Let’s Fix Public Transportation in the Bay Area
The TomTom Traffic Index – which measures trends in highway traffic globally – was released last week, and the report confirms what many a Bay Area driver could probably have guessed: San Francisco has some of the worst traffic in the country. Specifically, the city ranked #2 in the nation for bad traffic. And nearby San Jose came in at #6. So no, all you I-80 commuters, it’s not just you – the Bay Area is, objectively, a very bad place to drive.
(Yes, LA is still #1 for worst traffic, in case you were wondering).
How have we gotten here and what will it take to fix it?
The first question is fairly straightforward. Jobs are plentiful in these parts, which has lured more and more people to our shores. Five out of the seven fastest growing counties in California are located in the Bay Area. The East Bay’s Alameda County posted the largest overall growth, adding 100,000 new residents between 2010 and 2014. And given the often reported high cost of housing, a lot of these new residents turn into commuters who travel from relatively lower cost areas into the region’s urban job centers.
Which leads to the second question – how do we reduce driving?
Well, in an ideal world, more people would take public transportation to get where they need to go. But as you spit out your coffee in laughter, you are probably aware that public transportation in the Bay Area is less than ideal. But, contrary to what you may think, it’s not because there isn’t a lack of options. Altogether there are nearly 30 different services in the region. The problem lies in the fact these systems are maddeningly fragmented – many trips people need to make require multiple transfers to different transit services, which not only slaps passengers with new fares but oftentimes requires a long wait time between departures.
Fortunately, there are people at work to change this. The urban policy research group, SPUR, recently came out with a series of recommendations for improving public transportation in the Bay Area. Here are the three that we thought were most promising for you to vote on:
First, transit operators should bring the Clipper Card – the pass that works on many of the area’s vehicles – into the 21st century. Riders should be able to add credit to their cards from their smartphones, as well as simply scan their phones to get onto a bus or train. And of course more services should accept the Clipper Card so that one pass works throughout the whole Bay Area.
Update and Expand Clipper Service
To promote ridership, planners should expand Clipper to more transit agencies.
Second, transit planners should do a better job of integrating fares. Right now, for example, different services adjust their fares at different times. And then there are cases where discounts on one service – for youth, senior, students, etc – don’t apply to others. To reduce confusion and pave the way for more a more interconnected system, fares and discounts should be more consistent among the different operators.
Create a More Integrated Fare Structure For Bay Area Transit
To promote the use of public transportation in the Bay Area, planners should create a standardized fare structure among the different operators in the Bay Area.
Lastly, planners should create a set of regional routes, than span across multiple agencies, to serve far traveling commuters by coordinating the schedules of different transit systems. Along with this, riders should be able to buy a single pass that will serve them for their desired trip across the different agencies.
Create Regional Transit Routes for the Bay Area
Since many Bay Area commuters travel long distances for work, transportation planners should create new regional transit routes.
SPUR reports that only 3% of all Bay Area trips are made using public transportation. Given that the region is only expected to grow more in the coming years, as well as all the known environmental and safety hazards of traffic, officials should make enhancing the Bay Area’s transit system a major priority right now, with input from you, the public.