On Transportation Funding and My Six Hour Trip Home

Peter Hero, of Palo Alto, boards Caltrain's new "baby bullet" train at the Diridon station in San Jose, Calif., Monday, June 7, 2004, for its northbound trip to San Francisco from San Jose.  Caltrain's new "baby bullet" train successfully made its inaugural run Monday morning, reducing by 39 minutes the time it takes local trains to travel from San Jose to San Francisco. (AP Photo/San Jose Mercury News, Meri Simon)

(AP Photo/San Jose Mercury News, Meri Simon)

I’m writing this on the Caltrain, on the third leg of my public transportation journey for the day. I had spent the past couple of days up from Santa Cruz visiting family in Santa Rosa for the holidays, a mere 2 and a half hour drive away if you don’t hit traffic. Yet here I am, about 2 and a half hours into my trip and I have only reached the northern peninsula in San Mateo. And I’m lucky. I was given a ride to the ferry in Larkspur. Had I taken this trip exclusively via public transit it could take me upwards of 6 hours to get to Santa Cruz, and that’s if everything is on time and reasonably synced up. The trip normally starts with a 2 and half hour bus ride to San Francisco, followed by a little over half an hour on BART, then an hour and a half on Caltrain, finishing with a final hour on the highway 17 bus. The total cost, around $27.00. By now you can probably guess what I am trying to convey here, that this trip is absolutely ridiculous, both in inconvenience and cost. But that’s the way it goes as a millennial without a car.

About a month ago I took the written driver’s test for the first time, passed, and received my learner’s permit. I am 24 years old, and I am only now beginning to get out there on the road. Now to many people this may seem preposterous, especially given America’s storied car loving culture, but frankly I haven’t needed to drive thus far in my life. I happened to be lucky enough (or subconsciously chose) to live and work/ go to school within walking distance, or close enough to reliable public transit. However, in getting older I am beginning to see my desire to drive as more of a sign of my own maturity, as perhaps one of the last real steps I need to take in order to feel like an actual adult.

Frankly, it’s a shame I feel this way, because public transit should be the norm in urban areas, and cars are of course one of the greatest contributors to GHG emissions out there. We should be encouraging people to drive less. That’s hard when there is no reliable alternative though. When I lived in Walnut Creek I used to commute into San Francisco everyday on BART, with about 500,000 other people. I point this out because public transit can very efficient and reliable, if planned well. However, these systems take huge investments of public money, as well as the political and social capital necessary to approve that investment. I write this blog on a train, having campaigned for and passed a bio-diesel commuter train in Sonoma and Marin Counties, while also looking to the future as our community begins to plan for our own potential passenger rail service. I am also eyeing the likely transportation sales tax measure that may be coming up for a County wide vote in 2016, as well as a neighboring measure to be considered in Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties.

And that’s probably the funniest thing about this whole mess, transportation is problematic all across the Bay Area, and everyone acknowledges this and suffers from it, yet it’s so hard to convince people to fund it! Why is this? Two reasons: Interests and Apathy.

I say interests in reference to the plurality of organized groups who need to work together in creating and then campaigning for a proposal. This includes politicians, bureaucrats, business leaders, bicycling advocates, environmentalists, unions, etc. etc. All of whom are never going to be completely satisfied with the end result, or enjoy the drudgery of having to run a campaign. Each of these interest groups and agents are going want something, and if even one of them decides to pull out it could ruin the entire measure.

Now you may be asking “why do these groups have so much power over this type of thing?” That’s where apathy comes in. A huge percentage of the voting population won’t vote for it simply because they don’t know it’s needed. And when you need two-thirds approval on something apathy can really hurt you. What cures apathy? Engagement. Who engages people? Interest groups. See the problem here.

I will spare you the long-winded rant about people needing to be more civically engaged  on their own and power of democracy yadda yadda yadda, you’ve heard it all before… And instead, I will just post some of the preliminary spending plans being considered for some of these upcoming measures so that you can engage with them on your own time. You’re adults and so am I, let’s act like it and inform ourselves about how we can collectively improve our community. Maybe in twenty years someone else won’t be able to finish a blog on their train ride home because of how short it is. Vote and comment on the initiatives below.

Click to go to civinomics.com

Click to go to civinomics.com

5 Comments

  1. josh says:

    get an UBER dog

  2. ziggythehamster says:

    Is there any particular reason you went ferry->BART->Caltrain? You could have gone ferry->Muni->Caltrain, which might have been faster.

    I work in San Rafael – north bay transit is essentially broken. If you live up here and want to go into San Francisco, you effectively have to drive to Larkspur if you want to take public transit. SMART (the train they’re building out) will help, but not at first, because the initial phase doesn’t take you to Larkspur, and it only runs a handful of times a day.

    Compare it with the east bay (where I live) – for most people, it’s a 10-20 minute drive/walk/bike/bus to a BART station, and then you’re done in 45 minutes to an hour. Or you catch a transbay bus. That said, it’s still not ideal – I can’t take public transit to work in San Rafael because it turns a 30 minute trip into a 1.5 hour trip at worst. If I could park at BART without riding BART, I could drive 10 minutes to BART and then ride a bus for 30 minutes. The bus alternative to the 10 minute drive is 45 minutes to an hour, and it runs infrequently enough that missing it means you have to wait another half hour, and then the connection time at Richmond or del Norte BART is something like 30 minutes – so it could be an hour before I’ve left del Norte or Richmond BART, and then another 30 minutes to cross the bridge.

    • greenrobert says:

      For my route BART is actually way faster than the Muni/first leg of Caltrain. On weekends Caltrain makes all local stops, which is like 5 before Millbrae. Yes BART has more stops in that distance, but it still gets to MillBrae faster. Sometimes if they don’t line up well with schedules I actually take BART to Fremont from Embarcadero and then the 181 express to San Jose. That’s both cheaper and just as fast, but less reliable on weekends.

      When I used to live in the East Bay my commute was very easy and efficient, via BART. It really is a shame that BART never expanded north.

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