Tech Shuttle Sign of Growing Inequality

Op-ed By Mari Elizapublished in The Potrero View

Lingering controversy over “tech buses” – shuttles conveying high technology workers here, there, and everywhere – is related to who gets to ride them and how far a would-be passenger has to walk to catch a public or private bus. The free ride and exclusive social element sets the tech buses apart, and causes animosity between tech shuttle riders and everyone else.

Muni riders are having their bus stops cut, and seats removed.  Shuttles appear to be free, clean and comfortable. They also seem to be closer to a door-to-door service, while Muni is forcing its riders to take longer walks by eliminating stops.

It could be an illusion, but it’s certainly a perception. A new privileged class system is rearing its ugly head.  The wealth and privilege associated with tech buses adds to feelings of social inequality.  Shuttles have become the catalyst for anger that needs an object to lash out against because they’re so visible and appear to be unregulated, ignoring laws and getting away with it. 

Neighborhoods want to kick the shuttles out.  Developers want to eject low rent tenants.  Both sides are lining up to protect their turf.

 

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.

Los Angeles, New York and San Francisco are most congested U.S. cities

By : usatoday – excerpt

Cheap gas and a surging economy are taxing the nation’s roads and contributing to congestion that cost U.S. motorists almost $300 billion last year in wasted time and fuel, according to a new report…

“Gas prices haven’t increased that much over the last year or two,’’ says Bob Pishue, senior economist at INRIX and a co-author of the traffic scorecard. Economic growth or productivity has also been strong in cities like San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York. “Those kinds of factors, combined with an already strained road network leads to increased congestion.’’…

Even if the growing popularity of ride share services like Uber reverses the nation’s decades-long decline in car pooling, the increasing amount of freight on the nation’s roadways will still stoke gridlock. “With an economic recovery … the movement of goods also puts a lot of strain on the roads network too,” Pishue says. “So even if people reduce their driving a little bit, freight is still increasing.”…

When freight carriers lose time and money in traffic,  90% of those costs “get pushed onto households through higher prices for goods and services” Pishue says… (more)

 

Supe. Peskin predicts death of the sales tax

By Joshua Sabatini : sfexaminer – excerpt

At Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting, the last one before next week’s election, Supervisor Aaron Peskin predicted the defeat of a sales tax assumed in Mayor Ed Lee’s city budget, offering some last-minute election drama.

Peskin was the only supervisor who voted against the budget earlier this year, citing objections to balancing the budget by assuming revenues The City had yet to receive. He also voted against placing the sales tax, Proposition K, on the ballot in the first place.

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.

With 25 local measures, supporters of multiple measures have talked about the challenge of reaching voters and getting them to vote down ballot.

“Many of those items are conflicting with one another,” Peskin said during Tuesday’s board meeting. “I want to say as the only member of this body who voted against the budget on the theory that it was being predicated on a tax that would have to pass next week, which is polling terribly, we’ve got to get this right the next time we go to the ballot.”…

Propositions D, H, L and M would, respectively, strip the mayor’s board appointment power, create the position of a public advocate, allow the board to appoint some members of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Commission instead of just the mayor, and create a housing commission, which would oversee the Mayor’s Office of Housing(more)

San Francisco Public Press writes:

Proposition D – “Proposition D Drains Mayor’s Power in Filling Supervisor Seats, Other Major Vacancies” – By Zachary Clark

Proposition H – Creating a ‘Public Advocate’ Watchdog

Proposition L – Giving Supervisors More Say Over Transit

Proposition MThis Charter amendment would make two major city agencies accountable to a new, third body, called the Housing and Development Commission.

Concern grows over half empty stadium during San Francisco 49ers home game

If you build a stadium  will they come? Perhaps not if the weather and parking suck and the ticket and food prices are too high for the fans.

New $1.5 billion rail shortfall imperils S.F. Transbay to Caltrain link

By Chris Rauber : bizjournals – excerpt

Already underfunded plans to bring high-speed rail service to San Francisco face a new $1.5 billion shortfall, which San Francisco officials say is due to cost cutting by the cash-strapped California High-Speed Rail Authority.

That funding was crucial not only to link the state’s high-speed rail project with San Francisco, but to fund the 1.3-mile rail connection between the Caltrain station at Fourth and King streets and the under-construction Transbay Transit Center. The transit center is already struggling with cost overruns and a transition in leadership.

The Transbay Transit Center, a 1 million-square-foot South of Market regional transportation hub is slated for completion by late 2017, but critics have said it will be a billion-dollar bus terminal if the extension to Caltrain and the bullet train doesn’t get built. The $1.5 billion shortfall could further imperil the extension.

The huge drop in the amount of money the city is expecting to receive from the California rail agency is spelled out in an April 13 letter to the high-speed rail authority from the heads of several San Francisco agencies.

The letter says the city’s Transbay Transit Center’s funding from the High-Speed Rail Authority “will be reduced by $1.5 billion to $550 million,” citing the authority’s recently revised draft 2016 business plan.

The San Francisco officials called the rail agency funding “an integral part” of financing the planned Caltrain/high-speed rail extension to the new transit hub.

The missive, obtained by the Business Times, asks the rail authority to reinstate the funding and make San Francisco, instead of San Jose, the terminus of its initial bullet-train tracks.

A revised plan, announced at a California High-Speed Rail Authority board meeting last week, indicated that the first $21 billion operating segment of the planned system would link San Jose to the Central Valley by 2025, rather than connecting Southern California to the state’s midsection.

The lower funding amount “caused me deep concern,” said Supervisor Scott Wiener, who chairs the San Francisco County Transportation Authority. “The high-speed rail authority needs to be a full and complete partner” with San Francisco. “Hopefully, this will be a bump in the road, and they will reverse course.”… (more)

It’s Time to Shift Road Funding to Counties

By John Moorlach : capoliticalreview – excerpt

Last week, yet another high-profile scandal involving mismanagement rocked the California Department of Transportation – Caldrons, and yesterday I  introduced Senate Bill 1141, which would launch a pilot program shifting road funds and maintenance duties from Caltrans to county governments.

Caltrans is one of the worst managed, most inefficient government agencies in the nation.  Just look at the metrics. Californians pay among the highest gas taxes and the highest per-mile road maintenance, yet we also have the nation’s fifth worst roads.  Those are clear signs that Caltrans is dysfunctional and wasting taxpayer money.  If Caltrans was a private company, it would have been out of business long ago.

SB 1141 would launch a pilot program that allows two California counties to handle their own road maintenance needs, and to receive the road funding that typically would have been administered by Caltrans for those maintenance needs… (more)

 

Avalos’ argument is the same one used by then Assemblymember Jerry Hill a few years back.

from Bob Planthold

Hill introduced a bill to REDUCE the fines for those making an illegal right turn on red , without stopping. Hill said his constituents asked him for help – because they couldn’t afford the high levels of fines for the tickets they were getting.  The Calif. Police Chiefs’ Association, California Walks, and some other safety advocates joined together to defeat that anti-safety bill. Ever since then, Hill has not done anything adverse to traffic / roadway safety. Let’s hope that Avalos and the other 5 Supes. eventually learn something from Jerry Hill’s experience.

“Board approves rolling bike stops; Lee likely to veto…”

Supervisor Avalos says the $200 fine for bike riders who roll through stop signs is “the difference between making their monthly rent or not.” It’s that kind of logic that leaves me shaking my head.

Here’s a suggestion: Don’t run through the damn stop sign and you can make your rent.

And besides, being able to make your rent, you just might not injure someone, or yourself, or a cause an accident.

Joe Mac… (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)

 

Almost any transit project is eligible to apply for Federal funds.

(Quick clarification – the Bay Area gets a lot of “formula” funds for transit.  How they are used are up to MTC and the transit agencies, but, in general, these are all spoken for – if they were transferred for other purposes, such as a major capital project, then that means a whole lot of over-the-hill buses would not be replaced at the ends of their useful life, a lot of rail lines will not be given required maintenance, etc.  In addition to the transit programs – of which 49 USC 5307 is by far the largest – there are also three highway “flexible” funds, with CMAQ and STP being the vast majority.  These can be used for transit, again, pretty much at the option of MTC, but, given the extreme underfunding of Bay Area road maintenance, unlikely to occur.  What we are probably talking about is the Federal discretionary capital grant program for transit, which is mainly 49 USC 5309 “new starts.”)

Since the Obama administration has pretty much changed the rules so that factors like ridership, etc., aren’t really part of the evaluation process any more, so, if the Bay Area made this a high priority, it would likely have a chance.  However, there is only so much money to go around nationally, and there is a limit to how much money any region is going to get, and there is an unlimited amount of other requests for this funding, so the real question is, how far up to the top of the list this will be.

The other interesting factor is that it is getting real questionable how much money for transit programs there is going to be.  With the Republicans controlling both houses, and the D’s not really into the program, there hasn’t been a new transportation authorization bill for quite a while, just short-term extensions and, right now, it is difficult to see how there will be a long-term extension any time soon.  Without that, not a whole lot of money for any new projects.  Not saying impossible, am saying makes it more difficult.

OK, let’s step back and take a wild turn.  Let’s say that the objective is to create a transit system that will carry the most people, get it done the quickest, and do it at the lowest cost to taxpayers.  Not really the way things are done, of course, particularly in the Bay Area, but, just as a thing to think about.  OK, going down that road, the way to go is to run long-haul commuter buses on an I-580 HOT lane from the Central Valley to the existing BART end station.  Such lines can be started within two years (the biggest time-taker is getting the buses delivered, now that the roadway is getting close to completion), there are just about no costs for the right-of-way, and this is the type of transit service that has the highest farebox recovery ratio – over 90% is not at all uncommon, although I’m not going to make that kind of prediction without a lot of study.

This would have also been the right way to go before BART went over the hill to the Tri-Valley.  Of course, it was never even considered as an option.

– TR, Transit specialist

This pretty much back up what many of us have been saying for some time. The SFMTA and other municipal transit authorities are not in the transportation business, they are in the construction business. They are also in the empire building business. The more the construct the bigger the public debt to the industry grows since the maintenance and operations costs escalate accordingly. This is why many people are saying NO MORE MONEY for the bottomless pit that claim, “if we build it they will come.”

To the desert valley where there is no water?