California cannot meet its 2030 climate goals without bringing emissions down in the transportation sector, and millions of Californians still rely on public transportation to get to where they need to go. Most of the emissions in this sector are emitted by passenger vehicles, which means getting cars off the road, and people onto public transportation has to be a top priority for our state--right next to building truly affordable housing near public transit stops.
This endeavor was already going to be a mountain for the state to climb, but has been further steepened by the Coronavirus pandemic. Shelter-in-place has reduced driving across the state by 75% but has also drained transportation authorities of the funds they need to keep running--now, and into the future--and threatens to displace millions across the state, which could spell more urban sprawl and increase the number of super-commuters in the future.
Revenue from fares plummeted by more than 90%, and Bay Area transit agencies have less revenue from local sales tax and the state’s gas tax. The $1.9 billion in federal CARES Act provided a much-needed lifeline, but it is only a bandaid on the systemic issues of our public transportation systems. This pandemic has exposed the fragility of our transit system caused by an over-reliance on regressive sales taxes for revenue.
Freedom of movement is a human right. In order to recognize it as such, We need to:
Recover our public transportation funding to ensure frequent, reliable, and affordable if not free public transit. We need to ditch regressive taxes for progressive taxes, which ask less of everyday people and small businesses, and ask more of millionaires, billionaires, and multi-billion dollar corporations. With the pandemic hitting low-income communities, essential workers, the elderly, the disabled, car-less people, and small businesses hardest, we need to move toward progressive taxes to ensure that those who have more, ultimately pay more.
My opponent authored SB 1 in 2017, a regressive gas tax that secured only $1 billion annually for public transportation. It was opposed by the Sierra Club, California Bicycle Coalition, and dozens of environmental justice groups. It was supported by suburbs and tech companies who rely on car cultures to thrive. We need permanent and progressive funding structures that do not structurally make us dependent on more gas being bought at the pumps.
Re-prioritize existing transit funding. According to TransformCA, California needs to “re-prioritize transit funding away from expensive, new and improved stations and regional transit hubs and towards more effective and nimble bus service and vital rail operations.”
To save almost $1 billion a year, TransformCA says we can
- Temporarily move all funds from the Transit and Intercity Rail and Capital Program (TIRCP, a competitive grant program for big capital projects) to the Low Carbon Transit Operations Program (LCTOP, funding distributed by formula to almost every transit agency in the state)
- Move all legally-moveable funds (minus bicycle and pedestrian projects) from the State Transportation Improvement Program to transit operations, as well as a minimum of 1/3 of the Trade Corridor Enhancement (TCEP) and Solutions for Congested Corridors (SCCP) programs.
End all highway expansion and prioritize our streets for public transit, walking, and biking. If there is any silver lining to the pandemic, it has been the piloting of safe streets in San Francisco to allow for safer walking, biking, and outdoor recreation. The success of this program in San Francisco demonstrates an opportunity to expand it statewide. If met with enough resources to revive critical public transit operations, especially for communities that depend on it most, we can emerge from the pandemic with a rejuvenated commitment to a car-free statewide system of transportation.
Move to fare-free services ASAP and decriminalize fare evasion. According to TransformCA:
Right now it is dangerous to force close interactions between passengers and drivers, or for passengers to all be touching payment kiosks. AC Transit and Valley Transit Agency in the Bay Area have both waived fares, and our allies are calling on LA Metro to do the same. Smaller agencies need incentives to do this, and knowing that lost fare revenue will be covered through the investments in our first two recommendations would help. After we can stop sheltering in place, fare-free service would be a lifeline for those looking to get back to work, interviews, postponed medical appointments, and school. In the long run, fare-free service can dramatically increase transit use and, paradoxically, provide the high quality service we all want and need.
We know that it costs municipalities just as much to enforce fares as much as it does to provide transportation fare-free. Too often, fare enforcement disproportionately targets low-income riders, young riders, and riders of color. Instead of more criminalization, we should reduce means-testing barriers to provide these populations with free access to public transportation across transit agencies.
Implement a universal statewide transit pass system as soon as possible. According to TransformCA:
Eliminating the need for money at the point of use has benefits for efficiency, cost-savings, public safety, hygiene, and service reliability. However, it doesn’t necessarily mean that users don’t pay for transit. A universal pass system with one revenue ‘pot’ can more easily target particular groups for discounts while still collecting fares from higher income users.
Modernize transportation service and infrastructure by utilizing 21st century technology and reduce our dependence on the technology of the 20th century – fossil fuels and cars.