Robert Raburn, Bob Franklin & hope for BART in 2011

16 Dec

This morning, along with dozens of other transit advocates, I attended the swearing in of Robert Raburn to the BART Board of Directors. Raburn was sworn in by AC Transit Director Chris Peeples, which is meaningful as it symbolizes his commitment to work with AC Transit instead of against them and to work to better connect BART to other transit, biking, and walking. Alameda Mayor-elect Marie Gilmore and representatives of Congressman John Garamendi and Mayor-elect Jean Quan were also on hand to to support Raburn.

I was so proud watching Raburn get sworn in – proud of how hard he, his wife, and his supporters worked to get him elected and proud of the stellar campaign we ran. Last year, when folks first started talking about finding a transit advocate to run against Carol Ward Allen, it was somewhat of a fantasy, and Robert made this dream a reality.

His election proved that entrenched incumbents can be unseated, especially when they ignore their constituents and then rest on their incumbency to win them the election. And especially when their opponents run serious races and work hard to win.

Many people have asked me – so what? Robert got elected and that’s great, but many have wondered if that will just mean all controversial votes will be 7-2 with Raburn and Tom Radulovich voting against the majority. I never thought this would be the general pattern. Sure, it might happen once in a while, but with two strong transit advocates on the board and other members now taking transit advocates (and their re-elections) more seriously, I foresee many more 5-4 votes occurring, and some of those decisions will end up in transit advocates’ favor.

There’s some good news beyond Raburn’s election. Today the Board elected a new president – Bob Franklin. But before Franklin could speak, outgoing President James Fang (the only elected Republican in San Francisco) gave a very long self-congratulatory speech. He had the nerve to brag about about how BART is one of the most fiscally sound public agencies. Please tell me, in what world is borrowing hundreds of millions of dollars to to build an airport connector that will lose money annually fiscally sound? Fang then droned on about how many jobs BART has created and will create, saying that was the most important thing BART does. As I tweeted – Shorter Dir Fang – BART is about creating jobs, transit is just a bonus.

After sitting through that nauseating speech, it was nice to hear some of what incoming President Franklin had to say. Sure, Franklin talked about some of the projects that I think are wasting BART’s money – like the Oakland Airport Connector and BART to San Jose – but his top three priorities didn’t include extensions. His top three priorities are:

  1. Replacing aging cars – Yes, this is a huge priority! Except that Franklin says BART doesn’t have all the funds so will have to go to voters for more funds. Hmm, maybe some of that OAC money could have come in handy here.
  2. Improving community relations – Uh, yeah, hopefully by making substantial changes that the community supports.
  3. Improving relationships with employees – Also needs to happen to avoid another round of heated negotiations.

Franklin then moved on to a really exciting possibility – extending BART hours on weekends! Years ago, when I was a transit rider but well before I knew the ins and outs of transit, I talked about running for BART Board on the platform of extending BART hours to 2:30am. Everyone I talked to at the time agreed with me – it would be so much easier to cross the bay for a a fun night out if BART ran later. Over the years, I learned more about transit operations and funding, and though it’s still one of my dreams, I didn’t think it would be a reality anytime soon. So to hear Franklin talk about this got me really excited.

Franklin went on to mention the Make BART Trains run 24 hours Facebook page, which he said has 22,000 fans. Tom Radulovich chimed in, saying he was a fan of the page, drawing laughs from the crowd. Franklin said that if that many people have supported that page, it’s clear there’s demand for making the trains run later and that it should be studied. Streetsblog has a full story on the proposal, so if you want to learn more, check that out.

So it’s clear that Franklin is interested in studying some serious changes to BART, and we know already that Raburn and Radulovich would support changes that improve BART for riders. But unfortunately the Board is still likely to be very divided next year. Fang’s speech showed that now as much as ever he sees BART as a job provider primarily and supports building extensions at any cost. And there’s likely to be push back from some of the other directors and staff.

What this means is that advocacy will be more important than ever. We have a couple strong allies on the Board – Raburn and Radulovich – and at least one more who’s open to change, but they’ll need us to back them up to win over their allies. We need to send emails and show up hearings, and we need to help them change the debate.

It’s going to be an exciting but challenging year for BART reformers, and I can’t wait.

18 Responses to “Robert Raburn, Bob Franklin & hope for BART in 2011”

  1. Hometown grrl December 16, 2010 at 10:14 pm #

    Why is BART to San Jose a poor use of funds? I thought this has been in the cards for some time with Santa Clara footing the bill through a sales tax. The San Jose extension is good for the bay area. Rush hour traffic on 880 moves at a snail’s pace. The extension will take a number of cars off the road.

    • V Smoothe December 18, 2010 at 10:09 am #

      Hometown grrl –

      Santa Clara County itself is footing only a fraction of the cost of the BART extension to San Jose. There is federal money involved, but the majority of the expense is coming from regional funds that could be used on many other projects that would remove far more cars from the road and would transport many more people. On a local level, VTA is sacrificing other much needs projects that would take more cars off the road in order to fund this boondoggle that the MTC’s original study found would serve a mere 11,500 daily riders. For more information about this poorly conceived extension, I recommend reading the excellent series on BART to San Jose written by Eric on Transbay Blog.

      As for commuting by transit from Oakland to San Jose, I used to do it all the time. It’s quite easy, and doesn’t take that much longer than driving. You have two options – you can either ride the Capitol Corridor train straight there from either Jack London Square or the Coliseum, or you can take BART to Fremont and ride the express bus either to a VTA light rail connection or straight into downtown San Jose. I usually elected for the latter, because it was cheaper for me. The buses from Fremont BART run frequently and are always full.

      • Patrick December 19, 2010 at 2:09 pm #

        Yes, both transit options are as simple as that if you want to spend two hours doing it, and making several transfers – and if you miss just one add another 15 or 20 minutes. I rode the CC for years, and finally gave up after being delayed one too many times. And bus transit from Fremont BART is a joke – no really, it is. Not all BART extensions are created equal (Livermore is a boondoggle in the making) but extending BART to the largest city in the Bay Area, in my opinion, isn’t.

        • V Smoothe December 19, 2010 at 5:17 pm #

          Why do you say the bus is a joke, Patrick? I used to take it all the time and found it very pleasant and easy to use.

    • jaded December 19, 2010 at 4:38 pm #

      BART to SJ doesn’t make much sense, because silicon Valley office parks aren’t well served by transit. Considering the typical S.V. worker puts in hours outside of commute times, it would make it difficult for the last mile connection to work. Have you ever worked in a suburban office park with out a car? Where do you have lunch? Get coffee? What if you want to do an errand during lunch time? All of this stuff is completely impossible. There is little need for commuter rail from the East Bay and SJ, the ridership makes no sense at all. BART would be better served increasing the frequency of commute hour trains from the East Bay to SF that are overburdened during commute hours. Or even adding parking on the other side of the Caldecott or in Oakland.

      I commute semi-regularly to San Mateo. Transit to San Mateo is of no use to me. It takes for ever, and there isn’t much in walking distance of the office park I work in. And there aren’t any visible bus stops. How would this improve with BART to SJ?

  2. Andy K December 17, 2010 at 7:28 am #

    Santa Clara is not footing the entire bill – much of the funding is coming from the federal govt. The federal funds could be used much more effectively to provide transit to San Jose.

    Santa Clara has a very poor track record when it comes to tranist. Their light rail system is argualbly the least cost effective in world. It has decimated the finances of the VTA.

    • Hometown grrl December 17, 2010 at 7:41 am #

      by transit you mean?????

      I don’t know much about the funding but in most cases isn’t federal funding dependent on local agencies putting up money first. Thus, if Santa Clara had never opted to extend BART, then there would be no federal money for other initiatives in Santa Clara.

      Isn’t taking cars off of 880 a good thing?

      • Daniel Schulman December 17, 2010 at 8:26 am #

        Any cars taken off of highway 880 because of BART to San Jose will be replaced by other cars. Currently, the amount of traffic discourages more people from driving,

        • Hometown grrl December 17, 2010 at 12:20 pm #

          True. But is the pent up demand that huge that the replacement would either equal or exceed 1:1?

          Wouldn’t some of the demand go to BART or is the assumption that these are already pro-transit people who bart to Fremont and somehow public transit to SJ?

          Is “bart” a verb? To bart. He barted to work. He will be barting in the future.

  3. Marc December 17, 2010 at 1:11 pm #

    In my younger days, when I was deep into the East Bay bicycle activism community, I worked with Robert Raburn on various East Bay Bicycle Coalition projects, including the epic battle with BART to allow bicycles to travel in cars outside of the last one. Raburn was tireless, passionate and smart, and I’m happy to see him on the ‘inside’. There are still many bike improvements to be made, like increasing the bike-friendliness of cars, improving bicycle security at stations (e.g., more racks inside of the fare gates, more lockers), etc.

    I have to take issue with the last part of this statement: “Please tell me, in what world is borrowing hundreds of millions of dollars to to build an airport connector that will lose money annually fiscally sound?” Do you really want to go down the path of “transit must pay its own way”? ALL transit properties in the Bay Area — and probably the nation — lose money (at the farebox). But that’s OK, because they serve a valuable social purpose and help improve the overall economy by helping people get where they need to go. Whether or not the OAC loses money, it’s still a terrible project and there are plenty of other arguments against it. Perhaps, however, you meant to say something like “it would lose more money than other parts of BART operations”.

    I’d offer one more priority for the list: small projects that will improve riders’ experience on BART. Some examples:
    1) Build sound walls around the BART stations that are situated in the middle of freeways (e.g., Rockridge, MacArthur) to reduce the sound level on the platform. Being subjected to the noise of 6 or 8 lanes of high-speed traffic increases stress levels and does other bad things to humans.
    2) Improve the exit signage in stations, following the approach used around the world of numbering the exits and then putting those numbers on the maps in the station. (this might already be happening, as I thought I saw such numbers at Embarcadero)
    3) Install electronic destination signs inside the cars, so that riders who are unfamiliar with the system can more easily find their stop. I recently had a friend from Chicago visit who had a hard time seeing station names at each stop and the speakers in her car weren’t working.

    Finally, here’s an oddball question about BART history: why don’t BART routes have either a number or color associated with them? That is, why don’t we ride the Red Line, or the 1-Train, but instead a Richmond or Fremont train? It seems that it would be lot easier for out-of-towners and BART-newbies to find their way if the lines had colors or numbers, instead of the sometimes mystical destinations. Was it part of the “we’re not the dirty, awful NYC subway?” Or something else?

    • Becks December 18, 2010 at 12:31 pm #

      Marc – good point about the slippery slope. And no, I don’t think all transit should have to pay for itself. The frustrating part is that BART claimed throughout the debate on the OAC that it will be self-supporting and actually generate surplus revenue for the core system. They made the same claim for BART to SFO, and that didn’t happen. Instead, the extension is sucking money from the core system, which leads to service cuts and fare raises.

      I should have included the important point that the extension will suck money from the core system while serving an incredibly small amount of riders, most of whom are already taking BART to the airport and riding the AirBART bus or AC Transit.

      Good call on the renaming – it was very confusing to me when I first moved to the Bay Area but I guess I’ve gotten used to it.

  4. east lake rider December 17, 2010 at 4:57 pm #

    I took the same picture. (stupid podium)

    I almost gagged when Dir Fang was commending Carole Ward Allen.

  5. Brian December 18, 2010 at 9:13 am #

    Video from that morning is at:
    http://bart.gov/about/bod/multimedia.aspx

  6. Naomi Schiff December 19, 2010 at 6:15 pm #

    Marc, that’s an excellent point about the naming of the lines. It assumes one knows local geography. I’ve lived here for decades, and still have to ponder whether a Pittsburg or Dublin train is going my way or not. Must be odd for visitors from Pennsylvania and Ireland! The NY subway can be confusing, too, in that the number and letter designations are inherited from the old IRT/BMT days, and both designated number and letter systems survive. But I think you are correct that it would be fairly easy to fix this here. Especially since they now change the desitnation name when the line gets extended. So what used to be the Daly City train is now the Millbrae train. If you know where Millbrae is.

    • Hometown grrl December 20, 2010 at 10:18 am #

      I agree the city naming is odd. But, I suspect the PA riders are more confused than the Ireland riders as Dublin is at least spelled correctly. I have wondered how renaming the lines as Red, Green, Yellow or Purple helps. One still needs to be able to find their destination on the map and pick the correct train. Bus lines do not go by color – often a number and destination – 38 Ocean Beach.

  7. Ken O December 22, 2010 at 1:12 pm #

    Thanks for reporting on this Becks. I’m looking forward to good things from Raburn – only if we all support him and push the board, as you say.

  8. Reginald James December 22, 2010 at 9:34 pm #

    BART is about property values first, jobs and contracts second, transportation third.

    • Hometown grrl December 23, 2010 at 5:23 am #

      Please explain

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