Ambitious SPUR Regional Rail Vision will require advocacy

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Latest forum “A Vision of a Megaregion” shows ambition, but will require strong advocacy and political champions to become a reality.

SPUR recently completed a series of talks centered around its bold vision for transportation developed as part of its Regional Strategy.  The forums explored how transit agencies around the Northern California "Megaregion" will need to combine forces in order to link people to opportunities.

SPUR's Laura Tolkoff, Adam Knoelting from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, and Kate White from Arup (who's been working with Caltrain on its upcoming business plan) were there at the San Jose talk to discuss and answer questions about the future of rail in the Bay Area.

Tolkoff underscored a bundle of problems that will need to be addressed, but most pertinent to the concerns of Seamless Bay Area was her refrain of valuing the "product," and not just obsessing over new projects. SPUR's Vision for Megaregional Rail, then, values leveraging existing infrastructure and more effectively orchestrating across agencies in our "polycentric" region regardless of the brand on the vehicle.

Laura Tolkoff indicated a key to SPUR’s vision of a 60-minute transit journey between any two rail stations in the Bay Area is reducing waiting time, requiring alignment of schedules.

Laura Tolkoff indicated a key to SPUR’s vision of a 60-minute transit journey between any two rail stations in the Bay Area is reducing waiting time, requiring alignment of schedules.

The centerpiece of SPUR’s vision for regional rail is compelling and simple: A transit trip between any two Bay Area rail stations -- whether BART, Caltrain, Capitol Corridor or others -- in the Bay Area should take 60 minutes or less, with service in 15-minute intervals or better. This requires not only a significant increase in frequency along the Bay Area’s commuter rail lines, but complete alignment of fares and schedules between operators to make transferring seamless. It also requires consistent rides "all day long," and not just heavily focused on the commute, leaving people with other needs with long waits and making it hard to go car-free.

Tolkoff emphasized the many barriers to achieving the vision, including lack of regional governance. She only really gave one clear fix for a specific issue, highlighting the need to give passenger rail a leg-up on lines where the right-of-way is owned by freight companies by getting the state to buy those rights, and granting separate rights-of-way to freight.

White from Arup perhaps had the most pointed advice about how to get our 27 transit agencies in sync: tie funding to cooperation and performance, and merge agencies where it makes sense. In order to make the Bay Area one contiguous transit zone, we'll undoubtedly need every tool available, carrot and stick alike.

"Why do we put up with what we have here?” White said at the Oakland event. “SPUR is doing a lot to help make change happen, but it can't just be SPUR. We really need a grassroots movement to pressure elected officials to enact the meaningful policy change that will lead to real improvements in our transit systems."

We at Seamless Bay Area support SPUR’s ongoing thought leadership in this area and will continue to do what we can to build the grassroots support needed to enact reforms to make it a reality.

Brendan Nystedt