At the Alameda County Board of Supervisors today, I was treated to one of the many movements that makes transportation reporting so interesting.
Somewhere between the New York City subway and the Bay Bridge, buses became the symbol of socioeconomic stratification. Buses are for poor people of color. Trains are for higher-income whites.
The plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit against the Metropolitan Transportation Commission convinced Oakland/Berkeley Supervisor Keith Carson and a majority of his colleagues to pass a resolution telling the MTC to provide equal per-passenger subsidies to AC Transit as it does to BART and Caltrain.
In part because there’s a lawsuit involved, which allows government entities to keep quiet about such things, and in part because those who trade in public trust don’t usually like getting dragged into a culture war, much of the chatter on this issue has been private.
But what would a blog be without a regular dose of lamely sourced scuttlebutt?
To start with, there’s MTC. They’re under attack, legally, so their spokesmen won’t talk. But, thanks to Carson’s resolution, an MTCer was obligated to show up at he meeting to defend the agency’s position. You can read that in my story (if it’s tomorrow already) here.
Then there’s AC Transit, which apparently doesn’t want to bite the hand (MTC’s) that feeds it. They’ve taken no position, but according to MTC member and Alameda Supervisor Scott Haggerty, AC Transit managers have told him they disagree with the lawsuit.
To paraphrase Rodney King, can’t we all just pay our fare and ride together? Um, that’s the problem. Fares on AC Transit have gone up, you can’t even get a break on a monthly pass (I did the math: A monthly pass is roughly equal to 40 trips, paid individually. Maybe you get weekends and a two or three weekdays free, but forget about February.) Then there’s bus lines being shut down, which one of the rubber-tire revolutionaries noted isn’t happening on BART.
And even BART admits that rails are expensive to build, as opposed to buying a new bus or two or three or four. And you certainly can’t argue with the importance of providing the best and cheapest possible service to people who can’t afford to drive. Haggerty, though he was playing the boogey man in opposing the resolution, suggested that all public transit should be free.
But transit is about more than that, one MTCer told me on the sly. It’s also meant to get cars off of the road to ease both congestion and pollution. You can’t do that by just concentrating on moving around the transit-dependent.
No, if you believe in getting cars off the road, you have to appeal to car owners. You have to win over the people driving the Lincoln Navigators with something that will make their life easier. Those people are coming from farther away, thus they need faster transit to move them a longer distance in a shorter amount of time.
With a 67-mile commute, I can tell you that’s a tough sell on a bus. In LA, my 39-mile commute was impossible by bus, because even my three hours a day of stop-and-go traffic was 90 minutes less than the alternative.
I can now do train and BART in about an hour and 40. It’s an extra half-hour each way, but it’s worth it because I can sit on the train, work on the laptop, read the newspaper and even eat.
The Bay Area — rich, poor, black and white — doesn’t need my exhaust and it doesn’t need my single car clogging up the I-80 in the morning. But to save yourself from me, you had to lay some track, and that cost money.