A Fresh New Approach at samTrans

Over the last 30 years, much of what has been ballyhooed in the Bay Area as transportation capital improvement has turned out to be special-interest/ pet parochial projects of small consequence and highway expansions accommodating increased Bay Area traffic.

For this reason, when something positive occurs it deserves recognition. On November 6, 2018, the voters of San Mateo County approved Measure W which, through a ½ % county sales tax increase, will provide about $40 million a year to pay for various for improvements to the San Mateo County Transportation Agency (SamTrans).  Along with Caltrain, SamTrans buses provide transit service throughout the Peninsula as well as north-south connections between Santa Clara County, San Mateo County and San Francisco County.

On August 23, 2019 SF Examiner reporter Joe Rodriquez summarized some interesting new steps that SanTrans is taking to make its service more visible and more relevant to riders and would-be riders in the West Bay.

SamTrans’s actions are focused on meeting six simple but practical objectives; namely:

            Provide Mobility Options for Regional Trips
            Increase Market Share in Corridor
            Develop a Cost-Effective System
            Improve Transportation Equity
            Enhance Access to Jobs and Population Centers
            Support Sustainable Land Use and Transportation Policies

As part of its program for increasing market share, SamTrans is seeking to attract both more reverse direction riders during peak commute hours, and more off-peak riders.

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How Municipal Agencies get in Each Other’s Way

Ever wonder why it takes so long to get anything done in San Francisco? Read on:

Six years ago the San Francisco Planning Department and the Ed Lee Administration fixated on accelerating the “full-build-out” of Mission Bay. So they initiated the Rail Alignment and Benefits Study (RAB).
In RAB’s early days the RAB planners were floundering. In an attempt to appear useful they focused on finding as much fault with the Caltrain Downtown Extension project (DTX) as possible. In fact, based on what may have come from the blogosphere, the planners managed to convince themselves that the DTX tracks were wrong, the station layout was wrong, the train turnaround arrangement was wrong, the terminal was too small, the tunnels were too big, the construction approach was wrong and the train storage yard was in the wrong place. As the years rolled by, virtually all of RAB’s criticisms were quietly withdrawn, never to be heard of again. By RAB’s last year it was clear that the only residuals of this singularly wasteful and useless “Study” was a.) a proposed relocation of the rail yard to free up the site for more development (an idea unlikely to leave the starting gate) and b.) a proposed $2 to $3 billion subway under Pennsylvania Street (unlikely to be needed for many years if ever). Given these meager results it appears that the one and only lasting impact of the RAB study was the four year hiatus it imposed on the DTX project.
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More Trouble Ahead for SF City Hall’s Central Subway

Project Management Oversight Consultants (PMOC’s) are retained by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) to keep track of major projects paid for in part by FTA grants.  In the case of the Central Subway its PMOC has been warning of staffing, scheduling and other difficulties for years, warnings that the SFMTA has consistently ignored or downplayed, and was still doing as recently as two months ago.

Howard Wong, San Francisco architect and strong long time advocate for better transportation sums up the situation well:  “Anyone reading Federal PMOC Reports, over the last year(s), would have seen ominous construction conditions—masked by rosy SFMTA forecasts. Remember that the recent testing/commissioning of the new LRV’s & BART cars involved long delays.  And the Central Subway requires testing/commissioning/training for complex systems: stations, trains, operations, maintenance and more.”  Continue reading

Unethical Public Agency Behavior

The State Fair Political Practices Commission has just opened a new investigation of whether or not another set of Bay Area public agencies illegally used public resources for political purposes.  This time the State’s action is directed at MTC, BATA and AC Transit for their behavior during last year’s Regional Measure 3 campaign.  (Unless RM3 is struck down by the Courts, assorted Bay Area agencies will soon begin spending most of the $4.45 billion raised by bridge toll increases on 35 selected transportation projects, a few of which are worthwhile but most of which are either wasteful or counterproductive.  The resulting RM3 mishmash would do little to either improve the Region’s currently-disjointed network of trains, buses and ferry boats or reduce highway backups)

Regardless of what the courts decide, the RM3 campaign provides further

substantiation of why so many people in the greater Bay Area no longer trust their local and regional agencies to behave ethically and in the public interest.

Below are few of the ethical and organizational standards that are too often ignored:

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Nine new highway boondoggles slated to cost $25 billion

Highway expansion projects too often come with big price tags and paltry benefits. Yet at least nine new such expansions are planned across the country, including one in California.

On June 18, 2019, CALPIRG released its fifth “Highway Boondoggles” report, which profiles these projects. Making the list is California’s proposed High Desert Freeway, which is expected to cost $8 billion and, in stark contrast to California’s global warming goals, will inevitably lead to more driving, more pollution and more sprawling desert development.

“To improve California’s transportation system and hit our climate and clean air goals, we must reduce our reliance on cars and highways,” said Emily Rusch, CALPIRG Education Fund executive director. “This project does the opposite, doubling down on a car-centric system that will encourage more people to hit the road…”

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