At the California Democratic Convention a couple weeks ago, Gavin Newsom met with a couple dozen bloggers to talk about his campaign for governor. I was excited going into this meeting, especially since I knew exactly what question I was going to ask. It was the same question that AC Transit Director Joel Young asked at a Newsom town hall in March: what are you going to do about the fact that the state has entirely stripped funding from local transit agencies? You might remember that Newsom basically dodged the question and launched into a speech about how great high speed rail is. So this time, I was determined to get a better answer.
And surprisingly, I was somewhat impressed with his answer. He explained that coming from a city and county, he understands the needs of public transit agencies. While stimulus funds are available for capital projects, none are available to run buses, which is problematic. (Of course, this isn’t entirely true – some funds are being used for operating expenses – but it was nice to hear that he understands the need for operations funding.)
Newsom then said that California is a prosperous state and that it’s all about priorities. Except somehow he managed to skirt by without saying what his priorities are! His comments suggested that he would prioritize public transit, but he never actually committed to this. This was a theme throughout the blogger meeting – Newsom displayed a firm understanding of the issues at hand but managed to not make many specific policy promises.
My favorite line from Newsom about transit issues came not in response to my question but in an answer to Calitics’ David Dayen’s question about prison issues. Newsom said (among other things), “Building prisons is like building highways; within a few years, they’re 90% filled up.” Yes, a major candidate for governor understands that building highways is fruitless because they only generate demand and never fulfill it. Of course, he didn’t promise that he would place a moratorium on new highway construction or do anything else to stop highway expansion.
I left feeling pretty good about Newsom’s answer. Though he didn’t make specific policy promises (except on high speed rail), he at least didn’t entirely dodge my question.
But I became a bit less impressed yesterday, after reading Lieutenant Governor John Garamendi’s post on Calitics about High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes and Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). Up until a few weeks ago, Garamendi was running for governor, and if he had stayed in the race, he would have blown Newsom out of the water on transit issues:
While some have raised concerns that HOT lanes give wealthy commuters special access – and this is a criticism I take very seriously – I would argue that broad access and equity in services are best achieved with a package of transportation solutions that includes the expansion of longer distance rapid transit bus service throughout key corridors in East Bay and South Bay counties. The most effective and profitable rapid transit routes reaching more inland regions of the Bay Area will have to be implemented along the proposed HOT lane network to provide a reliable enough commute to convince riders to leave their cars at home. There is nothing rapid about gridlock.
Rapid transit buses, which along city streets allow bus commuters to avoid most traffic lights, have been shown to be popular and effective in the Bay Area and should be considered a low-cost solution in areas where a more speedy public transit commute is desired but rail is impractical. A study of a busy seven-city 14-mile Bay Area route by the Federal Transit Administration determined that the rapid transit line reduced end-to-end travel time by an average of 12 minutes, leading to a 21 percent reduction in time previously spent on local service non-rapid bus lines. Ridership across all areas of the corridor increased by 8.5 percent as a result of the rapid transit line, and most significantly, around 19 percent of rapid transit riders previously used a car for their commute along the corridor, a reduction of around 1,100 auto trips per day.
Garamendi touched on two issues that are near and dear to my heart: taxing drivers to pay for public transit and BRT expansion. If he was still in the race for governor, I’m pretty sure I would have signed up for his campaign immediately after reading this. Though Newsom gets larger public transit issues, it’s clear from this blog post that Garamendi understands the nuances of public transit issues.
But transit advocates don’t have to decide between Garamendi and Newsom. Garamendi has jumped into the race for Ellen Tauscher’s congressional seat in CA-10 and is the fruntrunner in the race. Which means that East Bay residents might soon have a high speed rail governor and BRT congressman.
For an excellent and comprehensive write up of the Newsom bloggers meeting, check out Robert Cruickshank’s post at Calitics.