San Francisco, Contra Costa and Alameda County voters are voting on Prop RR, a $3.5 billion bond to “repair and replace BART’s critical safety infrastructure.” For many, the need to upgrade the aging 44-year old transit system is obvious. BART now serves far more people than when the system was designed and no transit system can grow or even survive without infrastructure upgrades.
In a different period of United States history the federal government would pick up the cost of upgrading urban transit systems. But a majority of Republican Congressmembers no longer support such infrastructure investments. As a result, local residents must pick up the BART tab.
Unfortunately, many voters are not happy with BART. I keep running into such voters, which concerns me. Since a 2/3 vote is needed for passage, Prop RR could secure a 60% landslide and still lose.
Anger at BART
Prop RR must overcome ongoing anger at BART. This anger is connected to the most recent BART strike, anger at BART management, and displeasure over delays. Since the strike is over, the best way to address the other two issues is for the system to run without hitches at least until Election Day.
Unfortunately, last week, BART morning commutes were delayed upwards of 30 and 20 minutes on back to back days. For some, these delays further proved that the aging system needs upgrading and makes the case for Prop RR. But for others the delays confirmed in their mind that giving BART more money won’t solve the core management deficiencies they see as plaguing the system.
This is one of those ballot measures where a critical portion of the overall electorate has direct personal experience with the issue they are voting on. Pro-RR mail and advertising helps, but if people are mad at BART when they are voting absentee or on Election Day they may well vote No on the initiative.
Vancouver’s Transit Defeat
If you think concern about Prop RR’s passage is exaggerated, consider the 2015 election to fund public transit investment in Vancouver. Vancouver has become known as the quintessentially “green” city. Getting voters to support a .5% tax to fund $7.5 billion to revitalize public transit would seem a relatively easy task.
But as described in Janette Sadik-Khan and Seth Solomonow’s great book, Streetfight, opponents of the bond made the same arguments we are hearing against Prop RR: “Critics claimed that Vancouver’s transit system was poorly managed and providing middling service, so voters should deny new funds until it first resolved its problems.” Opponents “effectively portrayed Vancouver’s transportation network and the people who ran it as inefficient and incompetent, and, in so doing, cut off new sources of funding to guarantee that the agency couldn’t do its job efficiently or competently.”
If this happened in green Vancouver, it could certainly happen in the Bay Area.
I strongly back Prop RR and hope BART management and Directors will do everything in their power to keep the system running smoothly through November 8. BART obviously seeks to keep the system running well at all times, but the next two weeks are crucial for Prop RR to prevail.
No matter how much you may despise BART management, defeating Prop RR will only make the system’s problems worse. And if voters reject the measure, they will not have another opportunity to rebuild the aging BART system for two years.
Let’s show the people of Vancouver that the Bay Area knows better.
Randy Shaw is Editor of Beyond ChronFiled under: Bay Area / California