Read a Pacific Northwest, liberal perspective on world, national, and local politics. From majestic Redmond, Washington - the Northwest Progressive Institute Advocate.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Greetings from San Francisco - and some thoughts about transit governance

It's looking to be a beautiful weekend here in the Bay Area.

Golden Gate Bridge at Sunset

I took this photograph last evening as I was walking across the Golden Gate Bridge at sunset. To say that the scenery was stunning would be an understatement.

One of the things I've noticed during my trip down here is just how many transportation districts there are. I frequently hear Puget Sound lawmakers and governance scheme backers complain that we have too many transit agencies and too many governments with authority over our transportation system.

I don't think they appreciate how good we've got it.

As far as transit is concerned, in Central Puget Sound, we've got three major bus provides (Metro, Community Transit, Pierce Transit) and one rail/express bus provider (Sound Transit). The San Francisco Bay Area has:
  • BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit)
  • Muni (the San Francisco Municipal Railway)
  • Golden Gate Transit (Golden Gate Transportation District)
  • Marin Transit (service provided by Golden Gate Transit)
  • Petaluma Transit (City of Petaluma)
  • Sonoma County Transit (operated by the county of the same name)
  • Santa Rosa CityBus (City of Santa Rosa)
  • VT (Vallejo Transit, City of Vallejo, Solano County)
  • SamTrans (San Mateo County Transit District)
  • AC Transit (Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District)
  • WHEELS (Livermore Amador Valley Transit Authority)
  • VTA (Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority)
  • ACE (Altamont Commuter Express)
  • Caltrain (operated by Amtrak)
  • WestCAT (Western Contra Costa Transit Authority)
  • County Connection (Central Contra Costa Transit Authority)
  • Tri Delta Transit (East Contra Costa Transportation Authority)
  • Union City Transit (Union City, California)
  • Vacaville City Coach (City of Vacaville)
  • Benicia Breeze (City of Benicia)
  • Cloverdale Transit (City of Cloverdale)
  • Dumbarton Express (operated by BART, VTA, Union City Transit, AC Transit)
  • FAST (Fairfield-Suisun Transit, serving Solano County)
  • Healdsburg In-City Transit (City of Healdsburg)
  • Rio Vista Delta Breeze (Rio Vista, California)
  • VINE (Napa County)
  • Capitol Corridor Intercity Rail (Amtrak)
Not listed above are the Bay Area's seven ferry services nor its more than twenty shuttle services (most operated by one of the above agencies).

There's also BATA, the Bay Area Toll Authority, which is in charge of administering tolls on state-owned bridges. It only has jurisdiction over road crossings.

Admittedly, the Bay Area is larger than the Seattle metro area (it's home to more than twice as many people, and encompasses three times as many counties).

But look at that long list.

Contra Costa County has four different in-county transit agencies! Imagine having several Metros: SM (Seattle Metro), EME (Eastside Mountain Express), and SKT (South King Transit). Now there's an alphabet soup for you!

Making things even more confusing for tourists is how many city-operated bus systems there are. (Imagine Redmond Transit, Bellevue Transit, etc.)

These may be great for getting around one town, but since they only serve small geographic areas, it means any tourist wanting to explore the region via public transportation will have to deal with a nightmarish amount of transfers.

Contrast that with Puget Sound. Again, we have one major bus agency serving each county in the Seattle metro area, and one agency building a regional rail system. The only city with its own bus service is Everett.

That's a pretty simple setup.

At some point, perhaps, Sound Transit could subsume the three county bus agencies and become something akin to Portland's TriMet - but now's simply not the time for a complicated and controversial merger like that.

However, there is something on the horizon that will make getting around our region much easier: the forthcoming ORCA pass (One Regional Card for All). It's currently in testing and is due to be launched sometime next year.

ORCA will work on all bus systems (including Kitsap Transit), Sounder commuter rail, Link light rail, and even Washington State Ferries. It's a smartcard with radio frequency identification (RFID) embedded. It'll allow you to forget about fareboxes and transfer anywhere you want to go, on any route, with ease.

The Bay Area has developed its own version of ORCA - TransLink. Like ORCA, it's an RFID smartcard that allows for painless travel. Unfortunately, as of today, it can only be used on two transit services: AC Transit and Golden Gate Transit & Ferry. The TransLink website claims that "eventually the TransLink card will be used on all transit systems in the nine-county Bay Area".

Rollout of TransLink has already taken much longer than originally anticipated.

Given how many agencies there are in the Bay Area, full implementation of TransLink could take many more years, although it should definitely gain momentum when BART starts officially accepting it. Additionally, several bus agencies are planning to begin accepting TransLink next year.

Hopefully, ORCA's debut will be much smoother, and more capably planned.


Blogger m 2 nailz said...

Note how the geniuses who planned BART gave to thought to connecting with Amtrak, Caltrans, etc.

At least Sound Transit's over-buit boondoggle connedts with our King St station. (sort of)

November 25, 2008 11:54 AM  

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