Others were celebratory but nuanced, such as TransForm’s Stuart Cohen: “This gradual toll increase will provide an important boost to expand Bay Area transit and biking and walking infrastructure. We’re particularly excited that the measure will fund Safe Routes to Transit, operating funds for express buses, Bus Rapid Transit projects, and work on the Bay Trail — lower profile projects that will mean a lot for transit riders and low-income residents.”
But he added that “Social equity was definitely our biggest concern about RM3, which was shared by many opponents and is likely responsible for the somewhat narrow margin. Even though 75 percent of toll payers make more than $75,000, we know this may be a hardship for low-income commuters already struggling to afford living in the Bay Area.”
Meanwhile, TransForm’s Cohen is already thinking about the next steps to get transportation funded and built in the Bay Area. “Now that RM3 is in the bag, advocates are immediately looking to an upcoming ‘mega measure’ for transportation that could provide even bigger, bolder solutions to our transportation and housing woes. If RM3 has taught us anything, it’s to make that mega measure as equitable and comprehensive as possible.”
“We’re in a vicious cycle,” said Stuart Cohen, executive director at TransForm in Oakland, a transportation advocacy nonprofit, “where the more traffic, the slower the buses go, leading more people to abandon them, leading to more traffic, and so on.”
A letter from East Bay transportation advocacy group TransForm, however, noted that a BRT project coupled with core system improvements would reduce Vehicle Miles Travelled (VMT) and reduce carbon emissions at a higher rate, and for a lower cost, than a Livermore BART extension.
“Building Conventional BART would cost $1.2 billion more than BRT, but would result in a time advantage of just three to nine minutes,” wrote Joël Ramos of TransForm. Ramos noted that despite the high cost of the BART extension, it would get fewer commuters out of cars to ride BART from Livermore than funding core capacity improvements.
Joel Ramos, policy director for TransForm, a Bay Area transit advocacy group, who grew up in Pittsburg when the nearest station was in Concord. “I know what it’s like to feel you were promised something. But that time of being able to build beyond our resources is long gone.”
“Trains are infrequent, delays are common and the community I’m part of more and more is refusing to take BART,” said Zack Deutsch-Gross, a graduate student of public policy at UC Berkeley [and TransForm intern]. “Why expand the system when it’s hemorrhaging riders already? We should focus on what we do have and improving that, rather than going beyond our means.”
The light-rail-like buses would use toll lanes on I-580 to ensure they never reach speeds of less than 55 or 50 miles per hour, said Joel Ramos, regional planning director for TransForm, a transportation advocacy nonprofit.
And it could get built right away, he said. “You can’t add a room to your house if your foundation is cracked and that’s essentially what BART is trying to do,” Ramos said. “If you want relief now, we need to go with the bus rapid transit.”
A speaker from TRANSFORM echoed his sentiments. He pointed out that the money is available to fund the bus rapid transit now. Funds are getting more and more scarce. He predicted that funds would not be available for such a poorly performing project as a full BART extension.
“These concessions will likely reduce the risk of backlash we feared when we imagined eight-story buildings springing up in single family home areas,” wrote TransForm’s Stuart Cohen, in a detailed analysis of the bill modifications.
As bicycling, pedestrian and transit advocates prepare to drum up support for Regional Measure 3, a $3 toll bridge increase coming to voters in June for transit, highway, bicycling and pedestrian infrastructure, it’s imperative voters know their money will be spent the way its being presented to them, said Edie Irons, the communications director for TransForm, a transportation advocacy nonprofit.
“We, the voters, need confidence that commitments to projects, or at least the general uses of voter-approved funds, will be respected after the spotlight of an election passes,” she said. “It’s very troubling those commitments can be so dramatically revised after the fact.”
Questions of equity plague transit, even — or perhaps especially — in democracies. BART’s fare model, which charges riders more to travel greater distances, makes sense according to a strict miles-per-passenger calculus. It’s also palatable in a society where affluent, often white, suburbanites pay more than lower-income urban-dwellers, often people of color, who travel within the region’s core. But the 2010s population boom in central U.S. cities has upended that uneasy arrangement, and higher transit costs are an auxiliary injustice of displacement. Transportation-policy nonprofit TransForm addresses these concerns in a 2017 report called “Crossing Together — Equity Considerations for a Second Transbay Crossing.”
Displacement can be direct — knocking down your house to erect a ventilation shaft — or it can be indirect — making your neighborhood so desirable that you can’t live there anymore. Constructing new tunnels and stations tends to affect poor people quite visibly, but indirect displacement may be more insidious. It’s the carbon-monoxide poisoning to direct displacement’s fire.
Clarrissa Cabansagan, who studies urban mobility and inequality at the advocacy group Transform, said a local tax on ride-hailing services is a worthy idea, but that it's important for local policy makers to first determine what problems they're trying to solve with a tax instead of just imposing it to raise money. "Is it that we want this Robin Hood effect of taxing the rich and giving it back in ways that are meaningful for people who rely on public transit systems like AC Transit?" asked Cabansagan.
Clarissa Cabansagan, Mobility Policy Director of Transform, a non-profit transportation and planning organization, says studies on such taxes are pretty clear. "It depends on how much it costs. It will take a lot, by way of a tax, two to five dollars like New York is talking about, for it to actually impact the number of rides," said Cabansagan.
“We know that fare evasion is a significant revenue issue for BART, but it’s also a serious equity concern, especially given BART’s problems with over-policing and profiling,” wrote Edie Irons, spokesman for TransForm, in an email. “While it’s clear BART has tried to craft a balanced approach, there are still ways this policy could have a negative impact on peoples’ lives that vastly outweigh the severity of the crime.”
The ordinance also provides the option of doing community service rather than paying a fine. But Irons would like to see more: “What if, on top of their citation or community service, every young fare evader got a loaded Clipper Card that was half the value of the fine, along with information about BART’s new youth discount program?”
Ann Cheng of Transform, a transit advocacy group, supports zero-parking projects, particularly next to transit hubs. Building Kennedy's project with zero parking next to BART will generate an estimated 3.3 million fewer miles traveled by cars a year compared to building the project in the average location in the Bay Area, she said.
Not building 361 parking spaces would also save around $17.5 million, she said.
Cheng acknowledged that the project faces political hurdles. "The people who drive there have built their lives around access to West Oakland BART," said Cheng. "That's going to be the pain point."
Cheng would like the city to consider creating a "parking benefits district" in West Oakland. In those districts, which have been tested in other parts of Oakland, residents pay a lower parking toll while commuters and visitors pay a higher fee to fund local community benefits.
“TransForm has been calling for more housing near transit for over twenty years now, and we’re glad to see all the conversation this bill has inspired,” says Joshua Stark, state policy director at TransForm, a social justice-focused transportation and land use advocacy nonprofit. “This bill has the potential to really benefit people, if it can also ensure gains for affordability and the climate. For example, it could include provisions to support affordable housing and transit benefits that help reduce driving and vehicle ownership.”