Commuter Bus program Report

Report by Edward Mason with comments

Summary of the February 21, 2017 MTA Board meeting
Making the Commuter Bus program Permanent

FOR
Three representatives from the Teamster’s Union declared the program a win-win for all: jobs, profits all around; “labor harmony;” and the streamlining of the shuttle operation, including coordination with residents.

One after the other, the commuter buses patrons presented their case: reduction of dependence on cars; ease of travel, with consequent savings to their personal time; the avoidance of 40 minutes on Muni and/or a full CalTrain. Some argued that they ride the commuter bus because there is no shuttle to work from the CalTrain Station. (According to a former Apple employee who helped design its commuter system, that company does pick up at the shuttles.) Almost to a man they parroted the bromide that the program removes 10,000 autos and benefits the environment. Each insisted that they only wanted to live in San Francisco and did not want to own a car. One woman, who rode the buses during the course of two pregnancies, cited the importance of frequent stops.

A representative from the Bay Area Council made his contribution. He cited three years working with the MTA and ABAG (the Association of Bay Area Government). He trumpeted the reduction of vehicle mileage, the easing of congestion and the removal of 2 million car trips annually. All this was good for the environment, with the result that the best option is a permanent program.

Others asked for increased commuter bus loading zones. During the presentation, Director Ramos asked speakers to indicate if they rode Muni. Some said they had a Clipper Card. (No one indicated they rode Uber/Lyft to the commuter stop, a fact which has been observed.). Surprisingly some commented they would purchase an auto and drive if the commuter bus was not available. (Surprising because many in this age group do not know how to drive and distain the burden of car ownership — one of several reasons for the success of Uber/Lyft).

In summary, the “for sustaining commuter bus program arguments were convenience, fewer auto miles, good for the environment, and time savings for personal or family time, i.e., personal benefits. (Not mentioned: the huge tax deduction that the company takes for the business expense of transporting its work force. This deduction reduces their contribution in the form of corporate taxes to the general welfare. (Individuals generally can not deduct their commute, so we all indirectly support this corporate write-off)).

AGAINST
One argument against the corporate bus operation is the low mileage-per-gallon in the city vs. the freeway, especially with the extensive use of deadheading. (This argument supports the use of HUBs.) The ignoring of ADA, the omission of an EIR, and the displacement of lower income populations are other frequently raised problems. (More ammunition for a BART HUB.) Also on the legal side, red zone stops violate state code 22500 and cause Muni to fall short of its 85% on-time goal prescribed in the City Charter; and enforced Muni street-boardings violate ADA rules. In view of all the busses’ many violations, the MTA issues too few citations. Noise and vibration impact on houses. Smaller buses could substitute for many if not all of the behemoths. One detractor even contented that if the buses disappeared the 10,000 additional autos represented by the population of riders would have a minor impact on the 300,000 auto commute time total on Highway 101.

Finally, buses should benefit all parties (citizens, not select workers). In the end, the support should be for a Public Regional Express Bus system. Presently the program represents an illegal give-away of bus stop space. Prop 26 fee structure should be reviewed, State Assembly Bill 61 to legalize red zone failed.

DIRECTORS’ comments / questions included:

  • Shift to smaller buses on more streets? Companies determine the size and mix of buses.
  • Increase penalty, emissions standards
  • Director Ramos commented one thousand emails received and New Development in SF funding Mass Transit changes (I assume new market rate development for South Bay workers. However, the Transportation Sustainability Fee derived from new development is deeply discounted to less than 25% of the Nexus Study true transportation expansion cost. Growth is not funding Growth). With a growing economy, MTA must“accommodate the need of Industry.” (Does this mean at all costs and with little or no regard for the collateral damage inflicted upon the neighborhoods?) He applauded the industry for being willing to work with this voluntary program. He conceded that the arrangement was far from perfect and would evolve, including MORE STOPS TO REDUCE DWELL TIME, such as additional loading zones that remove parking.
  • Form a web page for better violation/complaint reporting

TAKE AWAY
Underlying the argument for the corporate bus operation is a presumption of the inherent right of the individual to enjoy a simultaneous commute-and-work experience, a benefit that suits both the employee and the employer. Of the many individuals who said that, deprived of that right, they would purchase an auto and drive, not one displayed any trepidation about the environmental consequences of that action.

I will share the Public Records Request correspondence received supporting the Commuter Bus Program. Mostly repeated cookie cutter statements. Mostly like upstart businesses “mustering the troops” to lobby the legislators.

The geography (steep hills) and geometry (narrow /awkward streets) undermine the practical use in this city of motor coaches, i.e., 40’plus vehicles designed primarily for travel on freeways. None of the supporters mentioned any of the intractable and multiple problems associated with them, including staging (idling for a time point departure); the obstruction of intersections; noisy, late night operation; and the conflict with MUNI.

Assuming 20% of the future employee expansions of Facebook (6,000) and Apple Spaceship (8,000) will most likely result in additional buses in San Francisco. Plan Bay Area 2040 is up for review. Will the employment centers build work force housing? Work site congestion mitigation transfers congestion to the employees’ neighborhood. San Francisco is not alone, as Private Commuter Buses roam the South Bay Cities traveling from San Jose to Sunnyvale, or Mountain View.

Transit crisis in San Francisco

Op-ed by By Gerald Cauthen : sfexaminer – excerpt

Joshua Sabatini provides a nice summary of what The City’s transportation planners want to do to reduce traffic congestion in San Francisco. The problem with their plans is that they won’t work. What is being proposed is akin to trying to fly an airliner using just the ailerons. What’s currently in vogue in San Francisco illustrates what’s wrong with City Hall’s response to its growing transportation crisis.

Most transportation planning are left to people who are well-intentioned but inexperienced. As a result, the proposed solutions tend to be half-baked and over-simplified:

“San Franciscans drive too much; we must walk more.”

“The restraints on parking will ease traffic.”

“More people should ride Muni.”

“We need more bicycle lanes.”

All of these warrant discussion and consideration, but none come even close to fully addressing the real problem. If people are to leave their cars at home, there will have to be non-automotive travel alternatives that work. Here are some considerations that tend to get shoved under the rug:

• Good decisions are not made by the seat-of-the-pants. One has to ask: What works; what doesn’t? What has been shown to work elsewhere? What is cost-effective? What are the alternatives? These essential elements of good planning tend to get lost in a seemingly endless series of politically inspired “bright ideas.”… (more)

SF voters approve better transit, reject tax to pay for it

By Jerold Chinn : sfbay – excerpt

San Francisco voters voted overwhelmingly to approve $150 million for improved transit and homeless services Tuesday night — while rejecting by a similar margin a sales tax increase that would provide the funds.

Election night results in San Francisco show Proposition K, a three-quarter sales tax increase that would have taken effect in April of next year, failing with 67 percent of voters against the increase.

The 0.75 percent sales tax increase — to 9.25 percent — would have provided funds for Proposition J that would create the Homeless Housing and Services Fund and the Transportation Improvement Fund… (more)

“San Francisco’s current sales tax is at 8.75 percent, but will decrease to 8.5 percent after Dec. 31, 2016.”

Voters need to look forward to lower taxes in this volatile, unpredictable economy with high rents and evictions looming. They are watching SFMTA roll out one ridiculous future project after another non-stop while they are being squeezed out of the city.

In spite of all the back-slapping at City Hall the public does not appreciate the constant “improvements” being slapped down on the streets at our expenses, and no amount of PR and advertising dollars will convince us to spend another dime on systems we will never live to see.

Voters will see sales tax hike, funding for homeless and Muni on November ballot

by Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez : sfexaminer – excerpt

There’s little debate over whether San Francisco should invest more in Muni and homelessness, but a whole lot when it comes to how.

Voters this November are being asked to approve a sales tax hike in Proposition K, and a spending mandate for that revenue with Proposition J, which sets aside annually $100 million for transportation and $50 million for homeless services…

But opposition to the sales tax hike comes not only from the San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, but some progressive politicians as well. Supervisors Aaron Peskin, Norman Yee and Jane Kim voted against placing the sales tax on the ballot.

Peskin even submitted a paid ballot argument against the sales tax hike, arguing it is “balancing our budget on the backs of the poorest and most vulnerable in our city” and that within The City’s existing $9.6 billion budget, “City Hall should address critical issues.”

In 2017, San Francisco’s sales tax would decrease from the current rate of 8.75 percent to 8.5 percent, but if Prop. K passes it would increase by .75 percent, to a total of 9.25 percent…

“I generally have not been supportive of flat regressive taxes,” Kim told the San Francisco Examiner during an editorial board meeting, noting she also does not support a proposed tax on sugary beverages that’s on the ballot as well. “Flat taxes disproportionately impact low income households.”

In opposing the measure, the Chamber argued the sales tax “places overwhelming economic strain on local businesses, especially small businesses, causing costs to rise, businesses to leave or close, and lost jobs.”

There are no active fundraising campaigns against Props. J and K…(more)

There is an growing opposition movement to Proposition K. Contact us  if you want to help fight it. With five major tax bills on the ballot and even more set-asides, almost half of the city ballot initiatives are about taxes and there is a growing opposition movement to increasing taxes.

Both progressives and business people agree that increasing sales tax is bad business. Some of our endorsers for No on K are: Supervisor Aaron Peskin, SF Berniecrats, San Francisco Tomorrow, Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods, Chinese American Democratic Club, District 3 Democratic Club, SaveMuni, Bay Area Transportation Working Group, San Francisco Chamber of Commerce, Council of District Merchants, San Francisco Taxpayers Association, San Francisco Libertarian Party, San Francisco Republican Party

State College System Funds Need to Create More Public Transit Jobs

By Brandi Childress : vta -excerpt

These training programs for transit workers are needed because the public school system is failing to prepare students to do the jobs that are needed.

A program to train much needed transit operations and maintenance workers is taking shape thanks to a one-million dollar grant from the California Community College Chancellor’s Office.

The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA), Mission College of Santa Clara, and the Amalgamated Transit Workers Union (ATU) Local 265 are launching the Transit Apprenticeships for Professional Career Advancement initiative to build a unique system of apprenticeship programs to recruit and train 100 apprentices during the two-year grant period.

VTA’s workforce development strategy, “Grow Your Own”, offers current VTA workers the opportunity to learn new skills and move into new careers using this apprenticeship approach. These opportunities begin with the entry-level position of a professional coach operator and lead to the highest paid ATU, and hardest to fill, position of Overhead Line Worker… (more)

On housing policy, is everything really “going to be OK?”

By Calvin Welch : 48hills – excerpt

NOVEMBER 24, 2015 — In a recent Chronicle Open Forum (November 20, “We Can Resolve Housing Crisis With Teamwork”) Gabriel Metcalf, Executive Director of SPUR, penned an oddly argued, personal, upbeat exhortation about how our affordable housing crisis is going to be solved if we just understand that “its going to be OK.” He says we can take his word for it: “I want to say to everyone already here, as compassionately as I can, is that its going to be OK.” He says that if we “take taller buildings,” “take more transit,” and “make room for more people” “it’s going to be OK.” That’s pretty much the sum total of his argument.

It seems clear that Metcalf’s reason for directing his remarks to “everyone already here” is that so many of us simply do not agree that under current development policy, strongly urged by Metcalf’s organization, SPUR, that “everything is going to be OK” for the obvious reason that everything, now and in the recent past, has not been “OK” and it’s clear for all to see which is why Metcalf’s musings are so odd. In the same edition of the Chronicle that his article ran — November 23 — three stories made this point.

A new market-rate development at Van Ness and Market will have only 20% of its units affordable to current San Francisco residents; the city is scrambling to find a short term $200 million “bridge loan” to continue the construction of the Transbay Terminal while having no idea how to finance the additional $2.5 billion to move CalTrain and other commuter transit service to the facility; and a front page report measures how the “Awful Commute is Getting Worse” in the Bay Area as the working class is priced out of Oakland, San Francisco and San Jose ( “all three are dynamic and growing” says the rather breathless Metcalf) and must commute, by car, from Tracy, Stockton and Ripon…

San Franciscans correctly understand that the housing crisis we face is one of affordability, that housing affordability is dependent on household income and that household income, for San Franciscans, is often dependent on the ability of local businesses to continue to be located in San Francisco. The three go hand in hand and are, all three, dependent on a system of informed local land use policy that integrates the three (see Section 101 of the San Francisco Planning Code, drafted by the people and made law by the passage of Prop M in 1986 ).

That’s what the six ballot measures on this November’s ballot were mainly about: housing affordability and jobs for San Franciscans. What Metcalf calls for is the disaggregation of local land use policy (“we need to make some different planning decisions”), centered not on the needs of San Franciscans but for “waves of new arrivals” even as the “new arrivals” of yesterday are being displaced and evicted today!…

We need a comprehensive development policy that places housing in its true social context, that protects and enhances our neighborhoods, communities and businesses, that preserves space for the arts, the very young and the very old. To do that will produce real social change that will preserve and enhance a city not only for us but all in the world who, like us, yearn for such a place to live.

Calvin Welch teaches classes in the development history of San Francisco at USF and SFSU. He was a founder of the Coalition for San Francisco Neighborhoods and the Council of Community Housing Organizations... (more)

 

SAN FRANCISCO’S TRANSBAY TERMINAL PROJECT QUICKLY TAKING SHAPE

By Carolyn Tyler : abc7news – excerpt – (video)

Thursday, June 25, 2015 09:19PM
SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) — Work on a regional connection for Bay Area commuters is quickly taking shape. With much of the construction on the Transbay Terminal completed underground, we’re finally seeing it rise above street level.

At First and Mission streets in San Francisco commuters are watching an icon rise, one that might actually make their trip into San Francisco easier someday. “You absolutely get a feel for what that experience is going to be when the transit center opens in late 2017,” Dennis Turchon said.

Turchon is senior project manager of the $1.1 billion new Transbay Terminal project.

It is designed to be the Grand Central Station of the west, a hub for Bay Area transit.

Regional bus lines will carry commuters to and from the city on the upper levels, while underground Caltrain and high speed rail will bring commuters up the Penisula.

“We’ve poured almost 100,000 cubic yards of concrete in the last year for the train box,” Turchon said… (more)

SFMTA to increase Muni fares and fines starting next month

SAN FRANCISCO (KTVU and wires) — The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency announced a fare and fine increase on Monday, which will start next month.

On July 1, select cash and Clipper fares, as well as some major fees and fines will increase, SFMTA officials said.
ktvu – excerpt

The discount cash fare for persons with disabilities, youth and seniors will increase from 75 cents to $1.

Adult “A” monthly fast passes for Muni and BART within San Francisco will increase from $80 to $83. Adult “M” monthly fast passes for Muni only will increase from $68 to $70.

Monthly Muni passes for persons with disabilities, youth and seniors will increase from $24 to $25.

The Lifeline monthly pass for low-income residents will increase from $34 to $35.

A single cable car ride ticket will increase from $6 to $7.

Lastly, a school coupon booklet worth 15 Muni tickets will increase from $11.25 to $15, according to agency officials.

In addition, fees, fines and rates that will also see an increase include parking, transit and taxi fines and late penalties, neighborhood parking permits, contractor parking permits. Fines for parking in color curb zones and during temporary street closures, special traffic permits, boot removal, auto towing and storage, special collections, service vehicle rental, parklet installation, parking meter use, sign posting and various taxi permits will also increase, SFMTA officials said… (more)

MUNI Service Improving:?

By Guest Writer

The City believes mass transit needs improving.  That is why we recently passed a bond measure for $500 million, by 71.3% of the voters, to provide more funding for MUNI in our last election.  Does anyone see an improvement of the “on time” performance of MUNI today from yesterday?  With construction going on at a record pace and traffic often blocked with utility improvements, not to mention additional laborers, traffic is worse.  One solution for better MUNI performance has been to limit or restrict service, creating hardships for the elderly, the disabled and the handicapped.  Even eliminating bus stops to hospitals is considered an improvement in service, i.e. the 33 bus could discontinue its stop to San Francisco General sometime in the future.  Usually, seniors and those with disabilities move to locations where mass transit provides services to health care service.  Now, these same citizens will need to move again.  Is this really the role of government, to hamper the needs of those less fortunate than we are?

The Private Taxi Congestion:
Uber, Sidecar and Lyft pretend to remove congestion in San Francisco, reducing the need for individuals to travel down town.  Well, with 20,000 vehicles working for Uber alone on a daily basis, they are adding to traffic congestion, not solving it.  In addition, Uber wishes to add an additional 120 vehicles to improve their service.  Uber is the largest of these private taxi services but Sidecar and Lyft also contribute to congestion in San Francisco.

Private Buses a Boom or Bust to Neighborhoods:
Assembly Bill 61, which is presently on hold, would give legitimate approval for private buses to use public bus stops.  Private buses for employees of Google, Apple and Salesforce are prime examples of those that would benefit from this law.  At first glance, it would seem less people on the road would benefit the public, however, let’s look at this further.  Studies have shown that those who rent beside private bus stops are finding their rent increase, allowing well paid tech workers to replace existing tenants.  Those that own property, whether it be residential or business real estate, are finding their property value increasing by $100,000.  Therefore, their property taxes are rising.  If small businesses move, the diversity provided by “Mom and Pop” stores will diminish, as larger chain stores replace less profitable businesses.

A Fair Tax for Private Buses:
Heavy private buses, typically do not pay their fair share of cost  for “wear and tear” on our streets.  Minimal fees for private access to these public bus stops of $1 or $3.50 a visit, do not pay for the true cost of access.  A flat fee of $1,000, $5,000 or $10,000 a day would be more appropriate allowing the improvement of mass transit maintenance or the purchase of more vehicles to our existing fleet.  Then too, any worthwhile City necessity, i.e. affordable or middle class housing subsidies could benefit from this tax.  The City is missing an opportunity to tax wealthy companies fairly.  We ask the City to look again at their mass transit policy, please.