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  • Writer's pictureAmy Thomson

How a Transit Fiscal Cliff Could Impact YOU

In December, transit agencies across the Bay Area published reports describing doomsday scenarios for devastating service cuts. As agencies start to run out of the cash to keep service frequencies reliable, TransForm’s top advocacy priority this year is to save transit and reimagine a better future.

These doomsday scenarios come from the transit agencies’ short range transit plans, and were requested by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the regional governing body, to analyze what transit service might look like in the next five years if we don’t identify a new source of operations funding to fund frequent and reliable transit service.

Even before ridership plummeted in 2020, transit agencies' costs were rising faster than their revenues and we needed to get creative. That's why TransForm is working with government agencies and partner advocacy groups statewide to identify new sources of funding for transit.

Our short-term priority is to secure money in the upcoming state budget to avert a fiscal cliff and to rebuild ridership by increasing service, affordable and integrated fares, recruiting more operators, and fostering a safe and inclusive riding experience. In the long term, we will be exploring options to make transit thrive—such as a voter-approved regional transportation funding measure to maintain and grow transit as a comfortable, affordable, reliable option.

What would service look like for the transit you use if we don’t identify more operations funding? Here are some high-level takeaways from the agencies’ short range transit plans:

SFMTA (Muni) cannot return to pre-pandemic service without outside financial help. The cost of operating has increased and revenues have decreased. Even if projected funding were to flow as normal, the agency would need to cut service at least 21%, which would result in longer waits for buses and trains, and less efficient transfers. Additionally, the agency is struggling to hire enough transit drivers to keep service on the streets.

BART will reach a fiscal cliff in early 2025, which could trigger deep service cuts. The system may need to reduce service to 3 lines with 30-60 minutes in between trains only running during weekdays, as compared to today’s 5 lines with 15 minute headways during peak service. This would eliminate direct service from San Francisco to Richmond and Warm Springs/South Fremont, requiring transfers.

AC Transit in the East Bay is also struggling with workforce and hiring retention in order to have enough transit drivers to deliver service. And without additional revenues for operations, service could be cut 14 percent.

In the South Bay, Samtrans risks a 20% service reduction and, like SFMTA, will continue to struggle with operator workforce hiring and retention.

Caltrain could reduce peak period service to four trains per hour per direction (from the current level of 5 trains, which was six pre-pandemic) with a mix of “Baby Bullet” and Limited trains–meaning service would only stop at popular stations and skip others between San Jose to San Francisco. Off-peak service would include two trains per hour per direction during the early morning, midday, evening, and late evening periods. Peak period would only be 2.5 hours instead of 4 hours.

VTA will need to implement service cuts up to 27 percent, as well as delay much needed maintenance and fleet replacement, if new funds are not identified once federal relief funds run out. VTA has already delayed upgrades to the system in recent years, meaning we now have accumulating maintenance needs and an aging fleet.

We must save transit. Transit is essential to creating an affordable Bay Area with access to jobs, family, friends, and grocery stores. It is a key player in combating the climate crisis. That’s why saving transit is TransForm’s top advocacy goal this year, so we can continue moving towards our climate and equity goals as a region and state. We can’t do it without you. Chip in today to help TransForm build a powerful coalition to make sure transit can thrive for decades to come.


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