Newsom gives lip service to public transit

11 Mar

Last night, I went to Gavin Newsom’s town hall at the Rotunda in downtown Oakland. Overall, I wasn’t surprised by the event. He touched on many subjects – health care, education, improving the environment – and his overriding theme for the evening was that while many candidates talk about these issues, he has shown real progress on them. He did fail to mention though that many of the projects he took credit for last night (like universal health care) actually originated in the Board of Supervisors. But that’s pretty typical – he’s a politician and of course is going to take credit for everything he possibly can.

I really appreciated the fact that he took almost an hour of unfiltered questions from the audience. And I could not have been much more pleased when our new AC Transit Director, Joel Young, asked the first question. Joel explained that the state had defunded public transit and asked if Newsom, as governor, would restore public transit funding.

Newsom responded that public transit is so important for the environment and briefly answered, “Yes,” that he would restore the funding. But then instead of explaining why or how, he jumped into a long-winded speech about high speed rail. He started off by saying that he wanted to tell us about a project that he knew not all of us supported because it barely passed. This is a strange thing to say because 63% of Alameda County voters voted in favor of Prop 1A.

He then explained how high speed rail was going to change the state, creating jobs and changing how we thought about and used transportation. He talked about his vision for the “Grand Central Station of the West,” which is what some are calling the Transbay Terminal. Energetically, he explained how this would greatly improve the Bay Area region, making it easy to get from downtown to downtown (Oakland to SF).

And that was it. That was his answer to an AC Transit Director.

Now I’m very supportive of high speed rail (though I think it was a failure to choose the Pacheco alignment over the Altamont alignment), and I endorsed Prop 1A. But high speed rail won’t do us much good if our local transit agencies crumble. Getting from downtown to downtown might be made easier, but most of us don’t live downtown so if AC Transit cuts lines that would get us there, this “Grand Central Station” won’t be much help to us, will it?

As you might have read in the Chronicle yesterday, AC Transit will be voting tomorrow on fare increases, and soon after that will consider service cuts. And it’s not just AC Transit. More than 80 local transit agencies nationwide are facing fare increases and/or service cuts. At the same time, ridership is increasing, in the East Bay, the Bay Area, and beyond.

What I’m looking for in a candidate for governor is someone who not only understands and is committed to the big, sexy transit projects like high speed rail, but for someone who shares the same commitment to funding and improving our local transit agencies. I want to find a candidate who gets excited talking about buses and who understands the need to solve this problem (PDF, via A Better Oakland). Last night, Newsom failed to prove that he is that candidate so, for now, I’ll continue my search.

(If you’d like to read about the other topics Newsom covered, check out a diary at Daily Kos by a friend I sat with last night.)

21 Responses to “Newsom gives lip service to public transit”

  1. Eric March 11, 2009 at 10:12 am #

    Hi Becks, good points about local transit v. intercity rail. I thought I should mention briefly though that Prop 1A actually didn’t need 2/3 of the vote to pass. It ended up getting a little over 52%. Given the economic climate, I guess you could argue that even that percentage shouldn’t be labeled as “barely passed,” but it’s not as ringing of an endorsement as it would’ve been had 2/3 been required for passage.

    • Becks March 11, 2009 at 10:14 am #

      Thanks Eric – you’re right. I wrote that part early in the morning before I’d had any caffeine. I’ll go ahead and correct that now. But Alameda County did vastly vote for the measure (I believe 63% of the vote).

  2. livegreen March 11, 2009 at 11:44 am #

    In the meantime AC transit wastes $6000+ a bus buying VanHool instead of saving the money buying local buses and supporting local jobs.

    I agree with the importance of local buses and mass transit, but not insulating AC Transit executives from wastefull spending and accountability. There has to be a balance between increasing income and decreasing costs. And if one of those ways is to buy local and cut costs at the same time, they should be exploring it.

    BTW, Alameda County has a local purchasing ordinance for contracts. Does anyone know if AC Transit is exempt from that? If not, how did AC Transit bypass that?

  3. dto510 March 11, 2009 at 12:27 pm #

    livegreen, AC Transit’s funds for bus purchases are not in the same pot as operational funds, and so the bus purchases have no impact on service (except that new buses reduce operating costs by requiring less maintenance and holding more passengers). There is no “buy local” opportunity for buses – Hayward’s bus manufacturer did not bid on AC Transit’s bus contract (I believe they make school buses, not city buses). ACT is probably exempt from Alameda County local purchasing requirements because it is a state-chartered agency operating in three counties, but bus sourcing is global (virtually all buses in the US are made in Europe). Saying that AC Transit should buy inappropriate buses because there’s a manufacturer in Hayward is like saying that every Bay Area municipal, police and fire vehicle should be a Toyota Corolla because they’re made in Fremont.

    Becks, did Newsom mention that he’s worked tirelessly to starve the East Bay of necessary transit improvements by advocating for duplicative and wasteful projects serving SF and San Jose to the detriment of the East Bay? Or are we supposed to like high-speed rail just because it’s somewhat proximate? Also, how does a HSR terminal in Mission Bay improve connections between the DTO and DTSF?

    • Becks March 11, 2009 at 12:39 pm #

      No dto, he didn’t mention that. Somehow I’m guessing he doesn’t see it that way. His center of the universe is San Francisco, as it probably should be as Mayor of SF, but that perspective will certainly effect his time as governor, if he’s elected. Overall, Newsom last night did not demonstrate a good grasp of East Bay issues – he seems to see us as just an extension of the San Francisco Bay Area. To be fair though, he’s not the only one in SF that sees us that way.

    • Glen May 28, 2009 at 7:12 pm #

      Actually Gillig does make city buses. Rick Fernandez & AC Transit came up with bogus specifications specifically to disqualify Gillig and any other American bus manufacturer. These specs have since been withdrawn. Gillig buses are better buiilt, easier and less costly to maintain & repair. Why then does AC Transit/Fernandez insist on only buying European buses? In the rest of the world it would be natural to suspect they are being paid. In the East Bay too, come to think of it.

      One difference between Van Hools and Gilligs is this: AC Transit is the only public transit agency in the US that does not send buses to the federal testing facility in Altoona, Pennsylvania for testing prior to authorizing purchases. They know the Van Hool buses—which were designed as touring coaches on smooth European highways, cannot pass the Altoona test.

      • dto510 May 29, 2009 at 11:55 am #

        No, it is not natural to assume corruption is behind decisions you don’t like. Do you have any evidence for your assertion that ACT “came up with bogus specifications,” or that Van Hools wouldn’t pass tests?

        • michael jordan September 28, 2009 at 12:15 pm #

          The proof is in the public records and can be seen in the 1,000,000 in grossly padded travel expenses. This whole Fernandez thing has stunk since the 2 drunk driving arrests, the $500,000 in loans out of the general fund, the 236 buses made with foreign labor representing a permanent outflow of US dollars in the neighborhood of over $90,000,000 while making sure that only the Belgians got the deal on buses they hadn’t even made yet. Anyone, ANYONE who defends either “Rocky” or Rick Fernandez needs to be investigated and if necessary to accompany them both to jail

      • V Smoothe May 29, 2009 at 12:05 pm #

        Gillig does not make (and I believe, has never made), an articulated bus, which AC Transit needs articulated buses on heavily traffic corridors like International, and has been using them on those routes for years before they started buying Van Hools.

        • michael jordan September 28, 2009 at 12:25 pm #

          Gillig started in the transportation business in 1890 in San Francisco. Only an utter fool would believe that they are incapable of making buses which meet the needs of the citizens of the East Bay. The junket trips to Europe and the hotels in Paris running averaging $9000 per week. The five year rent for one employee in Brussels totaling nearly $300,000 all out of the general fund while on full salary is one example of stealing taxpayer money and the gross misuse of money obtained from bonds B and BB for operating services expanding service and hiring more drivers is a start for those like yourself who are intent in putting lipstick on the pig who is Rick Fernandez. Go wash your face !

        • Caldwell January 13, 2010 at 4:34 pm #

          True, Gillig does not make articulated buses. But another American bus company does–NABI. Los Angeles has many of those buses. New Flyer articulated buses (Canadian, North American) are found in Seattle and Minneapolis–cities that that have large fleets of Gilligs…. I don’t know of any other transit authority in the country that uses VanHools.

  4. stickler March 11, 2009 at 12:41 pm #

    Pet peeve: it’s Grand Central Terminal, not “station”.

  5. livegreen March 11, 2009 at 2:15 pm #

    dto510- To clarify, I never said AC Transit should buy inappropriate buses.

    But to the point, please help educate me:

    –Which buses was AC transit using before VanHool, where are they made?

    –Eastbay Express stated there was a company that could supply competing buses that are equally as efficient. Is this the same co. you refer to, or different, or are they just plain wrong?

    –Even if funds for purchasing are a different pot than funds for operating., as you say, all expenditures link at the top of any budget (projected or actual). So money saved on expenditures in one pot can get allocated (or reallocated, if things change) to expenditures in another pot. Or is that not so with AC Transit?

    Look forward to learning more…

    • Glen May 28, 2009 at 7:17 pm #

      AC Transit operates as they see fit regardless of conventions (and possibly regardless of laws). Here’s a tidbit about Van Hool buses and Gillig buses: it costs 15,000 to transport a Van Hool bus from Belgium to Oakland. It costs 75.00 to transport a Gillig bus from Hayward to Oakland. The costs of each bus is roughly similar, depending on type and equipment. But if you ride a Gillig Bus and ride a Van Hool the interior and suspension of the Van Hool is markedly inferior. AC Transit used to buy Gillig buses; there are still some on some routes. They stopped when Rick Fernandez became general manager in 2001.

      • dto510 May 29, 2009 at 11:53 am #

        I don’t know about that. I remember the buses being NABBI, which are Romanian. The Van Hools are superior in terms of speed of ingress and egress and comfort when crowded. My understanding is that Gillig did not bid on ACT’s last two bus contracts.

        • michael jordan September 28, 2009 at 12:34 pm #

          You are embarrassing yourself. The NABI buses are made in Alabama which is a state in the southeastern United States. The bids were not made solely because the specs included unnecessary 3rd and 4th doors which cost an additional $45,000 each. This was intentional act to throw the bid to Belgium by Rick Fernandez. He is a New Jersey crook who was sought after by the disgraced and de-licensed former lawyer Chris Peeples. This is a case of collusion and conflict of interest which demands a Federal Prosecutor and prison time.

  6. dto510 March 11, 2009 at 3:32 pm #

    livegreen – Before choosing Van Hool for its fleet, AC Transit ran (and still runs) NABBI buses, which are designed and manufactured in Romania but assembled in Alabama, making them fit the federal government’s definition of “American-made,” though they are not actually made in the US. The EBX was indeed wrong about competing suppliers; for more information about their deeply flawed articles about AC Transit, check out A Better Oakland’s expose. Finally, public transportation budgets, as with many municipal budgets, cannot substitute capital funds for operating funds. Generally, the federal government provides capital funding but local sources support operations. I hope this helped clarify some of the myths out there about AC Transit’s budget!

    • livegreen March 12, 2009 at 3:05 pm #


      Well I read through both VSmooth’s A Better Oaklnad’s expose, and reread the original Eastbay Express article. I still had questions, esp. because I’m new to Transit issues, because there are both a lot of facts (esp. for a layman), and still a lot of other facts addressed in generalities without specifics.

      (For example, the Gammons Eastbay Express article says the VanHool buses are more expensive than the NABBI but doesn’t give their costs…)

      I ended up looking at the AC Transit budget on their website and called them with a question. They were generous enough to switch me to Jim the Deputy GM. Here’s a short version of some of the info he shared with me:

      –He confirmed what you & VSmoothe said about the Capital Funds & Operating Funds being seperate pots that are seperately funded;
      –He explained that the increase in costs of the VanHool buses (referred to in Gammons article) was because of a change of contract & new bidding process (the original contract was from an extended period starting in the mid 90’s and the new contract is for an extended period…).
      –Gillig in Hayward does make transit buses (not just school buses as you thought), but you’re right they did not bid on the most recent contract and neither did NAABI (doesn’t leave them with much choice does it?).
      –Very interestingly their info shows that both the Gillig & NAABI buses are both more expensive to purchase and that in the past have had maintenance issues. (& in all fairness, to all sides, it sounded like NAABI tried their best to make right with those issues).

      Of course I must take Jim’s word for this info (and allow him to make any corrections where I might have been inaccurate in my notes). But if accurate, and without addressing the quality of the ride (esp. going across the bay), on the cost front it sounds like AC Transit has done good.

      Of course the devil is in the details, and since those details have already changed my opinion on this once, I’m open to corrections &/or other sides and information in an attempt to get at the truth.

      • livegreen March 12, 2009 at 3:52 pm #

        BTW, I meant “issues addressed in general” not “facts”…

  7. californiabeat March 11, 2009 at 4:10 pm #

    We also covered the event, and we’re breaking into the state political news business.

    Story: Newsom takes quest for California Governorship transbay to Oakland Town Hall meeting

    Political Analysis: NEWS ANALYSIS: SF Mayor Gavin Newsom strives to present self as a uniter

    Always looking for your opinions too!

  8. The Overhead Wire March 11, 2009 at 10:38 pm #

    Gavin doesn’t get transit. He doesn’t care about the east bay either, ole slick is just trying to drum up votes. I don’t think he believes half the stuff he says. If he did care, he would have had Muni running better already.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: