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Scott Wiener
Senator Scott Wiener. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for California Globe)

California’s ‘Impending Public Transportation Disaster’ Is Self-Inflicted

Public transit agencies do not need $5.15 billion – they need lawmakers to act like lawmakers

By Katy Grimes, May 30, 2023 7:54 am

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
  • NRDC
  • SF Transit Riders
  • Bay Area Council
  • BART
  • 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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21 thoughts on “California’s ‘Impending Public Transportation Disaster’ Is Self-Inflicted

  1. Anytime the Wieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeennnnnnnnnnnnnnneeeeeeeeeeeeeerrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr is involved you know it is not good!

  2. Down here in Mad Max’s L.A. County even a DEM POLITICIAN (Janice Hahn, L.A. County Board of Supervisors) is now admitting the Metro is NOT SAFE —- never mind filthy and smelly and a place where a rider is pretty much guaranteed a free variety horror show of repulsive debauchery every time they ride. And I heard another newly-elected supervisor’s voice shake (lefty Lindsay Horvath) while she talked about the Metro, which she had recently determined she would ride every day to work. She presumably was shocked by what she saw, but of course she had staffers with her on her rides, so her experience, while clearly unnerving, cannot really be compared to most people’s; that is, those who ride the trains and buses ALONE to go to work and who don’t have a choice but to do that. Unknown if Horvath is still riding the train to work every day, but I’m gonna take a wild stab and guess that she is ISN’T.
    Sen Wiener and the other usual suspects named in Katy Grimes’ article LIKE this state of affairs. They pretend the glaringly obvious reason for crashing ridership doesn’t exist. Gives them an excuse to build another slush fund. $5.15 BILLION is A LOT of money. Disgusting unrepentant crooks.

  3. Why do I have to subsidize other peoples transportation? ALL public transportation are financial black holes primarily for the benefit of unions and their politician grifters. I say we either privatize the industry or shut it down.

    Trump can make an economy strong enough that everyone can afford to pay their own way. Time to come back Donald J.!

    1. I completely agree. Tool booths at every highway entrance are an excellent idea. Tired of paying for everyone’s free trips!

  4. In the Bay Area, politicians insisted on the BART system versus, old fashioned, regular trains. The BART system costs 40 times more to install per mile than regular train systems and is not any faster, more efficient or better in any way. The tracks are custom built in Germany. The politicians wasted and are still wasting BILLIONS of dollars on the system yet with a straight face they tell us they need more money for transportation, schools, homeless, etc. It’s unbelievable what these people get away with!!!

    1. @Belkabeast

      The story I heard was the the engineering requirements for BART trains (gauge, etc) were written in such a way that only one company could win the contract. Hence everything was non standard. They did not even do Broad Gauge in the usual way. So its corruption all the way down.

      Convert it to Standard Gauge, stick in an extra interior rail, and run Standard Gauge rolling stock on it. Would be a lot cheaper.

      Saying that back in the 1980’s BART trains were comfortable, clean and safe. Now they are dirty and dangerous cattle wagons. And like all public transit apart from buses, a huge waste of money.

      Buses make both financial and operational sense but the public transit “activists” seem to hate them. They just loving playing with trains it seems. As do the suppliers, unions etc who all make so much money from the current wasteful infrastructure.

  5. How often do Democrat Senators Scott Wiener, Ben Allen, and Dave Cortese, and Assemblymember Buffy Wicks ride public transit? Probably never? Maybe pampered Democrats in the legislature should be required to ride public transit instead of taxpayers paying for their vehicles and limos to haul them around? Maybe they’ll understand why most of the public doesn’t want to ride public transit?

    1. Great point TJ, I could really get behind a law forcing politicians to only use public transportation! Also they should be forced to only live in government housing while in office, use only public schools for their kids, use only the police for basic protection – they can call 911 if there’s a problem, no more private security and not be allowed to fly on private jets for any reason, they must only fly commercial airlines. Apparently we’re in a climate emergency and they must do their part to help! Lastly they should all be required to do 100 hours of volunteering yearly picking up trash that’s covering the cities they run!!

  6. These same lawmakers have turned public transit into nothing more than free hobo hotels on wheels and then they act shocked when it turns out people with actual money don’t want to ride it? They are such disingenuous hacks. When Wiener talks about “our most vulnerable, transit-reliant residents” what he really means are all the hobos that use public transit as public housing. Of course their answer is not clean up the hobos and raise fares.. Instead it’s the typical “let’s divert taxpayer money from the things they use (roads and highways) to the things they don’t use”.

  7. Get a clue Democrats : No one wants to ride with the feral animals that misbehave on “public transportation”…

  8. Let’s talk about “safe”. Who comes to may aid? No one. What happens if l have to defend myself? Do I get charged with “felony self defense”? Welcome to California’s creeping criminalization of common sense. .

  9. Another Union bail out.
    Save all of those jobs for the gold-bricking employees of Bart!
    Those are very cushy jobs with great benefits and dues paying members after all! (sarcasm intended)

  10. Weiners solution to governmental fuck ups is more governmental fuck up. Devoted communist like him, Wicks, Allen and the rest of the libtarded Sac democraps, don’t understand they ARE the problem, not the solution.

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