California Focus: COVID’s biggest victim may be mass transit

By Thomas D. Elias : sonomasnews – excerpt

For most of the last 30 years, California saw a mass transit boom stretching from San Diego to Los Angeles to the San Francisco Bay. Both light and heavy rail joined existing bus systems, providing new options for commuters and local residents to get around.

Mass transit also took off as a planning concept. Cities that approve construction of new apartment and office buildings near rail stops often forego requirements for developers to provide parking. Even when they do demand parking spaces, it’s usually fewer than what was previously ordered.

The presumption is that new residents and workers using those structures will use mass transit and their feet, that very few will drive cars…

The reason is clear: fear of contagion. No one who can avoid it wants to ride a crowded bus or train in the day of the virus, even if all aboard are masked(more)

Caltrain measure backers in San Mateo County warn against SF plan

By Shwanika Narayan : sfchronicle – excerpt

San Mateo County officials stand firm in their opposition to a revised proposal by San Francisco and Santa Clara County outlining conditions to approve a possible November sales tax measure for Caltrain, the Peninsula rail line teetering on financial devastation…(more)

“Send us your money and we will manage it for you” is not playing very well these days in Washington or at home.” Good time to pull out if that is what it takes. Figure out a less expensive way to travel. We need some cold hard facts on the finances so the voters may choose what modes deliver the best service for the lowest reasonable cost.

New York City to Lose Almost $600 Million in Parking Revenue

By Alexandre Tanzi : bloomberg – excerpt

(Bloomberg) — New York City is estimated to lose more than $590 million in parking revenue this year due to the pandemic, according to a study of 65 cities. New York’s parking fees are the highest in the world, according to the report by Fixter, a car-maintenance firm based in the United Kingdom. Parking revenue in Chicago is estimated to fall by $180 million this year. Philadelphia, San Francisco and Boston round out the top five U.S. cities with potential losses due to the Covid-19 pandemic… (more)

Seriously? Don’t bite the hand that feeds you. Cities that want to remove cars from the streets should make up their minds. Do you want them to pay for public transit or not? You can’t have it both ways. Don’t bemoan the loss of parking revenue after years of removing parking. Either make your peace with drivers and allow them to SHARE in the use and funding of the balanced transit systems, or prepare to live without their money. Drivers were the first to leave the gentrified cities and they are the most prepared to leave now that many have no reasons to stay.

With costs rising for BART extension, critics question $500 million plan for ‘redundant’ Santa Clara segment

By Nico Savidge : mercurynews – excerpt

The project’s latest price tag: $6.9 billion

The cost of the long-awaited BART extension through downtown San Jose is on the rise again, adding new fuel to critics who question the project’s final piece: A $500 million segment from Diridon Station to Santa Clara that essentially duplicates Caltrain service.

It will cost $6.9 billion to build the entire six-mile, four-station extension from Berryessa to Santa Clara, according to the latest estimates from Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority, which is building the line that BART will operate.

When plans for the project came together more than two decades ago, the fact that both BART and Caltrain would carry passengers between the adjacent stops at Diridon Station and Santa Clara wasn’t considered a glaring problem. Caltrain was then a sleepy commuter railroad with sparse service, and the station near Santa Clara University would be BART’s first step toward one day bringing true mass transit all the way up the Peninsula.

But Caltrain grew through the 2000s, more than doubling its ridership before COVID-19 began chasing passengers away…(more)

Perhaps selling this redundant track explains the reason for the latest claims in the 2050 ABAG report that population growth is shifting south to San Jose and Santa Clara County from the north. They want to sell the BART extension. After the sell it they can move their focus elsewhere. How convenient.

Life without Muni presents hardships for seniors and disabled residents

By Carly Graf : sfexaminer – excerpt

…San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency cut the 31-Balboa in April, along with Muni rail and all but 17 bus routes, in order to manage its budget crisis and balance limited operator availability with declining ridership demand.

The resulting Core Service Plan concentrated limited resources on transit-dependent residents while prioritizing access to life-giving and life-saving destinations like food and hospitals for The City’s neediest, including older adults and the disabled, according to spokesperson Erica Kato…(more)

Here is an idea, instead of pushing a sales tax to keep the Caltrain afloat, the city could cut their spending on non-Muni projects and concentrate on designing a Muni system that works for he people who need it. Let the train, bike lanes and traffic control go for a while and take care of the Muni.

Caltrain Tax Measure

Opinion By Howard Wong :

EXAMINER: Caltrain’s future in jeopardy after supervisors block sales tax measure https://www.sfexaminer.com/news/caltrains-future-in-jeopardy-after-supervisors-block-sales-tax-measure/
Walton, who serves on the Caltrain Joint Powers Board and represents a district that’s home to two Caltrain stations, said Wednesday he could not support the measure when “San Francisco has no voice,” referring to the fact that the rail network is managed and operated by San Mateo County’s transit agency, SamTrans. He argued the three regional powers involved in running the agency do not have equal power in making key decisions such as hiring or firing the CEO or resolving disputes.

MERCURY NEWS: Could Caltrain shut down? Why the once-unthinkable is now a real possibility https://www.mercurynews.com/2020/07/15/could-caltrain-shut-down-why-the-once-unthinkable-is-now-a-real-possibility/
SamTrans, Muni and Valley Transportation Authority could increase the subsidy they pay to Caltrain. But the railroad estimates its needs could top $50 million, and it will be a tough sell convincing those agencies that are struggling with their own coronavirus budget cuts to give more.

KQED: Dispute Over Caltrain Management Threatens to Derail Planned Tax Measure
https://www.kqed.org/news/11829125/dispute-over-caltrain-management-threatens-to-derail-planned-tax-measure
He said that the current governance structure means that “San Francisco voters and San Francisco leadership don’t actually make decisions as to what happens with the railroad. But yet we pay millions of dollars into the railroad each year. This inequitable relationship has to change.” Peskin said opposing the Caltrain tax “was not a decision we came to lightly.” He insisted that he and Walton “continue to support Caltrain as a regional resource” but are determined to “move the governance model and the funding model into the 21st century” by creating an independent agency to run the rail service.

CHRONICLE: Caltrain faces complete shutdown after SF supes fail to support tax measure
https://www.sfgate.com/public-transportation/article/Caltrain-train-service-San-Francisco-San-Mateo-15409892.php
Caltrain is in a dire budget situation as the agency is reliant on fare revenue and ridership is down due to the pandemic. A sales tax in the three counties where it operates — San Francisco, San Mateo and Santa Clara — would have provided a new revenue stream to keep train service afloat.

FRIENDS OF CALTRAIN
From: adina.levin
Sent: 7/15/2020 12:06:53 PM Pacific Standard Time
Subject: Act now to keep San Francisco Supervisors from Killing Caltrain

Last night, in a shocking surprise, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors quietly failed to advance their decision to allow a ballot funding measure to save Caltrain, which has been hard hit by the pandemic. The ballot measure could be dead and Caltrain could be shut down for years unless you act now and demand they reconsider.

President Yee and the San Francisco Board of Supervisors still can save the day by advancing the Caltrain ballot measure with a supermajority vote by July 31.

Norman.Yee) demanding that they allow the Caltrain ballot measure to go forward and let the voters decide. Say why you want to save Caltrain – you don’t want cars clogging SF streets, you support Caltrain’s goals of being more affordable for all people, you want to fight climate change – please add your own reasons.
If you’re not a San Francisco resident but have friends, family and colleagues in SF, please forward this to them now and urge that they take action to save Caltrain.

Background:

Caltrain’s financial position is dire because it has never had dedicated funding in addition to fares. A shutdown is a real possibility with the Covid shelter-in-place and recession. Before Covid, Caltrain carried four freeway lanes worth of cars, and those cars would be dumped back onto the highway and SF streets if the pandemic eases and Caltrain isn’t running.
https://www.greencaltrain.com/2020/05/caltrain-financial-situation-dire-shutdown-presented-as-a-possibility/

Polling results on an ⅛ cent sales tax ballot measure were released a few weeks ago and results were surprisingly good – close to two thirds without messaging and 70% with positive messaging.. The poll was conducted in June in weeks 12-13 of Shelter in Place.
https://www.greencaltrain.com/2020/06/surprisingly-strong-poll-results-for-caltrain-ballot-measure-wide-margin-depends-on-campaign/

While Friends of Caltrain would prefer a revenue mechanism that is more progressive than the eighth cent sales tax authorized by SB797 in 2017, this is unfortunately the option that is on the table.

A sales tax is inequitable. But the Caltrain board is about to approve unprecedented commitments to equity and connectivity which would be implemented by the tax, with goals to improve the racial and income diversity of Caltrain’s ridership, by providing affordable access, with good local transit connections, serving the needs of people who are travelling for many purposes other than commuting to white collar jobs.
https://www.greencaltrain.com/2020/07/caltrain-considers-unprecedented-commitments-to-equity-and-connectivity/

Another benefit for San Francisco transit is that the tax agreement is structured in a way that would remove the annual need to pay for Caltrain operations and maintenance from Muni’s books, leaving more money to run local transit service. Caltrain’s partners instead will contribute to capital projects e.g. for level boarding to improve accessibility and speed and increased capacity when that is needed in the future.

Representatives in San Francisco and Santa Clara Counties are calling for Caltrain to be separated from SamTrans which currently serves as its managing agency. This could make sense – but it is in the middle of a recession – it makes no sense right now to hire a new CEO, CFO, head of HR, marketing, etc as the transit system bleeds money. There should be reorganizations that add efficiency, not more management. This will take more time to figure out than the end of this month

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors can still act to save Caltrain – make sure they hear from you.

Thank you for taking action!

Adina
Adina Levin
Friends of Caltrain
https://greencaltrain.com
adina.levin
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SAVEMUNI: LATEST MUNI CHANGES

from Howard Wong via email:

SFMTA: COVID-19 RESPONSE

MUNI Core Service: https://www.sfmta.com/travel-updates/covid-19-muni-core-service-plan

MUNI Travel & Transit Updates: https://www.sfmta.com/travel-transit-updates

MUNI Coronavirus Response: https://www.sfmta.com/projects/covid-19-developments-response

Taxi Rides for Essential Workers: https://www.sfmta.com/getting-around/accessibility/paratransit/essential-trip-card

Essential Worker Ride Home: https://sfenvironment.org/essential-worker-ride-home#:~:text=Our%20Planet-,Essential%20Worker%20Ride%20Home,to%20shelter%2Din%2Dplace.

Shop-a-Round:https://www.sfmta.com/getting-around/accessibility/shop-round

Paratransit: https://www.sfmta.com/getting-around/accessibility/paratransit
Residential Traffic Calming Program: https://www.sfcta.org/blogs/applications-sfmtas-residential-traffic-calming-program-due-june-30



SFMTA: NEXT STEPS

MUNI: Supporting Small Businesses https://www.sfmta.com/blog/how-sfmta-%C2%A0supporting%C2%A0small-businesses%C2%A0

To support small businesses, the SFMTA is working with agency partners to fast track permits enabling businesses to utilize the public right-of-way for their operations. The Shared Spaces effort includes using the curb along requesting business frontages to provide space for curbside pickup and delivery, outdoor dining or physical distancing where queues form. Note that not every business’s application will meet the criteria. Learn more about the program and apply here.

MUNI: Future of Transit Service Through Crisis https://www.sfmta.com/blog/future-transit-service-through-health-and-budget-crisis

The pandemic has upended every aspect of our society, and the SFMTA is no exception. The COVID-related health and financial crises have resulted in deep and painful cuts to Muni service. We will be draining our fund reserve and spending one-time money just to sustain the service we have. Absent new outside funding, we fall off a financial cliff in 2023, just as the city needs us the most to support its economic recovery. As your Director of Transportation, I want to be open and transparent about how we got here and what it means for you.

MUNI: Big Changes when Muni Rail Returns in August https://www.sfmta.com/blog/big-changes-ahead-when-muni-rail-returns-august

But the new Metro rail service will look different when it comes back: Some Muni Metro lines could be taken out of the subway to cut severe pre-COVID-19 delays and backups in the tunnels. This would also allow us to add more cars to our Metro trains to increase capacity.

SAVEMUNI NEWS

EXAMINER: Big changes when Muni returns: https://www.sfexaminer.com/news/muni-rail-returns-in-august-riders-should-expect-changes/

Though no rail lines will be eliminated, routes will be reconfigured with a focus on running fewer, longer trains through the tunnel and keeping others entirely above ground. The agency believes this should alleviate congestion and reduce passengers’ risk of exposure to COVID-19.

MISSION LOCAL: As Muni is cut off, so are seniors https://missionlocal.org/2020/07/transit-seniors/

But in early April, as the city moved to stop the spread of COVID-19, the 55 was cut, along with the majority of other Muni routes. The move made sense, but it also inconvenienced or even stranded low-income seniors and disabled residents. Taxis offer the obvious solution, but for many who live on fixed incomes, any added expense presents a challenge.

CHRONICLE: Muni expects to lose the majority of its bus lines permanently as financial devastation mounts

San Francisco, which once packed 68 crowded bus lines into its lean streets, stands to lose most of them as the pandemic sinks its transit budget and steers riders into cars. Up to 40 of the bus lines that San Francisco cut at the beginning of the pandemic are not coming back unless the city finds a new revenue source, transportation chief Jeffrey Tumlin said this week. Just about every aspect of San Francisco’s transportation future looks grim. Elbow-to-elbow transit has long been a feature of life in San Francisco. Yet the daily bustle ended with COVID-19, which closed schools and businesses, moved offices into homes and lured more people into cars. Faced with galling projections of $568 million in revenue losses over four years, along with a $46 million increase in pension contributions, the board took a hard look this week at the budget it approved in April.

CITYLAB: The Forces That Will Reshape American Cities https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2020-07-02/how-coronavirus-will-reshape-u-s-cities?cmpid=BBD070220_CITYLAB&utm_medium=email&utm_source=newsletter&utm_term=200702&utm_campaign=citylabdaily

There is no reason why millions of people must get on cars, trains or transit and commute from far-flung suburbs into the central business district every day. In fact, the rise of work from home shows that this acute separation of work from living is an increasingly outmoded, expensive and unproductive legacy of the industrial age. The modern central business district with its giant office towers stacking knowledge workers and service support workers is one of the last holdovers of the from this era—a relic of a time when office workers needed to be massed together and skyscrapers stood as the physical manifestation of the all-powerful mega-corporation. High-end retail districts stand as physical symbols of the hyper-gentrified luxury city of the one percent which is why they have been targeted by the recent wave of protest and urban unrest.

EXAMINER: ‘No timetable’ for cable car return, SFMTA says https://www.sfexaminer.com/news/no-timetable-for-cable-car-return-sfmta-says/

But Laubscher says the original Clay Street car in 1873 and those that followed were meant to be “functional and local transportation,” a faster, cheaper and cleaner alternative to the horse-drawn cars that struggled up and down San Francisco’s hills.

FORBES:How Transportation Innovation Can Support Covid-19 Recovery https://www.forbes.com/sites/worldeconomicforum/2020/06/05/how-transportation-innovation-can-support-covid-19-recovery/#32af1f761126

The effort to create a multi-year national pilot program to test new revenue collection methods, including a “vehicle miles traveled fee,” is the right way to transform transportation systems with efficacy and effectiveness, particularly if it recognized the user’s ability to pay. This will be a critical effort to better manage congestion and emissions, as well as raise much needed funds as gas tax revenue dwindles, while narrowing socio-economic gaps. Zoning, through access restrictions and pricing, is another demonstrated tool for replacing an unsustainable commute with a sustainable one while increasing equity — if designed right and includes robust transit improvements. Technology now also allows for dynamic, variable fee or pricing systems that can account for a variety of factors, such as passengers’ ability to pay, the number of passengers in the vehicle, the time of day, the type of vehicle, and location.

CITYFIX: Public Transport After COVID-19 Lockdowns: It’s Time to Innovate and Change Benchmarks of Success

Transit agencies must adjust their traditional mentality by asking how they can adequately help residents, especially those most vulnerable, move safely and affordably given the unique circumstances of the coronavirus.

MCKINSEY: Restoring public transit amid COVID-19: What European cities can learn from one another

It could be a long time before physical distancing is no longer required and office workers can resume commuting every day, students are invited back to university campuses, and city dwellers can resume normal leisure activities. Until then, cities and their public-transit systems will have to function in a state of partial openness. Careful management and safety measures can allow public-transit authorities to accommodate more passengers, so they can avoid delaying economic recovery without contributing to a recurrence of the coronavirus. But public-transport operators cannot do it alone. They will need to work closely with (local) government officials on measures such as staggering school hours. Transport operators will also need the technology to constantly monitor demand and manage scheduling. And they will need to safeguard their employees. Riders, too, will play crucial roles in bringing public transit back up to speed by adapting their travel habits and behavior.

MASS TRANSIT: New York MTA, Transit Innovation Partnership launch COVID-19 response challenge to strengthen public transithttps://www.masstransitmag.com/technology/miscellaneous/press-release/21145539/mta-headquarters-new-york-mta-transit-innovation-partnership-launch-covid19-response-challenge-to-strengthen-public-transit

The Transit Innovation Partnership and the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) have launched a new COVID-19 Response Challenge to engage the private tech industry and to rapidly evaluate and deploy innovative technologies that make transit safer, healthier and more responsive to customer and workforce needs in light of the global pandemic.


SFMTA cutbacks

Taken from Sandra Fewer’s Newsletter notes:

The pandemic has upended every aspect of our society, and the SFMTA is no exception. The COVID-related health and financial crises have resulted in deep and painful cuts to Muni service.

Pandemic’s Impact

At the pandemic’s onset, health concerns among our drivers and front-line workers coupled with a massive drop in ridership and fare revenue necessitated that we cut back Muni service dramatically. To help fill in the transit service gaps, our agency has rapidly rolled out new programs and promoted existing programs to respond to the need of San Franciscans for additional mobility options:

  • Slow Streets, expanding spaces for walking, cycling and playing;
  • The new Essential Trip Card that helps many people with disabilities and older adults access discounted taxi rides;
  • The Department of the Environment’s Essential Worker Ride Homeprogram, and
  • The Shop-a-Round subsidized taxi ride to help seniors and people with disabilities get to and from the grocery store.

The combined pandemic and financial crisis mean the SFMTA must do more with less. We are doing everything we can to save money while maintaining as much of our service as possible. This means:

  • Eliminating most unscheduled overtime work;
  • Reducing the purchasing of goods and services to just the immediately needed essentials;
  • Significantly slowing down hiring; and,
  • Creating emergency temporary transit lanes to maximize the amount of service our buses can provide in the face of rising car congestion (read more about the data here).

As transit is cut off, so are seniors

By Annika Hom : missionlocal – excerpt

For years Zoila Martinez, 64, relied on the 55 Muni to get her to Kaiser Permanente in Mission Bay, where she picks up her insulin for diabetes. The bus was the most efficient option: the hospital is too far to walk from Potrero Hill where she lives with her daughter and neither of them own a car.

But in early April, as the city moved to stop the spread of COVID-19, the 55 was cut along with the majority of other Muni routes. The move made sense, but it also inconvenienced or even stranded low-income seniors and disabled residents. Taxis offer the obvious solution, but for many who live on fixed incomes any added expense presents a challenge…(more)

Plan for high-speed rail rolls out for San Francisco to San Jose — but with little cash

By Kurtis Alexander : sfchronicle – excerpt

California rolled out its vision for high-speed trains between San Jose and San Francisco on Thursday, plotting a 30-or-so-minute ride on what would be one of the busiest stretches of the state’s proposed 520-mile rail system — even as the project is mired in financial uncertainty.

The California High Speed Rail Authority is calling for 220-mph trains, coming from the Central Valley, to merge onto the Caltrain commuter line for a 49-mile jaunt up the Peninsula. Stops would be made at San Jose’s Diridon Station, a new hub in Millbrae and at the Caltrain depot in San Francisco. The San Francisco stop would eventually move to Transbay transit center…(more)