Chris Lepe, regional policy director for at the transportation advocacy nonprofit TransForm, said the region’s public transit systems “are not targeted toward the kind of destinations people want to go to on the weekend.”
... Lepe, as you might imagine, is a pretty avid transit user: From his home in San Jose, he regularly takes Caltrain to San Francisco and Amtrak to the East Bay. But if he wants to visit friends or go camping in Sonoma County over the weekend, he said, “There isn’t a good option.”
So Lepe winds up driving instead — and often getting stuck in traffic. There’s no sign that the factors creating weekend traffic jams will be easing any time soon. As long as money is tight and transportation agencies need to prioritize spending, devoting money to improving commutes rather than weekend trips may not be a bad thing — after all, it would affect more people on more days each week, Lepe said.
“What makes the most sense in terms of bang for the buck?” he said.
Lyft also donated $700,000 to a program administered by TransForm in February this year, which some bike advocates said clouded any public statements the group made in defense of Lyft. But after it netted some public scrutiny on social media — including from local bike advocate Chema Hernandez Gil, who called it a “justice issue” — TransForm released a more definitive statement in support of cash payments. TransForm spokesperson Edie Irons said for cash payments to truly be successful, Lyft would need to invest heavily in making sure target communities are reached.
“It’s a terrible system. We’ve never been satisfied with how the cash system was working,” Irons told the Examiner. “Of course we want to see more locations, that are more accessible, for cash payment. We never endorsed removing cash payment. We’re dismayed our support for prepaid cards was made to look like that.”
At the end of the day, however, Irons said the cost of administering a cash program might be too high for Lyft to desire to engage in. It may be simpler, easier and more beneficial to Bay Area low-income communities to simply make the service free, she said.
“We continue to advocate that Bikeshare For All memberships and low-income scooter programs should just be free, period,” she said.
"In the Bay area, in the last several years, we've added half a million jobs and only 50,000 homes," said Edie Irons, communications director for Transform, a nonprofit that lobbies state lawmakers for more affordable housing and transportation options for Californians.
The average tech worker in San Jose and San Francisco earned more than $111,000 a year in 2018, according to the Computing Technology Industry Association, compared to around $76,000 for non-tech workers. Zillow data shows that Bay Area home prices on average grew from $245,000 in 1997 to $995,800 in 2018. Those figures, combined with San Jose and San Francisco areas building fewer homes, helped cause the crisis. Californians have bemoaned the rising home prices for years and "now the companies that helped to create it are finally stepping up," Irons said.
Irons echoed Sanders' comment and said the $4.5 billion "is a drop in the bucket" when the median home price in San Francisco is more than $1 million.
"It's absolutely throwing money at the symptoms and not very much when you look at the scope of the problem," she said. "That said, it is a step in the right direction and it's absolutely welcome."
TransForm has been working on an idea to make it quick, convenient, and easy to get around the region via transit, offering better-than-decent alternatives to driving. Its vision, called the Regional Express Transit Network, or ReX, is an idea for a new system of “rail-like rubber-tire transit” using managed lanes on area freeways.
TransForm has mapped out potential hubs for the regional system, which would connect to existing regional rail and local transit routes. The idea is to get people from hub to hub faster than driving, with convenient, frequent connections to existing and enhanced local transit at the hubs.
To be clear: this is a vision for the future, set out in some detail by TransForm but with a lot more work to be done. The organization has released it now to provide input to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) on work it is currently doing to model a proposed network of managed freeway lanes. It also lays out potential investments from a future regional transportation tax measure. It’s a roadmap of how transportation investments could be used to improve transit and provide alternatives to driving throughout the region.
“We would expect ReX to increase ridership across the board,” said Edie Irons, TransForm’s Communications Director. “We see it as connecting and complementing existing systems, making transit a more convenient and attractive option for lots of people who don’t currently use transit. It’s a regional transit option with a greater reach than currently exists.”
Imagine gliding from Walnut Creek to Mountain View at rush hour without getting stuck in traffic or settling in for a ride to San Francisco International Airport from the North Bay knowing you won’t have to get up from your seat to make a transfer.
That’s the vision behind a multibillion-dollar idea to ease commute times and reshape transportation in the Bay Area over the next several decades.
Called the Bay Area Regional Express Transit Network, or ReX, the concept from transportation think-tank TransForm seeks to get commuters out of their cars by knitting together the region with next-generation buses that travel on an extensive network of dedicated lanes to ensure they don’t get bogged down in traffic.
Clarrissa Cabansagan, a policy director for California transit justice organization TransForm, said the onus is on the cities to set up a system requiring companies to improve outreach.
“The cities need to be more specific about how outreach should happen in low-income communities … and [be] held to that standard,” Cabansagan told The Hill, noting that she checks the scooter apps every day in Oakland and finds the vehicles aren’t located in poor neighborhoods.
Supporters of a sales tax hike who attended Tuesday‘s meeting included a couple dozen union carpenters. Representatives of East Bay environmental and community groups such as TransForm and Greenbelt Alliance also support the plan, Hayley Currier of land use and transportation nonprofit TransForm told supervisors.
The groups have worked with the authority to make the spending plan more sustainable than the one shot down in 2016 by adding more money for bus, pedestrian and bike improvements and prioritizing projects that reduce vehicle miles traveled and greenhouse gas emissions, she noted.
“We’re excited about the commitment to reaching communities of concern,” Currier said.
There’s also, of course, a huge equity component to that. As TransForm’s Clarrissa Cabansagan pointed out, a disproportionate number of black and brown people, thanks to the high-cost of housing, have been forced into outlying areas where transit is all-but unusable and streets are built for driving almost exclusively. They may have grown up in the city center, where they were accustomed to using transit, she added, but now “They’re buying a car because that’s the only way to move around.”
This situation is made even worse, she explained, by the 27-disparate transit operators in the Bay Area, and the lack of coordinated fares. As a result, it’s often cheaper to buy a car and drive than spend money on multiple fares, say on AC Transit, BART, and Muni. Car ownership, however, is fraught with unexpected repair bills, high insurance premiums, and predatory loans, further driving people into poverty. That takes away more money people desperately need for basic needs, such as housing. “We’re seeing the rise of the mega-commute,” she said, adding that people are commuting from as far away as Tracy to find ways to rent and buy affordable housing and make ends meet.
The takeaway from the panel: for one, most of the “new mobility” technologies aren’t actually new. Yes, GPS and smartphones have changed how they’re used, but as Cabansagan explained with the picture in the lead image of a woman on a scooter 100 years ago, these things aren’t actually as “new” as we sometimes think.
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.
Here are a few examples of cities and tech companies that are collaborating to usher in a safer, more sustainable multimodal age:
Santa Monica is using $1.1 million in dockless scooter/bike permit fees to accelerate the construction of 19 miles of green lanes, bike signal detectors, and bike racks.
In Washington, DC, Uber and Lyft shared anonymized pickup and dropoff activity data with the city to help with street design, making the case to remove 60 parking spaces and improve safety along a popular nightlife corridor.
In Oakland, Lyft partnered with the city, local nonprofit TransForm, and the Scraper Bike Team to invest $700,000 towards a free bike library, community parklets, and better bikeshare station placement.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) recognized that they don’t have all of the answers for autonomous vehicles, so they developed guidance in the form of a living document that will change over time.
From TransForm’s web page, which, along with the SVCF and Urban Habitat, is working on a ‘Green New Deal for the Bay Area,’ or a tax to raise that money:
Bay Area leaders and advocates are preparing to put a massive funding measure on the ballot in either 2020 or 2022 to raise funds regionally for transportation, housing, or both at a scale never before imagined. TransForm is coordinating with a wide range of partners and allies to ensure the mega measure will have strong equity provisions, and moves us towards our climate goals by reducing driving and greenhouse gas emissions.
It is critical to elevate community voices early in the process, and ensure the development of the measure and its projects and priorities is transparent. We’re convening public and private conversations and events for stakeholders and voters to learn about the opportunities a mega measure can create, and weigh in on the process.
Save Mount Diablo and more than a dozen partner organizations are pushing the CCTA to make certain commitments on this measure. They want the money to go towards making Contra Costa County more affordable, safe and healthy. They also would like to see efforts made in removing transportation barriers for seniors, youth and people with disabilities.
The coalition asks that concerned residents contact decision-makers on these issues as well. The group would like the CCTA to focus on:
- significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) and vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and commit to no new GHG and VMT-inducing projects.
- increased funding on public transportation
- an outcomes-oriented approach with measurable performance targets and binding criteria NOW, before the expenditure plan is approved, to determine how dollars are spent and ensure the plan results in the greatest public benefit for every dollar spent.
- prioritizing social equity and improving transportation options for all, especially those with the greatest transportation barriers, including youth, seniors, people of lower incomes and people with disabilities.
- a commitment to transparent public oversight and deep community engagement going forward
Save Mount Diablo has partnered with the following groups in this call for action. To download a more detailed list of their asks, click here.
- 350 Bay Area
- Bike East Bay
- Contra Costa Citizen’s Lobby
- Contra Costa Climate Action Network
- Contra Costa MoveOn
- Elders Climate Action
- Greenbelt Alliance
- Indivisible ReSisters Walnut Creek
- Orinda Progressive Action Alliance
- Monument Impact
- Sunflower Alliance
- Sustainable Rossmoor
- Urban Habitat
“OakDOT was created at the same time as the City created a Department of Race and Equity to encourage all city programs and policy-making to center racial equity. As investment and development continues to flood the city, Kaplan is proposing to kill the city department that has become a national model for upholding this commitment to equity,” wrote Clarrissa Cabansagan, New Mobility Policy Director at TransForm, in an email to Streetsblog. “The repaving plan and soon-to-be-adopted Oakland Bike Plan represent a culture shift, where long-neglected communities are now being more authentically engaged and are collaborating with government. Eliminating OakDOT just as it is gaining momentum would itself be a huge waste of resources, and a step backwards for the city.”
Edie Irons at TransForm, an advocacy organization in Oakland working to create sustainable communities, points out that the CASA compact–the Committee to House the Bay Area, convened in summer 2017 to find ways to protect tenants, preserve existing affordable homes, and produce more homes of all types–has supported fourteen housing-related bills, and thirteen of those are still alive. She offers a summary of a few of them here.
Not that there aren’t sincere people trying to make the bill better and improve the housing situation in California. From Edie Irons at TransForm, which hasn’t taken a position on S.B. 50:
We urgently need more homes, especially affordable ones, near transit and jobs. We’ll keep analyzing the bill’s impacts and working with allies on both sides of the issue, as well as Senator Wiener’s office, to make it as balanced and effective as possible.
…there are still many groundbreaking housing bills that are alive and well in this legislative session. These include critical tenant protections that can immediately help stop the bleeding while we figure out how to increase housing production, like Just Cause eviction protections and anti-rent gouging protections for most rental properties in the state (A.B. 1481 and A.B. 1482), plus a tenant’s right to organize bill (S.B. 529), and rental assistance and legal aid for people facing eviction (S.B. 18), to name just a few. Hopefully the advocates who’ve been single-mindedly focused on S.B. 50 might put some muscle behind these other important bills.