Tag Archives: Tom Radulovich

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.

Advocates secure temporary win on the Oakland Airport Connector

27 Apr

Last week I attended the BART Board meeting to weigh in on their brilliant plan to fully finance the Oakland Airport Connector (OAC) through borrowing up to $150 million. The meeting was frustrating at times (and incredibly long), but in the end, Director Bob Franklin negotiated a compromise to bring the loan resolution back in two weeks, after they could get further information from staff. Though this win is temporary, it’s incredibly important because it gives advocates two more weeks to share our ideas with BART directors and to organize our community to call for a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) alternative.

Most of the more than two hour discussion on the OAC consisted of BART directors, staff, union members, and business interests talking about how great this project was and patting themselves on the back for finally getting the funding in place for this project that has been in the works for two decades. They also repeatedly called this a “legacy project”, just what Obama was thinking of when creating the stimulus bill.

But I’m not going to relive those moments here – they were just too maddening. Instead, I wanted to share the real highlights of the meeting, the speeches that kept me from exploding and rekindled my hope for sensible transit.

Though transit advocates, including me, only learned about this hearing two days ahead of time, eleven of us spoke out against the OAC and in favor of a cheaper alternative, like BRT. Every one of the advocates was compelling, but Stuart Cohen, Executive Director of TransForm, was especially convincing. Cohen presented the possibility of how BART could use existing committed funds to build a BRT airport connector and could use some of these funds for operating costs down the road. Based on his calculations, this would allow the BRT connector to be free, while the current OAC would cost $6 each way!

My favorite part of the meeting came after the public speakers weighed in, when Director Tom Radulovich of San Francisco, my new transit hero, spoke up. He was incredible! He asked all of the important questions and echoed the concerns of transit advocates.

Radulovich grilled staff about the wisdom of borrowing $150 million for this project, since that would take away borrowing capacity for other priorities, like replacing rail cars. He also questioned their ridership estimates (as I have), saying they clearly are not conservative, especially since they do not estimate any ridership drop once high speed rail is in service.

Radulovich was very concerned that BRT had not been explored recently, even though it seemed like a good fit. He told a story that I have told so many times about BRT. Radulovich, like me, grew up in the San Fernando Valley, where no one rode the bus (or any transit) unless they absolutely had to. But then the BRT Orange Line was built, and they met their 2020 ridership projections in just a couple of years. That success sold Radulovich on the BRT concept. As I often argue, if BRT will pull LA drivers out of their cars, it can do the same in the East Bay.

The biggest complaint from Radulovich was about the proposed fair for the rail OAC. He argued that the $6 fare would be more expensive than traveling to SFO and would be unfair to airport workers. Though some of his colleagues have argued that those who can’t afford it could just ride the bus, he said that it wasn’t right to have a two tiered system. Besides the social justice aspects, the two tiered system would negate any environmental impacts since the buses would still have to run.

At the end of his speech, Radulovich presented a perfect analogy. He said that in a house, you fix the foundation before adding a master suite or a jacuzzi. He then retracted that and said the BART system was closer to being a house on fire. Can you imagine upgrading a house as it burned to the ground? That’s basically what the BART Board would be doing if they borrow $150 million and allow the OAC project to move forward as is.

Several of Radulovich’s colleagues echoed his concerns but ultimately almost all of them sounded like they would vote to take out the loan. Luckily, Director Franklin saved the issue by proposing to delay the vote on the loan until the next meetin, and all the directors voted for this, except for Carol Ward-Allen, who abstained.

BART will be considering this issue again on Thursday, May 14th. I have no delusions that it will be easy to convince the directors that the right move is to scrap the current proposal in favor of a much cheaper and more effective BRT project. After all, we’re going up against BART staff, construction unions, business interests, and Oakland Councilmember Larry Reid. But BRT would be the right move – for Oakland, for BART, and for the greater Bay Area – and transit advocates are going to do our best to convince the directors of that.

Check back later this week for more info and for ways to get involved.