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in bondage to expensive rail projects

By enelson
Thursday, March 8th, 2007 at 5:23 pm in AC Transit, BART, Buses, Caltrain, Funding, rail, transit equity.

bus-driver.jpg The question today (and every day, it seems) is: What do we want from our public transportation? Do we want an alternatve to driving for people who can afford cars? Do we want to provide mobility for people who can’t afford cars? Do we want fast, invisible mass transit as an engine of economic development?

For some folks, it boils down to spending money on buses for the less fortunate or spending money on rail systems for long-distance, often better-off commuters.

Today I received a letter from people who clearly lean toward the former position:

 March 8, 2007

Dear Editor:

Your story on the Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s proposal to distribute state bond funding for public transit (“Bond benefits Bay Area’s public transit,” Mar. 7) overlooks who benefits and who continues to lose.

According to MTC’s own figures, BART and Caltrain commuters get a far greater subsidy of public funds for their trips than low-income riders of bus systems like AC Transit — two to five times more. Unfortunately, the state’s allocation of Prop 1B funds only perpetuates this inequity, giving AC Transit 16 cents per rider, BART 33 cents, and Caltrain 61 cents. 

MTC has $347 million in Prop 1B transit funds to distribute as it chooses. In 2001, MTC found huge gaps in the transit safety-net that would cost $109 million a year to fill. Instead of finally filling those gaps, it is offering just $5 million a year to operate bus service.

It appears as if MTC’s real priority is to put $169 million into expensive new projects like BART to Warm Springs. But if MTC cannot operate and maintain the transit system we already have, how will it sustain an even bigger system?

Janny Castillo, Building Opportunities for Self Sufficiency

Lindsay Imai, Urban Habitat

I have to say that I, too, was a little surprised to see some of those big projects on the MTC’s list when the area’s big transit agencies were getting their own bags of money from the bond.

Part of the problem, if you ask the MTC (and I’m waiting to hear back from them on this), is that the bond is for capital expenditures, while bus services are much more needy in the operating expense department. You can buy lots of buses, build lots of bus shelters and set up maintenance bays until you’re blue in the face, but if you can’t afford to buy enough diesel or pay for bus drivers’ overtime, all of those infrastructure investments are a waste of money.

UPDATE:

I spoke to Randy Rentschler,  lobbyist and part-time spokesman for the MTC, and he addressed the groups’ complaint thusly:

“Where we have discretion our program is pretty darn solid. If anything, we’re taking criticism from outlying areas by focusing the money in the urban core.”

As for upgrading services for the transit-dependent, “that’s something that we share, which is there ought to be more operating money for transit, but this (Prop 1B) is not that.” 

Photo from www.insidebayarea.com by Erik N. Nelson. 

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