Avoiding the Impending Bay Area Stall

Highway backups are increasing. Despite the hoopla, auto and truck use in the Bay Area continues to increase. People talk of trains, but trains can’t go everywhere. They’re too expensive for one thing. Along highways, arterials and busy streets one constantly sees buses bogged down in traffic. Do you think San Francisco is in the forefront of getting its buses out of traffic? If so check out the grey bus-only lines on this map of Minneapolis.

To make matters worse the interiors of urban buses are often dismally uninviting. On Muni buses for instance the ride is so rough that it’s virtually impossible on many routes to any longer read a magazine or book. On these routes the hard plastic seats are so bad that many riders say it’s now more comfortable to stand than sit.

Private industry, with its “hi-tech” buses figured this out years ago and as a result, the interiors of the hi-tech units are comfortable and well-appointed.

As one might expect, uncomfortable buses stalled in traffic invariably push people back to traveling by automobile. MTC has projected that between 2015 and 2025 the number of Bay Area auto trips will increase by 10% and between 2025 and 2030 by another 12%. With commutes getting steadily longer it’s not hard to see what this does to vehicle miles traveled, traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions. In short, travel in the Bay Area is already bad and, if practical steps are not taken, will get steadily worse.

The following five actions would help:

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Two Small but Highly Productive Agencies

When a large public agency is confronted with a new problem or added responsibility the tendency is to hire new people to handle the new work. There are several problems with this approach. First it is often difficult for a public agency to identify prospective employees with the needed experience and qualifications. Delays in deploying competent people in a timely manner often lead to very bad outcomes. It should also be noted that whenever someone is hired by a large agency the tendency is for that individual to remain on the payroll long after the need for his or her services has passed. It is partly because of this reaction to new problems and responsibilities that large agencies tend to continue to grow in size.

Bureaucracy vs Efficiency

But there is another model of how things can work that seldom gets the attention it deserves. Below are two examples of Bay Area agencies that have achieved astonishingly high levels of achievement with very small staffs.

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Drifting Toward a Cliff

As shown in this California Air Resources Board (CARB) chart below, California’s actions designed to conform to SB375’s greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction requirement have been less than stellar. True there has been some lowering of the ultra-high levels that were occurring between 2000 and 2008, but this improvement resulted mostly from federal and State mandates imposed on automobile and truck manufacturers to improve engine efficiency. 

But to get to where California needs to get will require much more than just that. In terms of reduced automobile and truck use, virtually no progress has been made and the Bay Area is no exception to this. As can be seen, in order to meet the 2030 and 2050 targets the pace of reducing car use and making other GHG-reducing changes must pick up significantly. So why have efforts to clear the roadways and reduce GHG emissions so far been so lethargic? 

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FBA Painting Castles in the Sky?

Castle in the clouds

On October 4th, Bay Area Transportation Working Group (BATWG) issued a statement setting forth three pre-requisites to gaining public support for the Faster Bay Area (FBA) $100 billion transportation megatax. NoMegaTax.org is a fast-growing coalition of Bay Area elected and appointed officials, environmentalists, transit advocates, tax payer groups and civic organizations. The following nomegatax.org letter was recently sent to 430 Bay Area officials. It effectively outlines the concerns that if not fully addressed soon, will generate overwhelming opposition to the proposed FBA plan, its enabling legislation and any ensuant tax-raising ballot measures.

NoMegaTax.org

Dear Councilmember,

We are environmentalists and transit and taxpayer advocates who have joined together in response to the Faster Bay Area proposal for a $100 Billion sales tax for transportation. We wanted to offer for your consideration our nuanced thoughts on the opportunities posed by this proposal:

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Muni Task Force Work…Ongoing

Over the last few months, Mayor Breed’s Muni Task Force has been engaged in identifying and finding solutions to Muni problems. On November 22, 2019 BATWG sent initial comments to Controller Ben Rosenfield, whose office is administrating task force work. Based upon the Task Force’s now released draft report, here are a few observations, some of which were alluded to in the previous letter. 

Late last year the Transportation Alliance of San Francisco (TAOSF) in association with other groups issued a 1424 word report, the product of six months of careful deliberation by a highly-experienced group of transportation experts. The report, which contains 20 recommended ways of improving San Francisco’s transportation condition, was sent to dozens of City officials in late 2018. No responses were received. Below are four excerpted recommendations which appear to be of particular relevance to the Task Force’s work. 

From the SFMTA GOVERNANCE AND ORGANIZATION Section of the TAOSF Report:

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