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riding the wave

By enelson
Friday, June 20th, 2008 at 10:40 pm in BART, Bridges, Buses, Caltrain, driving, Environment, Fare systems, fuel, Funding, global warming, rail, tolls, Transit vs. driving.

This week was a disharmonious convergence of most things I love about transportation in the Bay Area.

There was Spare the Air, which refused to be discredited as it died with a “yee-ha!” yesterday, racking up nearly 400,000 BART rides in one day, which happened to be the day after I blogged about what a futile gesture the final day of “Spare the Air” free transit was going to be.

As I watch the glare of the lights over the Coliseum, I can safely assume that more A’s fans will take BART home than in any previous year. No matter how much they complain about fares, they know that gas is more expensive. There may even be one or two fans who have already seen their personal scales tip in favor of selling their only car and relying on transit and rental cars.

BART spokesman Linton “Honest” Johnson told me the Spare-the-Air triumph was a “double-edged sword.
“Because you realize that more people who are looking for more alternatives to driving, but you also realize that you have a governor who is proposing to take up to $15 million dollars away from BART … I don’t see how he can be the `green governor’ if he keeps taking away money for transit.”

I started my week noticing that my chain of newspapers had joined a still faint but growing chorus of Californians who don’t think that the state’s currently configured high-speed rail enterprise is sliced bread. I found it slightly disturbing to see information from one of my stories bolstering the conclusion that the 700-mile, 200-plus-mph system was the “Boondoggle Express.”

But the story was based on the release of a report by a Senate committee last week that raised all kinds of unanswered questions, the same ones I’ve been raising and catching flak for. The proponents of HSR were ready at the barricades, however, and I was treated to an amazing off-the-record character assassination to bolster their case.

The sad thing was that it wasn’t the only example of that I got to hear within a few days, and that was also disturbing. The other one had to do with the Caldecott Tunnel, and the less said about that the better.

On Tuesday, there was TransLink, now that we’re talking about expensive, drawn-out processes. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission is giving out 1,900 of the data chip cards to residents of transit-oriented developments, or at least apartment buildings on bus routes, which seemed to strain the definition a bit.

I also questioned whether giving the passes out at senior homes, one of which hosted the press conference, would win over that many converts to transit. The last time I checked, transportation officials and advocates up and down the East Bay were telling me that our older residents are often transit-dependent. Not that they shouldn’t have every advantage when it comes to transit, but I’m thinking giving BART passes to yuppies in loft conversions might go a bit further toward your basic TOD/transit symbiosis.

I also discovered that the long-awaited arrival of TransLink on BART, Muni and Caltrain, thus making it widely relevant, is not happening this spring. “This year,” I was told.

All these fine programs to get people out of their cars. TODs, free transit, cheap transit. One of you suggested that rather than free transit, we could really get people out of their cars by doubling bridge tolls. My thought was that we’ve already doubled the toll on every bridge, highway and cul-de-sac.

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7 Responses to “riding the wave”

  1. Mike Says:

    TransLink…will it ever happen?

    I finally signed up for the BART EZRider card this year and I love it. No fumbling for wrinkled tickets and no standing in line to reload a ticket or special trips to buy high-value tickets. Just tag the card and go. This is what TransLink is supposed to be like.

  2. Robert Cruickshank Says:

    An “off-the-record character assassination”? Sorry to hear that. I’ve been critical of your reporting in the past, but I’ve tried to keep it from being personal. I am relieved to know you didn’t write that truly awful “boondoggle express” editorial – when I wrote my own scathing commentary on it I thought “surely Erik didn’t write this – he is smarter than that.”

    It’s unfortunate that folks take the State Senate report as gospel. I remember a time when journalists were more critical of what politicians said. And this report is especially deserving of such criticism, with a worthless assessment of “financial risk” that doesn’t actually discuss the complete risks involved.

    But that’s not intended as character assassination – just a sad commentary on the state of journalism in California. It wouldn’t be fair to single you out, since most other journalists in the state are guilty of the same errors. Ah well.

  3. Capricious Commuter Says:

    Robert, I’m happy to say that you had no part in the aforementioned attempt to discredit a position by discrediting the person holding that position. I mentioned it merely because I’ve heard this way too much recently in connection with this and other issues and I find it disturbing.

    As for the editorial, I have long taken comfort in being removed from that part of the newspapers I’ve worked for. Blogging, however, has blurred some of the traditions of journalistic detachment in that I get into public two-way discussions on the issues and feel compelled to share opinions.

    Five years ago, I would have never imagined saying something like, “I like high-speed rail” for everyone to read. Now I find myself having to do it repeatedly. The bottom line is that reporters have opinions like everyone else, its just that we supress them for the sake (appearance?) of objectivity. We can thank blogging and Fox News for setting us free.

  4. Robert Cruickshank Says:

    There I agree. The notion of journalistic objectivity was always pretense at best and obfuscation of hidden agendas at worst. Blogging is just a response to the total failure of American journalism during the Bush Administration. It showed us that the same things that went on in the briefing room in the White House go on every day in local papers across the country. Journalism used to be the Fourth Estate; now it defends the status quo and is too often a mouthpiece for government (criticizing the CHSRA by uncritically using a deeply flawed State Senate report doesn’t really help folks).

    But none of that should be personal.

  5. Capricious Commuter Says:

    Robert, I agree that certain types of political blogging were a response to the “total failure” you speak of. But I believe political blogging and blogging in general would have evolved even if the Administration was out winning Nobel Peace Prizes and the MSM were out exposing whatever needed exposing. People suddenly discovered that they could share their views with the rest of the world and guess what, they did. All you have to do is look at how this thing has exploded in other countries, even SPAIN, where the government has wisely invested in high speed rail and the media is backing it (well, they must be or it wouldn’t have happened, right?) :^p

  6. Robert Cruickshank Says:

    Heh. Spain’s HSR was originally a kind of vanity project for the 1992 Seville Expo that – shock and surprise – drew huge amounts of riders. Spain’s system is so popular that the left and right wing parties (PSOE and PP) fall all over themselves to take credit for expanding the system.

    It’s not just political blogging. Sports blogs, food blogs, culture blogs – they all emerged because sometime around the year 2000 the media stopped covering reality and instead began defending the status quo, and folks were annoyed that simple truths were being ignored.

    I mean, the sports bloggers make us political bloggers look like softies.

  7. Capricious Commuter Says:

    While I must admit that I’ll never be worthy of a crumb falling from the Raiders Blog’s table, I still think that blogging was something that would have happened regardless of which direction the MSM decided to take. It’s the same chemistry that makes Facebook so popular with my son’s generation. People like to get their names, faces and views out there in front of the public. Before 2000, you pretty much needed a printing press or a slot on public access cable to do that.

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