Finally Transit Is Included in CA Transportation Funding Discussions

Assemblymember David Chiu proposes a packet of bills to fund transit, flanked by representatives from local transit agencies and advocates. Assemblymember Kevin Mullin is behind him. Photo: Melanie Curry/Streetsblog
Assemblymember David Chiu proposes a packet of bills to fund transit, flanked by representatives from local transit agencies and advocates. Assemblymember Kevin Mullin is behind him. Photo: Melanie Curry/Streetsblog

On Friday, in separate press events in Los Angeles and San Francisco, several members of the California legislature presented new bills for consideration in the ongoing legislative special session on transportation funding.

Various estimates put California’s backlog of deferred road maintenance in the $100-plus-billion range. The special sessions, which involve the creation of new committees and a parallel legislative process alongside the regular legislative session, are supposed to get legislators working together on ways to solve transportation issues. Already a long list of bills has been introduced—look for more coverage of the process on Streetsblog as the week progresses.

So far the focus has been on how to get money to “fix the potholes,” with Democrats proposing an increase in the gas tax and Republicans calling for putting cap-and-trade revenue towards road maintenance (a ludicrous and likely illegal idea).

Now legislators are finally making the connection between public transit—which has its own daunting funding backlog—and the rest of the transportation system. “Anyone who hits a pothole or sits in traffic knows that our transportation system is in crisis, but so does anyone who has to rely on a late, crowded bus to work, school, or do errands, or who would take the bus if one was there,” said Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco) as he introduced the package of bills.

“California needs more transit funding to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions and to prevent gridlock from strangling our economic recovery,” he said.

Assemblymember Kevin Mullin (D-San Mateo) pointed out that fixing congestion has to include better transit options. In the San Francisco Bay Area, the major transit systems including BART, Muni, and AC Transit “are at or near capacity already. Increasing capacity of public transit systems must be part of the solution,” he said.

The proposed bills would triple the diesel fuel tax, with the money to be distributed to all transit agencies in the state, and raise the portion of cap-and-trade money currently allocated to transit. See below for more details.

This was far from the first set of proposals for the special session.

Earlier in the week, a “Fix Our Roads” coalition of groups representing cities, counties, and labor groups announced its legislative priorities. These include investing in freight movement, raising revenue from a broad array of options including tax increases and fees, and focusing on maintaining and rehabilitating the current road system. Unfortunately, according to them, adding lanes to fix congestion fits that category.

During the priorities presentation, Jim Earp, director of the California Alliance for Jobs and a member of the California Transportation Commission, was dismissive of the idea that repaving roads would encourage more driving. “This isn’t inducing demand,” he said, “this is fixing problems.”

The Fix Our Roads coalition focus points had nothing to say about transit.

In contrast, at Friday’s press event, several speakers reiterated the importance of including public transit in the transportation funding conversation. “The days of ever expanding roadways is over,” said BART director Zakhary Mallet, “and this bill reflects that. If we are to achieve our climate change goals, we need to invest in transit.”

Chanell Fletcher, policy manager for the Safe Routes to Schools National Partnership, pointed out that children rely on transit, walking, and biking to get to school. “Better transit will result in less congestion, especially of trips from parents driving their children to school. Fewer cars will translate into less road damage, and contribute to cleaner air, which is not only a health issue—with asthma a big problem among schoolchildren—but it will also benefit California’s climate change goals.”

“We’re all stuck in soul-crushing traffic, and we know building more roads is not going to get us out,” said TransForm’s regional planning director Joel Ramos after the press event. “And we don’t have to force people to take transit. It’s about choices. The more people we can get to take transit, the better for people who don’t, or can’t, take transit.”

A similar press conference took place in Los Angeles at the same time, featuring Assemblymembers Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) and Adrin Nazarian (D-Van Nuys), and Senator Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica), flanked by officials from L.A. Metro and southern California transit advocates.

The bills proposed on Friday are:

  • SBX 1-7, from Senator Allen, and ABX 1-8, from Assemblymembers Chiu and Bloom: Both bills would triple the diesel fuel tax to raise $300 million for the State Transit Assistance program.
  • SBX 1-8, from Senator Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), and ABX 1-7, from Assemblymember Nazarian:  These bills propose an increase in the portion of cap-and-trade funds for the Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program from ten percent to twenty percent, and for the Low Carbon Operations Program from five percent to ten percent.

Look for more this week from Streetsblog on the special legislative session on transportation and the ideas it is generating.

  • What makes using C&T funds “a ludicrous and likely illegal idea”? If it’s really illegal, change the law. Additionally, it’s no secret that many area roads are unbelievably potholed and dilapidated. While I would agree that perhaps current transportation taxes should focus more on maintenance to avoid this issue, there is a huge backlog of necessary projects. Repaving projects do offer the opportunity to take advantage of the opportunity for stuff like road diets at no cost and if coordinated with ADA updates, can really offer the opportunity to greatly improve the infrastructure and user experience for bicyclists, pedestrians, and even transit.

    • Melanie Curry

      I agree–as long as any road maintenance incorporates true complete streets principles. That’s not a given; when Complete Streets principles result in sharrows tossed on busy roads, nobody wins. And while it’s true there is a huge need for money for road repair, cap and trade is not necessarily the best source of funds for pothole repair (see comment above).

      • Neither bike lanes nor sharrows belong on busy roads. If this is what it takes to finally get people to realize how worthless most Complete Streets policies are, I’m all for it.

  • M Harvey

    If Cap and Trade can go towards High Speed Rail, then why is it a “ludicruus and likely illegal idea” to put those funds towards transit?

    • Melanie Curry

      Using cap-and-trade funds to repair roads is ludicrous and likely
      illegal, because the revenue is supposed to be used to help further
      reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In that sentence I was not referring to
      using cap-and-trade for transit–that would be a reasonable use, since
      improving transit would make it easier for people to get out of their
      cars, reduce fuel use, and reduce emissions. “Fixing roads” is trickier.
      If the roads are for transit, that would be a proper use for
      cap-and-trade funds. But fixing roads for cars could have the effect of
      encouraging more driving. And currently too many road maintenance
      projects include lane widening in the name of “fixing congestion”–which
      by now we know induces more driving.

  • Jimbo

    why is it specific to diesel fuel?

    • lunartree

      Diesel is rarely used outside of business and industry. It’s a good way to raise fuel taxes without financially impacting people who have to drive long distances to work. Unfortunately, those people typically don’t choose a long commute, but rather were forced into it by economics.

      • NoeValleyJim

        “Forced” into buying McMansions 50 miles from their jobs.

        • lunartree

          Back when land was cheap, yes older generations of America preferred moving to socially desolate locations like Dublin because they valued material comforts. The younger generations didn’t ask for this, but we’re stuck with it. Where are you going to get a house for under half a million? Unfortunately, it’s out in the burbs.

          The golden age of the American suburban experiment is over, and our cities structures are returning to the way cities develop all around the world. Yesterday’s suburbs will become tomorrow’s ghettos while today’s urban blight is being overtaken by the middle class.

          • Yes, the real challenge facing suburbs today is for them to realize this writing on the wall and make the changes necessary that would continue to allow them to be competitive moving forward. These include more investments in transit and active transportation alternatives as well as acknowledging their “rural” status that they call claim to have and not building urban-sized roads.

      • vcs

        Diesel is also popular in Europe, so this would probably kill the small segment of higher MPG German cars in California.

        • lunartree

          You’re right, it’s not a perfect strategy. However, gas cars have become highly efficient lately while those diesel powered cars are honestly pretty rare.

      • Which is a shame. Gas technology appears to be catching up for smaller cars, but we should be encouraging the use of more diesel, especially for bigger vehicles.

  • What parts of the existing cap-and-trade allocation would the latter bill take from to fund the increases in Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program and Low Carbon Operations Program?

    • lunartree

      Currently the unallocated funds get distributed discretionally. This currently accounts for 40% of the funds currently, but I think this will reduce that pool to 25%.

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