Artwork by John Mattos from www.mtc.ca.gov
This week the American Public Transportation Association is having its annual confab in San Jose, chosen, I suppose, because it is a city on the cusp of being viably connected to the rest of the Bay Area.
What I got out of it was some instant national relevance for BART’s latest ridership record.
To avoid spending an extra 2 1/2 hours on the train, I drove all the way down I-880 to see if I could learn something.
Number one, I discovered that it’s ok for state appointees like Caltrans Director Will Kempton to endorse $20 billion transportation bonds on the Nov. 7 ballot as long as they say “personally” within five minutes of their endorsement. When I called a state legislative media person for a quote from her boss, State Senate leader Don Perata, she referred me to the infrastructure bond campaign office, lest she cross the line between doing state business.
I also learned a little more about Canada as a model of all things socialized and federal. Single-payer healthcare they got. When it comes to public transit, they look south of the border for inspiration. I noted this when a Canadian newspaper story mentioned the Bay Area’s free transit on Spare the Air Days this summer. In Canada, such a thing would be très impossible.
At the APTA meeting on Monday, I received further confirmation of Canada’s unenlightened status from Michael Roschlau, president and CEO of the Canadian Urban Transit Association. He told the few members of the press who showed up that while Canada is busy “retrofitting our built environment” to mitigate the effects of sprawl on public transit, “there has been no history of federal involvement” in Canadian public transportation. Even so, ridership in recent years has grown 2-3 percent in Canada, he said.
I’m really disappointed in Canada, but happy to learn from Roschlau that “we’ve learned a lot from the United States.”
Perhaps a more fitting role model was represented by Angelo Pangratis, European Union deputy of delegation to the United States. He stood, both physically and philosophically, above his North American counterparts.
One of the biggest factors in recent growth of public transportation in Europe, he said, “is the importance of rail … particularly the use high-speed trains,” which have accounted for a quarter of that growth.
“Door-to-door, it costs less,” he averred, but “this is not necessarily a readily importable solution.”
I’ll say. All that stands between California and high-speed rail is another $10 billion worth of bond measure, one which never seems to fit on the ballot with all those other multi-billion-dollar bonds. Once it does, its backers promise, it’ll pay for itself and fares will be cheaper than driving.
Pangratis offered one other caveat: The parts of Europe where high-speed rail work so well are also among the most densely populated regions on earth. California has yet to join that club, at least not in population density.