There’s a lot going on in Santa Clara County in 2016 (and no, I don’t just mean the Super Bowl). The other big thing on the horizon is what’s going to happen with Santa Clara County’s proposed transportation funding measure.
This $6 billion funding measure presents an enormous opportunity to raise much-needed money to improve our region’s public transportation, make our streets safer for walking and biking, and address the very serious affordability crisis that is making Silicon Valley an increasingly difficult place to live. Right now, the Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) is developing an investment plan to determine where and how the money will be spent.
Since the concept of a half-cent sales tax was introduced almost two years ago, TransForm and our allies in the Transit Justice Alliance (TJA)* have actively engaged VTA and City staff and elected officials to make sure that community involvement, equity, climate protection, and community health and safety are central to developing the investment plan. Thus far, we’ve been successful in encouraging VTA to:
- Establish a transparent public process for developing sales tax priorities.
- Adopt strong equity, climate, health, and safety goals for the funding measure.
- Include strong criteria for evaluating what projects to include in the measure.
However, over the last six months, the debate among the political establishment and the media has largely been focused on how to divvy up the funding pie between BART, Caltrain, and local streets, county expressways, and highways, with insufficient consideration of climate protection and the needs of people who face larger mobility challenges and rely on public transportation to get around.
That’s where TransForm and our dozens of partners in the Transit Justice Alliance (TJA) come in: to give voice to the thousands of Santa Clara County residents whose priorities are in danger of being left out of this important dialogue.
Last summer, we hosted four community forums with our partners in the TJA in three different cities, where over 400 people came to tell us their greatest needs and priorities for transportation investments. This rich community input, along with thousands of surveys of transit users, and discussions among our networks is informing our collective advocacy around the sales tax.
What did we hear through the community forums?
Senior Maria Soto from Transit Riders United shared how difficult it is for her to run her errands to the supermarket or appointments at the doctor’s office and that she is ready to do her part to improve the bus system. "I think they're trying to help us older people stay young by making us walk blocks and blocks to transfer buses," she joked in Spanish, lightening the mood in a meeting where most participants shared very serious concerns about this issue.
Ken Hinh, a high school student living in San Jose, told us how much he relies on public transportation - and how he and his peers need bus service to be affordable. "I find public transportation as an important resource for both my independence...and a means to get to school on time with no problems," he said. "However, affordable transit for youth and the frequency of services has been an issue." He adds, "A free pass would sound great!"
The following results were presented on February 2nd 2016, for the first time to community leaders and advocates (for an executive summary of TJA's report, click here):
Support for better public transportation and paratransit options:
- Better bus service: 70% of participants ranked better bus service among their top 5 preferred transportation investments (this means increasing the frequency, operating hours, speed, comfort, and reliability of VTA’s most popular or high-need serving bus routes).
- Affordable transit: 65% of respondents ranked affordable transit (reducing the cost of fares for very low-income people, youth and seniors with fixed incomes) among their top 5 preferred transportation investments
- Transportation for seniors and persons with different abilities: 59% of respondents ranked improving access for transit-dependent seniors and persons with different abilities within their top 5 preferred transportation investments. 46% also prioritized improving access for seniors and persons with different abilities that currently do not have access to transit.
Support for safer streets: 58% of respondents ranked safer streets among their top 5 preferred transportation investments, especially improving safety for people that walk and bike, particularly around schools, senior facilities, and in areas with high injury and fatality rates.
Support for affordable housing near transit: 43% of participants ranked affordable housing near transit among their top 5 preferred transportation investments.
When asked how they think the bus network should be improved, people ranked frequency, speed and reliability, and safety as their top 3 bus improvement preferences:
So, how do we bridge the divide between what we’ve identified as core community needs and what the political establishment is prioritizing at this time? TransForm will be working with our partners and people like you to ensure that the community’s voice is heard and that larger policy goals like community health and climate protection are prioritized. Now is the time to speak up to support a forward thinking investment plan for this critical funding measure.
Here are a few ways you can make a difference.
- Consider attending and sharing your perspective at the following meetings:
- The VTA Board will have discussion related to the funding measure on April 22nd and possibly April 7th.
- Envision Stakeholder and Ad-Hoc Committee meetings offer an additional opportunity to provide input to VTA staff and Board members.
- Send an email to your mayor, city council, and the VTA Board to let them know what you think the 2016 sales tax should include. Please direct emails to the VTA Board to [email protected].
- Sign up for updates regarding our efforts to fight for equity, climate protection, and community health and safety in VTA’s funding measure.
- For more information, contact Chris Lepe, TransForm’s Silicon Valley Senior Community Planner.
*Transit Justice Alliance is a coalition comprised of Alliance for Climate Education (ACE), Amalgamated Transit Union Local 265 (ATU Local 265), California Walks, Friends of Caltrain, Greenbelt Alliance, Latinos United for a New America (LUNA), People Acting in Community Together (PACT), Public Advocates, Sacred Heart Community Service (SHCA), Silicon Valley Council of Nonprofits (SVCN), Silicon Valley Independent Living Center, South Bay AFL-CIO Labor Council SBLC), Teamsters Joint Council, TransForm, United Way Silicon Valley, Urban Habitat, Working Partnerships USA (WPUSA), Yu-Ai Kai.