SF Chronicle: “Gavin Newsom can’t just let California’s public transit systems collapse”
Special to the Vanguard
Sacramento, CA – The San Francisco Chronicle published an editorial calling on Governor Newsom to provide short-term relief funding in this year’s budget to prevent massive cuts to public transportation service across the state. Despite months of warnings from transit leaders and advocates across the state that transit agencies require additional operations funding as federal pandemic relief is set to run out, the Governor’s May Revise budget proposal provides no funding to cover the impending operational shortfall, and leaves in place $2 billion in cuts to public transportation capital projects. Weeks ago, the state of New York averted their own public transportation funding disaster by committing $1.1 billion of new and recurring state funding.
Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco) has helped organize a coalition of lawmakers in calling for short term operational funding for public transportation to be included in the budget. He has called for this year’s budget to reverse the proposed cuts to capital projects and deliver roughly $1 billion annually for a 5-year period to cover the operational shortfalls until transit agencies can identify and implement sustainable funding models to adapt to post-pandemic realities. Read letters sent by the coalition to the Governor and Leadership in the State Legislature here.
The SF Chronicle writes that a failure to provide funding for public transit would be particularly devastating to the Bay Area, and could partially trigger a “doom loop” economic spiral for the region:
- “Cuts would be particularly acute in the Bay Area, where agency shortfalls account for about half of the statewide transit deficit. The San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency estimates that it will have to slash one line per month for 20 months starting this summer if state funds don’t come in. BART, meanwhile, is bracing for a worst-case financial scenario that could result in closing service on weekends, shuttering two of its five lines and nine of its 50 stations, and running trains as infrequently as once per hour.
- “BART’s potential collapse would be especially devastating for San Francisco — where nearly 70% of regional weekday trips ended before the pandemic — and could short-circuit the city’s pandemic recovery and help perpetuate a dreaded economic ‘doom loop.’”
Citing recent polling showing concerns over cleanliness and public safety are depressing ridership recovery, the Chronicle calls for the state to use the new funding to encourage reforms to improve the ridership experience.
“That doesn’t mean that California should dole out money to transit agencies with no strings attached; unless service markedly improves, riders are unlikely to return,” writes the Chronicle. “Thankfully, transit agencies are taking steps to show they aren’t just looking for a bailout to continue business as usual.”
The Chronicle Editorial Board also highlighted Senator Wiener’s proposal to use excess federal highway funding to cover the shortfall, which would provide an additional flexible funding source for the legislature in a year with a predicted budget deficit while still allowing for increased levels of spending on maintenance of the highway system:
- “The California Transit Association has identified multiple potential funding pots. Wiener has also proposed that California temporarily redirect some federal highway funding — the state is annually receiving about $1 billion more than anticipated — for transit operations. Lawmakers should consider this idea seriously: Citing the pandemic’s impact on public transit, President Biden’s budget ‘encourages States to support their transit systems by transferring available Federal-Aid Highway funding for transit operating needs.’”