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  • Writer's pictureAmy Thomson

TransForm Helps Shape Regional Transit Measure

Public transit is more vital than ever. Not only is it an engine of equity in our increasingly inequitable economy, but it’s also an essential tool for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and fighting climate change. Despite additional stopgap funding from the state this year, Bay Area transit agencies still face the prospect of a fiscal cliff in the near future. Under current funding levels, providers will need to cut service, leading to 735 million fewer transit trips by Bay Area residents over the next five years. That adds up to more pollution, more congestion, and higher transportation costs.

A regional transportation measure on the ballot in 2026 is crucial to ensuring our transit systems have the dedicated funding they need to maintain and expand service frequency for all residents. The groundwork for that measure begins in 2024, and TransForm is hard at work to ensure we get transformational support for our region’s public transit.

A generational opportunity to transform public transit

The pandemic has brought challenges to our public transportation systems, but we are slowly rebuilding ridership, trust, and frequency in an essential service. Frequent, affordable, safe transit is freedom. It’s knowing that you can arrive at a bus stop and have an affordable, sustainable ride in 10 minutes. It’s being able to relax on an evening out because you know you have a safe ride home.

We also know that transit is vital for marginalized populations. The California Air Resources Board reports the inequitable impact of past and current transportation, development, and use policies on BIPOC communities; changing our emphasis from personal transportation to public mobility advances transportation justice. Car payments, gas, and insurance may be unaffordable for people barely making enough for other necessities. Reliable and affordable transportation can allow people to get or keep a job, take their kids to school, or get to medical appointments. We need transit that runs in all neighborhoods with frequent stops so people can catch a bus near where they live, whatever neighborhood they live in.

We don’t have that transit system—yet. But now, as we emerge from a time of shutdown and realignment of work and travel patterns, we have our best opportunity to create the foundation to support a truly modern, reliable, safe public transit system that serves the whole Bay Area. The regional transportation measure is a crucial step toward that goal.

The Bay Area has already approved a plan to improve transit

In April 2020, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission convened a Transit Recovery Task Force to create a plan to bring Bay Area transit back during and after the pandemic. The task force released a Bay Area Transit Transformation Action Plan in July 2021 that includes a region-wide measure to provide secure funding for transit.

Elements of the action plan include more integration between service providers, including interagency transfers and integrated wayfinding; improved paratransit services; greater fare integration; and transit priority on streets and freeways. The regional transportation measure will provide the funding needed to make these changes and provide frequent, reliable transit service. We expect this measure to be on the ballot in 2026.

Step one to a 2026 regional transportation measure: Authorizing legislation

To raise more money to fund public transit, MTC needs permission from the state, known as authorizing legislation. Authorizing legislation follows the same procedure as any other bill in the state legislature and must be approved by both houses and signed by the governor. The bill, to be introduced next year, will set the guidelines for the regional transportation measure, such as what types of investments get funded and how MTC is allowed to raise the money, which is known as the revenue mechanism.

MTC hopes to get permission for multiple revenue mechanisms, such as a sales tax, an income tax, a payroll tax, a per-square-foot parcel tax, and a vehicle miles traveled (VMT) tax. All the options under consideration are equitable except the sales tax, which falls most heavily on low-income people and is regressive. We are expecting them to approve the use of multiple revenue mechanisms. Then, the advocacy work will shift to ensuring they implement a progressive one.

After authorizing legislation is signed by the governor, MTC will have the authority to place a transportation funding measure on the ballot. It can then begin the process of creating the final measure Bay Area residents will vote on as early as 2026.

Voices for Public Transportation priorities

Voices for Public Transportation is a coalition of labor, community-based organizations, and equity advocates, of which TransForm is a founding member. VPT’s priorities for the authorizing measure in 2024 are to ensure it includes progressive revenue sources and raises at least $2 billion annually to truly transform our region’s transportation.

While sales taxes have often been the preferred method of transportation funding, recent national research shows that transit funding should move away from sales taxes and focus on service improvements. The study showed how the “virtuous circle” of improved service leads to ridership increases, which in turn brings in more revenue.

Transit in the Bay Area faces an annual deficit of at least $700 million in the coming years. When we include other regional priorities like protected bike lanes, safer streets, and climate adaptation, it’s clear that a regional transportation measure will need to raise well over $1 billion annually, so we’re not just plugging the budget hole. The advocacy of Voices for Public Transportation and our allies will be essential to passing authorization legislation that both includes progressive revenue sources and generates enough funds for Bay Area transit to survive and thrive.

Next steps to create the transit system the Bay Area wants and needs

TransForm and our Voices for Public Transportation Coalition allies will focus in 2024 on crafting a robust and equitable framework for authorizing legislation with our partners at MTC. As always, community support is vital to the success of our efforts to transform transportation. Over the next six months, we’ll need your help meeting with legislators, recruiting more organizations to support the measure, and making the public case for transit investment and transformation. Learn more at Voices for Public Transportation. We hope you’ll join us in campaigning for this vital measure.


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