Let's raise the bar on regionalism

A SPUR forum titled the “State of Regionalism – Transportation” shows just how far the Bay Area is away from making progress on a seamless transportation.   

Photo Credit:  Anthony Nachor

Photo Credit:  Anthony Nachor

The panel, moderated by SPUR’s Regional Planning Director Egon Terplan, engaged senior planning representatives from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), the Alameda County Transportation Commission (ACTC) and the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Authority (SFTMA) on the question of how well we are doing at regionalism in transportation.

With declining transit ridership, 27 transit agencies (and more being added each year) operating with minimal integration, painfully slow progress in advancing transformative regional projects, and looming uncertainty due to technological change, one might have expected this panel to acknowledge a relatively dire state of regionalism in the Bay Area and express some sense of urgency to take action about it.  

Instead, panelists pointed to incremental successes, like Clipper and Regional Measure 3, as examples of what we’re doing well, and seemed resigned to working within the reality of regional planning and governance institutions as they currently exist, however effective they may be.  Rebecca Long of MTC repeated the often-heard adage, “if we were to design our governance from scratch, clearly we wouldn't design the system we have today” but acknowledged little agency for her own institution to change that reality. Grahm Satterwhite of SFMTA indicated that the planning of a new rail connection across the Bay could catalyze governance change by necessity - but didn’t offer any clues about how this might actually happen, or where this change would come from.

The Bay Area has many well-meaning, qualified transportation professionals doing what they can within the agencies they work for, but let’s not confuse that with success for people who actually need to get around.  The average Bay Area resident knows that our system is not delivering good regional public transportation. A prerequisite to changing that is acknowledging that our existing governance structures are holding us back, and advocating for them to be reformed.

Until we are on path toward regional fare integration, mobility-as-a-service, a consistent and high quality customer experience, and clear leadership on transportation projects of regional significance, the State of Regionalism for transportation in the Bay Area should be seen as in crisis, urgently in need of attention from our elected and unelected leaders.  Seamless Bay Area believes the call for change needs to come from the public, and should be supported by professional staff within existing transit agencies and cities who know this is the right thing to do, even if it seems difficult to accomplish. Thanks to SPUR to convening this panel and highlighting the state of our region. We are eager to work together on advancing a better future.