Legislative Update: March 2019

Passing legislation to reform transportation governance and establish better leadership for our region has been one of Seamless Bay Area’s primary goals since we launched over a year ago.  We’ve taken huge strides towards that goal - and we can share with you now that we came close to sponsoring a bill in the 2019 California State Legislative session, with support from a broad range of Bay Area business, labor, equity, and policy organizations.  

While we’re not leading a bill this year, we’ve accomplished much that will be essential for passing legislation in the future.  We’ve learned about a how a seamlessly integrated transportation system can be created; how regions with world-class transit systems are governed and funded; and how the Bay Area and California can do much better on mobility, environment, and equity.   We’ve confirmed that there is a diverse base of support, and a strong desire for taking decisive action. We are encouraged by this success, and are excited to roll up our sleeves, strengthen the base of supporters, and build a shared vision on support of policy reform and legislation in the next year.

In the spirit of transparency, the following is a summary of the policy development process we’ve used so far, the set of legislative proposals that resulted, reflections on lessons learned, and how we’re planning to proceed over the next year.

Interviews with Experts and Regional Leaders

What are the root causes of the Bay Area’s weakly integrated transportation system?  
What kinds of consistent standards should exist for transit in the Bay Area?
What are effective transportation governance models that exist elsewhere in the country or in the world that could be applicable to the Bay Area?  

We started the policy development process in mid-2018 by asking these and other questions to dozens of transportation experts, including policy researchers, state transportation officials, board members and senior staff of Bay Area transit agencies, and city government leaders.  We also interviewed private sector leaders from of transportation consulting firms, major employers, and companies developing new mobility technologies. (Thanks to everyone reading this who shared your expert ideas and feedback!)

These interviews greatly shaped our problem definition, policy research approach, and specific legislative proposals.  Among those we interviewed, while there was not always consensus on policy solutions to our challenges, we received a great deal of encouragement from nearly everyone that something must be done to address the region’s failing transportation system, and that institutional reform is an important part of the solution.

Desk Research on Bay Area History and other Regions

Building off the expert interviews, we began researching how transportation is governed and funded in other US and international regions with better systems - in particular, where there is widespread and growing transit use, seamless integration of modes, and a high quality customer experience.  We also researched past efforts to reform transportation governance in the Bay Area, why those were successful or unsuccessful, and what we can learn from them.

Drafting Legislative Proposals

Shaped by our interviews and research, we shared a set of policy reform proposals with multiple State legislators, who expressed support and interest in advancing legislation aimed at transportation governance reform as early as 2019 .  Policies that would provide greater accountability for future state investments in transportation, supporting state goals to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase the use of transit, were of particular interest.

We set about refining the policy reforms though additional research and interviews, increasingly working in partnership with other Bay Area advocacy and policy research organizations.

The result was a package of policy reforms we called the “Seamless Transportation Act”.   It included four key policy components:

  • Establishing clear state expectations for a world-class, regionally coordinated transportation system including goals, standards, and targets

  • Linking goals, standards and targets to sources of state transportation funding;

  • Assigning clear responsibility to regionally coordinate mobility, including private sector providers; and

  • Establishing a State Commission to study and recommend comprehensive reforms to institutions and funding sources to improve planning, delivery, and operations of Bay Area transportation.

Despite the support, we concluded earlier this year that legislation would require more time and would not quite be ready to be introduced in 2019.  We determined that there was a better chance of integrating the Bay Area’s transportation network with additional refinement to our policy ideas, coalition building, and grassroots support.  

Lessons Learned

The following are a few lessons learned from the past year-long effort:  

  • There’s broad support for these changes.  Despite many warnings that pursuing transportation governance reform will attract significant opposition, we were very encouraged by the enthusiastic support from a diversity of sectors and groups.  When we position this issue as one that affects equity, the environment, our economy, and our region’s affordability, it becomes difficult to defend the status quo. To maintain this broad support, we will continue to emphasize an outcomes-driven approach, focusing on our shared goals to reduce congestion, reduce vehicle miles traveled, and create a more livable, affordable and accessible region.

  • Building grassroots support will be critical to success.  Legislators told us that to pass reforms like these, they need to hear from their constituents that improving transit is a priority and the public expects their government institutions to work together to support reforms that provide better service.   The voices of riders, and professionals who see the value of a higher performing, customer-oriented system, must be louder than whatever groups may ultimately resist changing thes status quo. Seamless Bay Area aims to spend much of 2019 building grassroots support for governance reform as an essential prerequisite to building a world-class transportation system.

  • Partnerships are key.  We know we can’t succeed by working alone.  We plan to leverage the resources and networks of a range of advocacy, business, labor, and civic groups.  We will focus on building our relationships with many more organizations over the next year so that our coalition is even broader and stronger to support future state legislation.

  • The path to reform is likely to be a multi-step process.  A combination of legislation, regional processes, and state administration, potentially over multiple years and legislative sessions, may be required.  Seamless Bay Area is committed to participating proactively and working on a number of strategies - in addition to state legislation - that get us closer to our goal of a customer-focused, integrated transportation system.

How We’re Moving Forward

Our next steps to lay the groundwork for a future legislative effort next year include:

  • Tracking and building off of other promising bills.  Several interesting bills that move forward elements of the policy vision have been introduced in the State Legislature this year - we are particularly interested in SB-526 and SB-127.  We are tracking these bills closely and working with allies to make them as strong as possible.

  • Publishing research.  We will be sharing the research we have completed that has informed our legislative proposals through a series of blog posts.  We hope that by “showing our work” and publishing our analysis of data and case studies, we can better communicate the connection between effective governance and higher-performing, more customer-focused transportation, and how legislative reforms can support this.

  • Building a people-focused campaign for change.  We will focus on developing clear, simple messaging that grounds the case for reform in helping everyday people lead fuller lives, spending less time and money on transportation, and more on family, friends, and fulfilling their potential.

We are extremely grateful to all of the people who have contributed to our policy work over the past year, including the experts we have interviewed, our many volunteers, and the staff of key state legislators that have supported us.   We have a strong foundation to work from, and we’re looking forward to ongoing collaboration.

Please be in touch if you have any questions or can help out.  Most importantly, please consider making a donation to our Education and Campaign Fund, which makes all of this work possible.  We need your support to make this happen!

Ian Griffiths