Faster, Better, more Cost-Effective

People often wonder how the Bay Area, so full of highly-educated and talented individuals, finds it so difficult to develop cost-effective public infrastructure projects in a timely manner. Some think this is because of corruption. Others say it’s because of incompetence. With excellent input from experts Alan Pisarski, Bent Flyvbjerg and Darlene Gee, HNTB Senior Vice President, BATWG offers a less accusatory set of explanations:

The Projects: Large engineering project are inherently complicated, requiring thousands of planning, design and inter-agency decisions. As well documented by Bent Flyvbjerg, budget and scheduling problems are common in all large projects throughout the world.

Qualifications:  Inexperienced and in some cases unqualified individuals without any training or even orientation are randomly picked to sit on powerful boards and commissions that control millions and sometimes billions of dollars. Insufficiently educated on the importance of their new function, many policy-makers remain confused about regional priorities and overly susceptible to parochial priorities, developers, unions and other outside pressure groups. This sorry practice must end. Qualifications and experience are of critical importance, and every incoming Board member should well understand both the objectives of the new agency and the kinds of decision he or she will be called upon to make. To ensure this result, it is essential that the appointing decisions are made thoughtfully and that incoming new members receive intensive training and orientation.

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Caltrain Needs Certainty

The governance of Caltrain has been much in the news lately. Given all the talk, one would think that the agency was in a shambles. But it’s not. In fact Caltrain is a well run and well maintained operation that, pre-COVID, was popular with riders and enjoying a steadily increasing ridership.

So why all the hoopla?

MTC, the Caltrain Joint Powers Authority (JPB) and Samtrans, the agency that manages the system for the JPB, have unaccountably squashed four manageable problems into a single highly complex one that they seem unable to address in a calm and dispassionate way, much less resolve.

Let’s take each of the four manageable problems in turn:

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SFMTA’s Continuing Muni Metro problems… A Historical Perspective

Back in the 1960’s Muni was part of the SF Public Utilities Commission. In the late 1960’s the oncoming BART subway give Muni an opportunity to modernize its streetcar system. So the PUC sent one of its engineers to Europe to get a better look at some of Europe’s successful subway operations. He returned with a recommendation that there be a single 10-car train extending from State College to the Embarcadero, fed at the West Portal by short K-L trains and at the Duboce Portal by short J-N trains. That recommendation was rejected by the PUC brass on grounds that San Francisco’s streetcar users, used to getting one-seat rides to downtown San Francisco, “didn’t want to transfer and in fact wouldn’t transfer”.

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North Bay Rail Needs New Name – “SMART”, It Is Not

Voters in Sonoma and Marin counties approved a sales tax obligation in 2008 to plan, build and operate the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit 70-mile commuter rail system from Cloverdale to about 3/8 mile from the Larkspur Ferry Terminal. The 70 mile plan did not pan out, with SMART beginning 42-mile rail service from Santa Rosa to San Rafael in mid-1917, and extending to Larkspur in late 2019.


As of Dec 2021, the cumulative cost to build, operate, and finance SMART totaled $1 Billion while the cumulative total ridership was approximately 2 million one-way passenger trips. That works out to about $500 for every one-way passenger trip, so far!

Every transit operator reports data monthly and annually to the National Transit Database (NTD) maintained by the Federal Transit Administration. The NTD data is the source for uniformly reported statistics on operating expenses, passenger trips and passenger miles, fare revenues and the number of vehicle miles and hours of service provided. Below is the history for SMART.

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