A sure sign of a crumbling, decaying, failing state is the email I received this morning from State Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), calling an emergency press conference “on Impending Public Transportation Disaster:”
Today, Senators Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica), and Dave Cortese (D-Santa Clara), Assemblymember Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland), labor leaders, business leaders, transit leaders, and transportation advocates will hold a press conference calling for Governor Newsom and the Legislature to provide additional state funding to avert massive service cuts to public transportation across California.
Sen. Wiener says “the current budget proposals would not provide desperately needed relief funds to cover impending budget shortfalls at public transit agencies across the state, also called the ‘transit fiscal cliff.’ If nothing is done, transit operators will be forced to make major service cuts, putting their systems at risk of entering a permanent downward spiral.”
Sen. Wiener does not address the real problem, identified in a recent Bay Area Council/EMC Research poll which found only 17% of people in the Bay Area who ride Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) feel safe, with 45% of residents saying that they don’t take BART because they don’t feel safe when riding it.
Wiener diminishes the transit problem to a fiscal issue.
Sen. Wiener says “Since January, more than 27 state legislators led by Senator Wiener as well as 142 community and advocacy groups have called on the Governor and leaders in the Legislature to provide additional funding to address the impending shortfall.”
The list of “stakeholders” calling for the press conference is telling:
- Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco)
- Senator Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica)
- Senator Dave Cortese (D-Santa Clara)
- Assemblymember Buffy Wicks (D-Oakland)
- SEIU California
- Cal Enviro Voters
- SF Transit Riders
- Bay Area Council
- BART, SEIU Local 1021
- LA Metro
- California Transit Association
The SEIU, “Cal Enviro voters,” National Resource Defense Council (NRDC), BART SEIU, are all roadblocks in any budgetary process, often shaking down a transit agency for more pay and benefits for union members – even to the detriment of the functioning of public transit. And the four Bay Area lawmakers – Wiener, Allen, Cortese and Wicks – should instead be held responsible for the decaying Bay Area Transit System and bus systems. Isn’t this an example of what they should be focused on instead of “trans-affirming care (Wiener), “housing equity” (Allen), “Religious garment and grooming standards in prisons” (Cortese), and “a ‘Safe Haven for Abortion’ in California” (Wicks)?
In April, Sen. Wiener sent a letter to Governor Newsom, Pro Tempore Atkins, Speaker Rendon, Senator Skinner, Assemblymember Ting, Senator Durazo, and Assemblymember Bennett, warning that the budget shortfalls for public transit could likely result in major service cuts:
“California’s transit agencies are facing major funding shortfalls — in some cases, as early as this coming year — that will knee cap their ability to maintain service for Californians, including our most vulnerable, transit-reliant residents.”
“Transit systems across California are at risk of drastic service cuts due to large near-term operating budget shortfalls precipitated by slower than expected ridership recovery, inflation- driven increases in operating and capital costs, and the exhaustion of federal relief funds.”
Naturally, Sen. Wiener’s solution is more money – another $5.15 billion, and a state takeover or intervention.
Wiener says the “additional revenue options” include: “increasing the Transportation Improvement Fee and reallocating to transit a portion of the state’s increase in federal highway dollars, which are at historic highs under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.”
Doesn’t Sen. Wiener know California’s highways are in dire need of improvements?
Wiener continued: “The magnitude of this crisis requires us to consider all available options—but we recommend the Governor and legislature prioritize funding sources that preserve and even accelerate California’s commitments to equitable pollution reduction and minimize financial burdens on low-income Californians.” (emphasis ours)
Sen. Wiener obviously does not recognize that California’s commitments to equitable pollution reduction is a large part of the financial issues. The Legislature has imposed so many business killing “pollution reduction” regulations on public and private sector businesses, many can’t function profitably. Adding in “minimize financial burdens on low-income Californians” means free or hugely subsidized transit services, which translates to not enough revenue to function.
Even well-paid state, legislative and local government employees receive discounted transit passes. Why?
Here is Sen. Wiener proposing that the state intervene, completely ignoring the real problems with public transit: “The Legislature should consider requiring transit agencies to demonstrate the steps operators are taking to measurably attract and retain new riders, adjustments made to their service to meet demand, as well as agencies’ latest ridership figures and operating deficits. The Legislature could also ask the State’s transportation and key partner agencies to outline steps they are taking in the form of investments and policies to support transit agencies’ continued recovery and growth and change their policies as necessary.”
Are public transit agencies hurting? Yes, most definitely, but much of it is self-imposed. Most people don’t want to use public transit because of violence, muggings and crime on buses and trains, open drug use, fare jumpers, homeless vagrants who stay on trains, urine and defecation, and more.
The Bay Area Council/EMC Research poll found 78% of respondents would ride more if it was significantly cleaner and safer to ride, with 83% of respondents wanting BART to remove people from the system when they break the rules.
“People are hesitating to get back on board because they have fear,” said Bay Area Council CEO Jim Wunderman on the survey. “They don’t want to experience these conditions. If they feel safe and secure, we are going to see people come back to the system.”
And that is the real reason ridership is down on California public transit. Clean buses and trains up, provide policing, and maybe, just maybe, the riders will come back. Another $5.15 billion will just end up in the infamous black hole of government waste.
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