Report raises questions about integrating Bay Area public transit
A VTA light rail train arrives at the Metro/Airport station in San Jose in this file photo.

    Bay Area transit agencies are making slow but steady progress toward a seamless system that puts users first.

    That’s according to a recent report—authored by Seamless Bay Area, SPUR, Bay Area Council, TransForm, Silicon Valley Leadership Group and Joint Venture Silicon Valley—that examines factors like cost and accessibility for transit agencies including VTA, BART and Caltrain. It marks the one-year anniversary of the Transformation Action Plan, which lays out 27 ways to revamp public transit across the region’s 27 agencies.

    The plan, released by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, proposes funding and policy changes for easier user service. The commission has authorized $152 million in funding to support the plan’s goals, such as transit passes working across multiple systems and making signs and maps uniform across the agencies. But there’s concern over integrating the numerous agencies, as achieving goals would still require independent approval from each agency.

    The report shows progress in terms of funding and research, as well as gains in fare integration programs and projects that streamline information for customers, including signs, maps and directions. However, movement is slow for policies that prioritize public transit, such as giving buses priority on the road over single-occupancy vehicles. The report also reveals cooperation between the agencies is lagging and work toward accessible service is also slow to move forward.

    Image courtesy of Seamless Bay Area.

    Ultimately, more collaboration is needed among the region’s transit agencies, advocates said.

    “Lower income (riders) rely off of public transit and are impacted when it’s slow, or when it’s poorly connected or it’s expensive,” said Ian Griffiths, policy director for Seamless Bay Area. “Making transit better is just fundamentally an equity issue.”

    Accessible public transportation is connected to other issues like climate change, housing and wealth inequality, Griffiths told San José Spotlight, noting the purpose of public transit is not to just ride a bus—it’s to get somewhere.

    “Your access to opportunity, your access to jobs and housing and an education, is determined by the quality of the public transit system,” he said.

    Advocates have called for a public transportation overhaul to address what they say is unreliable service, as many commuters rely on multiple transit providers in a single trip. California is pouring billions into transit infrastructure and working toward a statewide high-speed rail system. Meanwhile, San Jose transit projects are stalling as agencies recover from plummeting ridership during the COVID-19 pandemic.

    The Bay Area has more transit agencies compared to other large metro areas such as Boston and Chicago, said Russell Hancock, CEO of Joint Venture Silicon Valley. Collaboration between the local agencies is key, especially as the Transformation Action Plan is not legislated and therefore not mandated, Hancock said.

    “There’s no way we can expect ridership on that kind of a system,” Hancock told San José Spotlight. “We’d like to see a regional approach to our transportation system, as opposed to this crazy Christmas tree.”

    Transit policy should work in tandem with housing policy, which in turn improves the region’s economy, Hancock said. VTA is currently implementing extensive housing projects on agency-owned land. Currently, 11 projects are underway and are projected to increase annual revenue by $30 million.

    Increasing service and operational funding is crucial, said Monica Mallon, transit advocate and San José Spotlight columnist.

    “Service is really the biggest driver of ridership, and the biggest way to help the most people,” Mallon told San José Spotlight.

    Contact Loan-Anh Pham at [email protected] or follow @theLoanAnhLede on Twitter.

    Comment Policy (updated 11/1/2021): We reserve the right to delete comments or ban users who engage in personal attacks, hate speech, excess profanity or make verifiably false statements. Comments are moderated and approved by administrators.

    Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published.