Published Wednesday, July 30, 2008, by the Menlo Park Almanac
Transit suffers from lack of collaboration
If the Bay Area ever hopes to lure people out of their cars and
onto mass transit, the regional infighting over transit modes and
dollars has to stop. The disconnect extends from the mega agencies
responsible for giving millions of tax dollars to major transit
projects to the lack of coordination between Caltrain and SamTrans,
which set schedules to serve their own riders, but often overlook
commuters who might want to reach a destination off their main line.
The major damage was done years ago when BART was created without
San Mateo and Santa Clara counties on board. This failure to deliver
one mode of transit to all the counties surrounding the San Francisco
Bay continues to pit BART counties against Caltrain counties, to the
detriment of all commuters.
The infighting often is about the scarce transit dollars that are
doled out to highway, rail and BART projects by the Metropolitan
Transportation Commission, an agency made up of representatives
of all Bay Area counties. Every funding cycle, the MTC considers
projects advanced by counties in a process that could take 10 years
or more for a project to receive the green light, making it very
difficult to change priorities. Costs also can double or triple
while a project waits its turn on the MTC list.
The Dumbarton Rail project, an ambitious plan conceived some
30 years ago to rebuild a trains-only bridge from Fremont to Menlo
Park, is stuck in the MTC budgeting process. At a July 22 meeting
in Palo Alto, its supporters voted to oppose an attempt by East Bay
representatives to "borrow" $91 million already allocated to the
project; the borrowed funds would be used to help build a BART
segment from Fremont to Warm Springs. This extension is a key link
in the controversial plan to extend BART to downtown San Jose and
the airport -- a plan that has languished due to lack of funding.
Ultimately, the advisory committee, including Menlo Park City Council
member Heyward Robinson, opposed the idea on a 9-3 vote, but the
final say will be had by the full MTC, which is to take up the issue
in September. This mostly party-line vote was not a surprise, since
the committee is heavily stacked with Dumbarton Rail supporters. A
strong contrarian view was presented by Alameda Supervisor Scott
Haggerty, who reminded committee members the vote does not prevent
the full MTC from approving the transfer.
But nowhere in the discussion did the panel ever decide to revisit
either project or talk about how to get the most efficiency for the
scarce transit dollars available in the East Bay and the West Bay.
Does it make sense to spend $600 million (and certainly more by
the time the project is built, if it is ever approved) to build a
railroad-only bridge across the bay? For far less money, the MTC
could purchase a never-ending stream of comfortable buses for
dedicated-lane rapid transit to carry commuters from the East Bay
to and from Silicon Valley and San Francisco.
We know many transportation commission members see the big picture
in Bay Area transit, but many do not. Somehow, these top transit
officials need to find a way to continually assess whether projects
like BART to San Jose, or Dumbarton Rail, will return good value
even after they have doubled, tripled or quadrupled in cost.
In the process, perhaps the commission can find a way to help make
things better at the local level, where the transit dollar meets the
road. For example, in the July 16 issue of The Almanac, reporter
Rory Brown wrote about his assignment to use only mass transit from
his San Francisco home to The Almanac office in West Menlo Park <http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/38997
This five-day experiment clearly shows the frustrating lack of
coordination between buses and trains at the Menlo Park train depot.
For example, the 8:19 train out of San Francisco arrives in Menlo
Park at 8:58, two minutes after a SamTrans bus is scheduled to pull
out of the station for West Menlo. Similar schedule glitches on
other routes made the Menlo Park commute a nightmare of long waits
and worrying about missing connections. At the end of five days, a
frustrated Mr. Brown was eager to get back in his car, despite
raising his carbon footprint.
Certainly, there are some transit success stories in the Bay Area.
But BART and Caltrain have a long way to go to attract enough riders
to make a serious dent in reducing the huge traffic logjams that tie
up the Bay Area nearly every weekday morning and evening. We hope
that some day a way can be found to bring more collaboration to this
process, rather than the bickering we saw at last week's Dumbarton
Advisory Committee meeting.
[BATN: See also:
Warm Springs BART vs. Dumbarton Rail debate gets testy
Caltrain, SamTrans, VTA: missed connections, lousy service
Should Warm Springs BART defund transbay Dumbarton rail?
Editorial: Don't divert Dumbarton rail funds for costly SJ BART
Comment: Push to cannibalize Dumbarton rail funds for SJ BART
Dumbarton Rail may be sacrificed to help fund Warm Springs, SJ BART
SCCo. Grand Jury advises VTA to pull Dumbarton rail funds
SCCo. Grand Jury slams VTA, San Jose BART
Grand jury raps BART linkup to San Jose
SCCo. Grand Jury report: halt SJ BART extension
SCCo. Grand Jury blasts VTA on SJ BART extension
VTA chair brushes off Grand Jury SJ BART criticisms
SCCo. Grand Jury: Halt BART to SJ, reform VTA