“We absolutely need to start transitioning the fleet to electric buses, but there is certainly a learning curve and a transition cost,” said Stuart Cohen, executive director of TransForm, an advocacy group in Oakland. “Put on the right routes, e-buses can be a huge win-win.
“They are quieter and smoother to ride, they reduce local air pollution and street noise, and when focused on low-income communities of color most impacted by pollution, they can be a way to reduce the tremendous health disparities in our society.”
Communications Director Edie Irons was a guest on Your Call with Rose Aguilar, an hour-long call-in radio show, focused on transportation issues on the November ballot.
"This is the most powerful statement I've ever seen in transportation policy," said Stuart Cohen, executive director of the nonprofit group TransForm. He praised Lara and other state legislators for recognizing that something as seemingly small as a freeway lane can lead to opportunity and social mobility.
“When you get into that freeway lane, you get to your job faster,” Cohen said. Societal disparities get worse, he noted, when rich people can buy their way into the lanes, and poor people are shut out.
There are solutions to this problem that would spare clean-air drivers, such as increasing vehicle occupancy requirements to three or more people; instituting or increasing tolls; or constructing more diamond lanes, according to Caltrans. But those fixes are either cost-prohibitive or politically unpopular, said Stuart Cohen, executive director of TransForm, an Oakland transportation advocacy group.
“This is absolutely the simplest way to tackle this issue,” Cohen said.
Clarrissa Cabansagan, a transportation advocate with the group TransForm, says companies need to be “held to a higher standard,” than what’s in the ordinance.
The plan would require that a majority of scooters be deployed in what are called “communities of concern” — a designation for low income and underserved neighborhoods. But that designation covers most of Oakland.
“That can mean all in the Lake Merritt area, downtown,” says Cabansagan.
Cabansagan, with TransForm, adds that scooter companies should work with community groups to spread the word about the affordable option, and how to ride safely. She also says scooters highlight a need for more bike lanes and better pavement.
“In places like deep East Oakland, people are riding on sidewalks and they’re riding on sidewalks because they feel safer on sidewalks, because sidewalks don't have as many potholes as the streets,” says Cabansagan.
Cabansagan says the scooter craze has opened a window of opportunity to invest in safer streets. Some scooter companies have already pledged to fund more bike lanes in the cities where they operate.
The transportation advocacy group, Transform, supports the change. "By unclogging the carpool lanes, it will get people back to using transit and incentive to be in electric vehicles for a fast ride for three years," said Stuart Cohen, Transform executive director.
“Those people enjoyed three, maybe four years of HOV lane access and if they want, and what we’ve heard is some people are gonna trade those in and get a new electric vehicle,” said Stuart Cohen, executive director of TransForm, an Oakland-based non-profit seeking to reduce the number of commuters and vehicles on Bay Area roadways.
“The current system is definitely broke; right now the carpool lanes are losing,” said Stuart Cohen, executive of TransForm, a transportation advocacy group in Oakland. “Many of the Bay Area’s carpool lanes are slowing down 75 percent or more of the time. At that point, commuters lose all incentive to carpool.
“Even worse, buses, carpools and shuttles that may be carrying five to 60 people per vehicle also come to a crawl. That means more solo driving and more congestion for everybody.”
“San Francisco has traditionally been the place where these companies all want to play — particularly in the Financial District,” said Clarrissa Cabansagan, new mobility policy director for TransForm, a regional transportation nonprofit.
Nor does the survey take into account housing, which is typically the largest single cost for any individual or family and one that often influences people’s decision to drive a car or take transit, said Edie Irons, a spokesperson for TransForm, a transportation advocacy nonprofit.
The high cost of housing may be driving low-income residents from the area, while at the same time limiting the expendable income for those who stay, she said. So, even if it looks like people are more affluent, they may still be struggling to pay transportation-related costs.
“That seems likely to be the invisible factor in these changes,” Irons said. “We know housing is closely connected to transportation choices, and transportation spending is the second-largest expense for many households, especially low-income households.”
... But, she said there might be other, more positive, factors at play, as well. The agency’s transbay bus lines have seen a growing number of riders over the past few years, and are now its most popular, carting some 14,000 passengers each weekday as more people opt out of Bay Bridge traffic.
“The thing that could very well be happening … is that transit is working well for people,” Irons said. “It’s going where they want to go and they see the benefits of transit, whether that’s avoiding traffic or driving less to do something good for the environment or wanting to have a more relaxed commute.”
As part of its commitment, Lyft will work with nonprofit organizations like TransForm to develop programs that support people with low incomes.
“The majority are not making enough to live in not just San Mateo, but in the neighboring county,” said Stuart Cohen, executive director of TransForm. The housing shortage has forced many teachers, emergency workers and service employees out of the county, he said.
Consider the following statistics, released June 14 in a report jointly authored by TransForm
Evelyn Stivers, executive director of the Housing Leadership Council, says that because the problems of traffic and housing are so linked, policymakers should also take this into account.
"We could spend billions on transportation and actually have traffic get worse if we don't build enough affordable homes," she said in an interview. "The goal overall is to think about transportation and housing holistically."
"We can't keep planning for transportation in a vacuum. We need to build housing in ways that reduce the need to drive in the first place," said Chris Lepe, Senior Community Planner at TransForm. "We can help people get out of their cars by providing real alternatives that are reliable, safe, and pleasant," Lepe said. "The transportation sales tax is exactly the tool we need to invest in effective public transit, sidewalks, and bike lanes."
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.”