On Tuesday, May 20, the Oakland-based Transportation and Land Use Coalition will join transit and environmental advocates in Sacramento for a day of lobbying.
The central message is that if ever there were a time to not suck the life out of gasoline sales tax receipts that state law earmarks for public transit, this is it.
This view is shared by a lot of people who don’t collect a per diem for hanging out in the Capitol Building, such as Bay Area transportation officials, people who worry about global warming and people who don’t own cars.
But this year, things appear to be different from last year, when that stash of transit money, swelled from rising gas prices, was too tempting a honey pot to leave alone.
In the fiscal year now being budgeted, which starts July 1, we’re looking at something like $2.5 billion from the sales tax on gasoline, not to be confused with the fixed-per-gallon state and federal gas taxes, which don’t go up with gas prices.
Legislators trying to cope with tens of billions in budget shortfall are already smacking their lips at the thought of all that money destined for something that 70 percent of commuters (In the Bay Area, at least. Other areas in the state would be more.) could care less about.
What’s different is that that percentage seems to be shrinking, and the ranks of people who find public transit to be useful are swelling.
I don’t need to do surveys. All one has to do is climb on my Capitol Corridor train at the end of rush hour and you can find lots of people who have switched from driving. I don’t get the sense that these are SUV drivers who saw a vision and began thrashing about and speaking in transit.
No, these are folks not too different from myself, who, as many of you regularly notice, can’t seem to make up their minds how they want to get to work. Sure, it’s nice to take transit, read a newspaper and not have to worry about traffic, but what’s up with the schedules? Who wants to wait for a bus? Can’t I just leave when I’m at (time to drive to work)-30 seconds?
Now there’s this drumbeat in our ears telling us that no amount of grocery purchases at Safeway for 10-cent-a-gallon purchases are going to correct the problem of $40 to $60 for a tank of gas. The scales have tipped, and we equivocate no more.
And I’m sure that there are even state legislators like Mark DeSaulnier, newly minted chairman of the Assembly Transportation Committee, who understand what constituents in places like Pittsburg, Antioch and Concord are feeling these days. Maybe they don’t even like transit. Maybe they’ve worked hard all their lives so they don’t have to “ride the bus.”
Regardless of how they feel, thousands of them are discovering that they need a ride, and they need it soon.