World Class Transit for the Bay Area


How to build a cheaper, faster, smarter transit system for the Bay Area.


Transportation and Land Use Coalition (now known as TransForm)

Year Published: 


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Executive Summary

The path to World Class Transit lies right in front of our eyes. By harnessing the power of our existing transportation infrastructure, including nearly 18,000 miles of roads and 600 miles of rail tracks, we can create a system that greatly increases transit ridership and decreases congestion within just a few years.

The Bay Area stands on the threshold of a new era of massive transportation investments. Counties throughout the area are now creating transportation sales tax proposals that could be worth over $10 billion, and billions more dollars may come from state legislation and other sources. Despite the significant amount of funding, the current crisis of traffic congestion, pollution, and suburban sprawl will only worsen if the region does not commit to a new vision for transportation investment.

World Class Transit for the Bay Area offers such a vision by introducing a bold new approach to fixing our transportation system. The 120-page report details, county-by-county, how to provide transit that is faster, more convenient, and more affordable than any other plan to date. And unlike extraordinarily expensive highwaywidenings and BART extensions, most of the World Class Transit proposals could be ready within one to five years.

Conservative estimates indicate that the Coalition’s proposal would increase transit ridership by at least 110,000,000 trips per year and reduce traffic congestion by 20% or more.

This proposal is the result of more than 13 months of research and analysis by dozens of transportation professionals, local transportation advocates, and community activists. The Coalition’s five key recommendations for creating World Class Transit contain elements that can be started almost immediately and are extremely cost-effective. These strategies include the following:

Restore and Expand Central Bay Area Transit

The Coalition advocates more frequent, faster transit service that runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week on key routes. This would provide transportation choices for people who need them most, produce the highest ridership for the money, and revitalize urban core areas. Funding increases could reverse years of service cuts and deferred maintenance that have put transit agencies into a destructive spiral of decreasing reliability, ridership and revenues. Improvements would include: expanding Muni rail service; restoring routes on AC Transit, Muni, Golden Gate Transit, and SamTrans; and upgrading key routes—such as AC Transit’s San Pablo Avenue and East 14th Street service—to rapid bus systems.

Create a Regional Web of Express Buses

This cornerstone proposal would create an “express bus web” to blanket the region with state-of-the-art buses providing direct service for a vast number of suburban commuters. The Coalition proposes the creation of an integrated regional Transitway using the Bay Area’s existing 271 miles of carpool lanes as its backbone. On a few key highways without carpool lanes—such as parts of I-880, I-580, and 101—the Coalition recommends optimizing regular mixed-flow lanes by turning them into carpool lanes during peak commute times. Many people would be able to board a bus a short walk from their home and ride it directly to their destination, or with one simple transfer at a central hub could reach almost any point on the bus web.

The regional express bus web is not a pipe dream. Successful systems like it exist in Pittsburgh, PA; Miami, FL; and Ottawa, Canada. In the Bay Area, AC Transit and Golden Gate Transit already use carpool lanes to speed their buses past highway congestion. One component of the expanded system includes 150 new transbay buses per hour, which would have the same capacity as a new six-lane bridge.

Vastly Improve the Efficiency of Existing Rail Lines

The Bay Area is crisscrossed with more than 600 miles of rail track, 300 miles of which is already in use by commuters. Instead of building new commuter rail lines at $60 million to $200 million per mile, the region could attract tens of thousands of train passengers by upgrading existing rail service and adding new service to existing rights-of-way.

The Coalition’s proposal calls for extensive improvements to Caltrain including an extension to downtown San Francisco, upgrades to the Altamont Commuter Express from Stockton to San Jose and Amtrak Capitol Service from San Jose to Sacramento, and seismic retrofits to the BART system. In addition, new service could be started on existing tracks in Marin and Sonoma Counties, and from Alameda County to San Jose. All of these upgrades could be accomplished at lower cost than the proposed $4 billion BART extension from Fremont to San Jose.

Invest in Communities with Transportation Choices

Designing communities the old-fashioned way—with homes, jobs, shops, and parks in close proximity to one another and to transit— is essential to support a range of transportation choices. Compact, mixed-use development encourages walking, cycling, and transit use, while reducing the need to drive and saving the region’s open space and farmland. Modeling by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission shows that concentrating future growth in existing urban areas would increase transit use by ten percent. To promote such design, the Coalition calls for regional smart growth planning, incentives for cities to plan more transit-supportive land uses, and zoning policies that support compact development.

Get the Price Right

Financial signals to consumers should encourage transit use instead of encouraging driving, as they currently do. Combining a World Class Transit system with strong economic incentives is the fastest way to relieve congestion. The key recommendations include:

  • Parking Cashout. This mechanism gives employees the choice of receiving cash for giving up their “free” parking spot at work (employees can instead walk, bike, carpool, or take public transit to work). This reduces the need for additional parking as companies grow, and should be offered by all major employers.
  • Eco Pass. This program currently provides free transit rides on Caltrain and all Santa Clara Valley buses and light rail. On average, firms purchasing Eco Passes for their employees have seen the number of workers using transit double. This program should be expanded to all major employers and rides should be available on all transit operators.
  • Express Lanes. An innovative approach to make underutilized carpool lanes work harder is to allow solo drivers to access them for a fee. The Coalition supports Express Lanes as long as the toll revenues are used to support better transit service in these corridors.

Making It Happen

The Coalition believes that this proposal can win tremendous support because it provides benefits for all Bay Area residents, from parents tired of transporting children to school and activities, to commuters stuck in traffic, to those who depend on transit but find themselves waiting endlessly or stranded on nights and weekends. Much of this World Class Transit vision relies on improvements to existing infrastructure and can therefore yield tremendous benefits quickly. Implementing the components of this plan would at last begin to provide Bay Area residents with the transportation choices and congestion relief they need and deserve.

The Coalition is working to make the benefits of the World Class Transit proposal so evident and widely known that the projects and proposals create a new paradigm for Bay Area transportation investments: one based on moving the most people for the least cost, and providing choices for the 2,000,000 Bay Area residents who cannot or do not want to drive.

We will also work in all nine counties and at the state level to help shape the direction of all new transportation expenditure plans. Coalition staff and member organizations will present this proposal to community groups, transportation agencies, elected officials, and the broader public.

Why World Class Transit?

  • Eases congestion faster than any other plan.
  • Revitalizes central Bay Area communities with new investments.
  • Saves taxpayers money by better using our existing infrastructure.
  • Improves public health by reducing air pollution.

Download the full report (7.9 MB PDF file)