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  • Writer's pictureAmy Thomson

Advocates Weigh in on Regional Transportation Funding Measure

Updated: Oct 4, 2023

Increased funding for the Bay Area’s transportation system is essential for the health of our communities, environment, and economy. TransForm and our coalition partners at Voices for Public Transportation (VPT) are collaborating with transit officials to advance a game-changing regional transportation measure for the 2026 ballot. The measure will provide funding to invest in our transit system so all Bay Area residents can get around affordably and easily while reducing GHG emissions and improving air quality.

In late

September, over 30 advocacy groups from VPT gathered to meet with Metropolitan Transportation Commission Director of Legislation and Public Affairs Rebecca Long to discuss our priorities for a progressive, equitable regional funding measure. We raised some key questions and presented our vision.

Voices for Public Transportation’s platform for a 2026 regional transportation measure includes five key elements:

  • Increase transit service

  • Build and run new transit options

  • Expand and enhance walking, biking, and non-car options

  • Create an easy-to-use, accessible, integrated, and affordable transportation system

  • Reimagine public safety

To achieve this vision, we must first shore up our existing transit systems budgets to create frequent, reliable service.

How much will it cost to secure a frequent, reliable, and accessible Bay Area public transportation system?

Even before the pandemic, our transportation system was increasingly characterized by gridlock, pollution, and minimum-wage jobs. Now reduced ridership has put public transportation in a precarious position.

Long reports MTC anticipates that at least $700 million is needed each year simply to keep existing transit service going through 2030. Thus a new regional transportation measure needs to raise well over $1 billion annually if it is to have a transformative impact on our regional transportation network.

What are the options for a progressive revenue source?

An essential part of the TransForm and Voices for Public Transportation platform is that the revenue source for the measure must be progressive. That means that the burden of the revenue measure is at minimum distributed proportionately rather than falling more heavily on those with the least resources. MTC is exploring six different revenue options: a sales tax, an income tax, a payroll tax, a parcel tax, an corporate head tax, and a vehicle miles traveled fee.

A regional sales tax, a common way to secure funding for local transportation, is inherently regressive. Sales taxes apply almost any time someone buys retail goods and merchandise, including basic necessities. People struggling to get by spend a larger portion of their income on these purchases.

Conversely, an income tax, a payroll tax, a parcel tax, a corporate head tax, and a vehicle miles traveled fee (VMT) could all be structured equitably. Voices for Public Transportation partnered with Strategic Economics in 2019 to analyze progressive funding mechanisms, where an income tax performed quite well. With an income tax, people who earn more will pay a larger portion and those who earn below a certain threshold could be exempt.

Unfortunately, one of the most climate-friendly funding options, a VMT fee, won't be viable by 2026. MTC’s Long noted that the Department of Motor Vehicles, which would orchestrate the VMT fee, is unable to set up and manage a Bay Area program in the short term. So, enacting a VMT fee is likely a future statewide campaign.

What are the next steps toward a regional transit measure?

The first step toward creating a regional funding measure is to pass legislation in 2024 authorizing MTC to place a regional measure on the ballot. Once authorizing legislation passes the legislature and is signed by the Governor, MTC can place the measure on the ballot, most likely in 2026, when we’ll mobilize a vote yes campaign.

Long took comments and questions from the attendees, who represented climate, environmental, transit, and active transportation organizations, as well as unions and political groups. She noted that she considers passionate champions like the members of VPT as part of the team and anticipates engaging with the group as MTC develops the language of the enabling legislation in the coming months.

The enabling legislation can include multiple funding options, so the final decision on the revenue mechanism could be made closer to 2026, reflecting priorities and political realities at that time. That’s why VPT and TransForm are acting now to ensure progressive revenue mechanisms are included in the enabling legislation. If the enabling legislation includes a sales tax option, it doesn’t mean that is locked in; we will continue advocating for an equitable option.

TransForm was a founding member of VPT, and the bill to move forward the process to secure regional public transit funding is one of our top legislative priorities in 2024. We will continue to advocate for robust and equitable transit funding.


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