Leading transit advocate says SJ BART extension “crazy”

Image by Wikimedia Commons.

David Schonbrunn, president of transdef.org, takes a look at Bay Area transit management and sees a business model that doesn’t work, services that are no longer in demand, and out-of-control misspending. From a Merc op-ed.

My concerns run much deeper than the panic of the day — the “fiscal cliff.” Working at home is reshaping our travel patterns, deemphasizing the commute to central city downtowns. With the riderships of BART and Caltrain way down, their business models no longer work. Specializing in precisely the kind of commute that is no longer in demand leaves these agencies in serious financial trouble.

Rather than adapt their operations to the new reality, BART’s solution is to ask the public for more money.

It’s time for transit agencies to recognize that times have changed, requiring them to adapt to new conditions. That’s going to be necessary, because after decades of transportation sales taxes and bridge toll increases, the public is not likely to pony up yet again (especially in a poor economy).

We didn’t need to end up here. This mess is the consequence of decades of poor choices made by MTC.

MTC chose to fund very high-cost BART projects that provide high-wage jobs for politically connected construction trades and big contracts for construction contractors and consultants but don’t do much for riders. 

Given BART’s fiscal problems, the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority’s spending $13 billion for a BART extension tunneling under downtown San Jose is crazy. Under MTC’s management, overall transit spending has doubled since the ’80s, even after adjusting for inflation, but transit ridership has gone down, despite the increase in population. This was a massive policy failure.

Since a transformation to a transit culture didn’t take place, the region is now stuck with a very expensive transit system that most people don’t ride. Essentially, MTC has sunk many billions of dollars into creating the region’s transportation infrastructure, which doesn’t work well. I think we’ve arrived at a dead end — I don’t see any pain-free solution.

Read the whole thing here.

For more on transdef.org visit: www.transdef.org

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