Well-Founded Projections by a Seasoned Expert

Mr. Alan Pisarski is an internationally acclaimed transportation expert. At the October 21st BATWG meeting Pisarski provided an insightful analysis of the short and long term effects of changes on transportation and the economy of metropolitan areas like the Bay Area that have been brought on by COVID, and the resulting demographic and societal changes. During his presentation he stressed the “iffiness” of the data at hand and the consequent high degree of uncertainty inherent in today’s forecasting efforts. From his remarks it was clear that he thought the dogged determination of some local and regional agencies to proceed assuming that everything would soon “get back to “normal” was most unwise.

Here are Mr. Pisarski’s “Five Steps to Guide Transportation Spending and Planning during the Coronavirus Pandemic” and its aftermath, as published in the Reason magazine last August:

First, he calls for a “moratorium on all expansion-based transportation investments—for the obvious reasons.” The COVID pandemic is remaking transportation demand, for commuters, households and freight logistics. “While being willing to accept some absolutely clear and verifiable capacity needs, we must place a hold on transportation expansion investments, at least until the dust settles”, he says.

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Leveling the Transportation Spending Boat

The passage of the long awaited federal infrastructure bill with $45.5 billion earmarked for California comes as welcome news. (While this may sound like a large sum, it isn’t. With only $9.45 billion of this amount earmarked for transportation statewide, there is none to be wasted)

For this and other reasons it is necessary to make optimal use of the transportation resources we have, which tend to be scarce most of the time. Making this happen will take effective regional leadership as well as commitment on the part of transit agencies, local politicians, regional and State officials to ensure that incoming transportation funds are always intelligently distributed and prudently spent.

This will take some important changes to the current way of doing things. The boat needs leveling:

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Senate Bills 9 and 10, and their Impact on Transportation

Senate Bills 9 and 10, take effect Jan. 1, 2022. Signed into law by Governor Newsom in September 2021, these bills would make it easier for Californians to build up to six additional housing units on many properties previously reserved exclusively for single-family homes. This approach gained credence in Sacramento because of heavy pressure from housing developers, but also because some State Legislators came to believe that placing housing units near transit stops would lead to more transit use and therefore less traffic congestion.

This conclusion was reached despite MTC’s Plan Bay Area 2050 projection that adding 1.54 million new housing units between and 2015 and 2050 would do little if anything to improve transit’s dismally low percentage of commute trips, much less non-commute trips. In fact, despite PBA 2050’s emphasis on affordable housing and expansion of transit services, its projections show that by 2050 there will be at least 2.5 million additional personal vehicle trips a day on the region’s roadways and that even with a 110 percent expansion in transit miles operated, only about 3% of the region’s jobs would be accessible within 45 minutes by transit; versus 18 percent within 30 minutes by personal vehicle. Under the circumstances it seems evident that higher residential densities created if the two bills are left to stand will inevitably lead to more congestion in the region’s urban neighborhoods and communities and more barriers put in place of good transit travel.

Senate Bills SB 9 and 10 are among the most contentious bills to ever get through the California legislative process. They face broad opposition because they largely override local government’s zoning and land use decision-making, disrupt established and stable neighborhoods and yet provide no assurance that they would either create more affordable housing or significantly increase transit use. It appears that in 2022 these highly controversial bills will face one or more State ballot propositions designed to rescind them.


The Question is Why?

On May 26, 2021, a disgruntled Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) employee went on a shooting rampage at the agency’s main Guadalupe light rail yard, fatally striking nine co-workers with bullets before killing himself. There was and is universal agreement that this senseless slaughter of innocent people was horrifying and that every conceivable effort should be made to provide optimal care to the victims and their families.

But why, as a result, did the Authority shut down VTA light rail service for over three months?

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Public Agencies, Like Private Companies, Sometimes Need Outside Evaluation


Private companies and large public agencies across the United States and throughout the world are routinely subjected to independent outside management audits.

However in the Bay Area such operational and managements analyses are rare……independent analyses even more so. Here’s what an independent management audit can do for a struggling public agency.

Organizational Policy-making, Management and Operations:

– Evaluate the experience and qualifications of those who sit on boards and commissions. Recommend ways of improving their effectiveness.

– Identify and clearly describe instances where aggressive real estate developers and other narrowly-focused outside parties are unduly influencing public policy decisions.

– Set up a process for ensuring that part time policy makers have access to the information they need to make wise decisions and otherwise do their jobs effectively…without being overwhelmed in irrelevant detail.

– Examine the management structure of the organization from top to bottom. Carefully review all organization charts, budgets, policy directives, accountability procedures, work rules, coordination protocols, etc. Recommend specific ways of improving efficiency, productivity, internal communication and general effectiveness. Cite specific instances of where changes in supervision or management are warranted.

Capital Improvement:

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James R. Mills

From 1960 to 1982, James R. Mills was a highly productive member of the State Legislature during which he served with distinction as the State Senate’s pro-transit Transportation Committee Chair and later as its President pro tem. During his time in the Legislature he was a consistent champion of improving passenger rail and other forms of public transit. He was justly proud of his legislative accomplishments which helped create the extensive and highly successful San Diego Trolley system and brought significant public transit improvements to many other parts of California. Mills died on March 27, 2021 at age 93.

When Governments Become Dysfunctional

With the federal government poised to lavish $2 trillion or more on State and local governments, now might be a good time to take stock of how well equipped the receiving agencies are to use hundreds of billions of incoming new dollars in prudent and productive ways.

Given the Bay Area’s dismal recent record of managing large amounts of capital, the prognosis is not good. Before identifying causes it is necessary to provide a small sampling of the results. 

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MTC Begins Final Phase for Plan Bay Area 2050

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) released its draft Bay Area 2050 Plan on July 8, 2020. Following that milestone, public review and comment over the summer led to modifi­cations and additions that are now being incorporated. These modifications escalated the Plan’s price tag by $668 billion, demon­strating the challenge of building support among the 100 government entities around the Bay. The final Plan Bay Area 2050 is expected to be adopted by the fall of 2021.

The Plan anticipates that the nine-county Bay Area will add 2.5 million new residents and 1.33 million new jobs between 2020 and 2050. The Plan envisions that by 2050 the Bay Area will be affordable, connected, diverse, healthy and vibrant. These aspirations are expressed through thirty-five strategies defined as policies or bundles of investments, clustered under eleven categories:

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