for passage.

“The supposed purpose of a potential fourth measure is to aid Bay Area transit agencies who’ve seen declines in patronage and fare-box revenue, in part due to post-pandemic changes on how and where white-collar men and women work.

“Any possible regional measure needs to be followed with an eagle eye. In the worst case, it would create a treasure box of toll revenue ultimately spent in ways only loosely related to their supposed purpose. The next funding package could even include a wildly expensive bike lane of dubious utility on the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. [Who in his or her right mind would commute 20 to 35 miles a day via a cold, noisy and windy bridge over 20 stories high?]

Read More Here

Spotswood goes on: “In my experience, it’s best to head any new regional measure off at the pass, lest it develop sufficient bureaucratic momentum to be unstoppable.

“Most transit agencies have seen dramatic decreases in ridership since the pre-pandemic days of early 2020. The drop is due to our white-collar workforce experiencing one benefit from the global epidemic. Without losing productivity, workers found they can improve their quality of life by working from home part time.

“Guilting commuters to return to downtown offices to bail out commercial real estate interests, cafes and retail, will fail. Adults make everyday decisions based on what’s best for them, not on their impact to bystanders. The best route forward for disrupted business interests is to adapt.

“Multiple transit agencies indicate that, unless they have new sources of funding, they’ll need to substantially cut routes, frequencies and service hours. With federal pandemic funds ending and State saddled with a $22 billion deficit, the only potential revenue source on the horizon is a toll hike on Caltrans’ bay bridges. Fortuitously, that excludes the independently operated Golden Gate Bridge.

“The question is whether such a bailout is about protecting commuters or propping up the public employee headcount. It’s a fair bet that keeping current transit employees on the payroll will be the unstated key motivator if Regional Measure 4 goes on the ballot.

“Running nearly empty buses and trains assists few commuters. It’s also a net environmental negative as mass transit only aids the environment and cuts carbon consumption when it’s truly “mass.” Raising taxes on the remaining transbay commuters — which is what a toll hike represents — will further discourage commuting to downtown San Francisco.

“Transit properties need to do their utmost to aid their dedicated employees in this time of transition. The first job is to create a new business model compatible with the new normal. If that fails, they’ll need to relocate their now-redundant employees to good jobs in growing industries.

“Maintaining a transit network designed for yesterday is “featherbedding.” The network is retaining employees after their practical function has disappeared. If the voting public learns that’s the underlying (yet unstated) purpose of any regional measure, expect it to lose at the ballot box no matter how it’s sugar coated.”

[Unless the large transit bureaucracies make a credible effort to reign in their capital projects of dubious value and reduce their operating and administrative costs, the promotion of yet another regional funding package may turn out to be a hard sell].

2 thoughts on “Large Transit Agencies Clamor for New Funding while Ignoring Cost-Cutting Opportunities

  1. This “mega-measure” nonsense is quite annoying. Vote NO. Over the last several elections, voters have passed multiple tax and fee increases including gas taxes, two bridge toll increases, three VTA sales taxes, Santa Clara County’s Measure A 1/8 cent sales tax, the state prop 30 ¼ cent sales tax and the 2010 Measure B Vehicle Registration Fee of $10. Additionally, we’re on the hook to pay back numerous state bond issues including high speed rail, the Proposition 1 water bond and the infrastructure bonds of 2006.

    All this nickel and diming contributes into making the Bay Area a horribly expensive place to live; especially for people of modest means, who must pay the greatest percentage of their income in these regressive taxes and fees. Each increase by itself does not amount to much, but the cumulative effect is to add to the unaffordability of the region.

    Before increasing taxes YET AGAIN, waste needs to be removed from transportation projects. See BATWG’s item on LINK21, for example. Also, we need to eliminate the redundant and BART extension between the San Jose and Santa Clara Caltrain stations. The BART segment from these stations would duplicate both the existing Caltrain line and VTA’s 22 and 522 buses to a station that has approximately 1000 riders each weekday.

    Why don’t the wealthy high rollers at MTC suggest taxing rich tech companies and leave the little guy alone for a change?


  2. Hi Bill. You’re preaching to the converted. Those who vote for these taxing disasters tend to be:

    people who pay no taxes

    renters who mistakenly think that it’s only the landlord who pays

    public employee unions who see infrastructure boondoggles as wins for them, no matter how the money is used

    the building trades

    consultants who see profits on the horizon

    other business types who see economic activity of any kind as good

    …..Which is why BATWG focuses on telling people how their tax money is being used and misused.


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