- Stop offering toll discounts for Fastrak or carpools. Amazingly, when we try to make driving cheaper, more people will drive, despite the fact it kills 40,000 people a year. (Hey, people smoke too.) Raise tolls, and use the money to subsidize public transit. And yes, it is a subsidy. Every metropolitan transportation system in the world is subsidized. So are fire departments, but most people don’t think that’s a problem.
- Consolidate all the agencies, or at least the ones serving the metropolitan core of the Bay Area (BART, Muni, Caltrain, AC Transit, SamTrans, and maybe VTA). No doubt that will result in a big wasteful bureaucracy, but right now we have 9 big wasteful bureaucracies that are territorial, petty, and don’t talk to each other, each of which has its own website, its own phone info line (which can’t help you if your trip involves transfers), sometimes its own police force, and God knows what else.
- Get rid of all fare media. About 15 years after the UK and Hong Kong, the Bay Area finally has an all-in-one fare medium (ClipperCard), at no small expense. It is refillable automatically or manually, by cash or with credit cards or employer transit checks, online or at Walgreens or at automated refill machines, and it understands special fares like senior and youth passes. There’s no reason to keep other fare media.
- Make transfers painless. Having a single fare medium helps, but they also need to adjust fares so that transfers are cheap (sorry, 25 cents off a $2.00 fare doesn’t count) and coordinate schedules around common trips.
- Get rid of 511 Transit and the 511 Trip Planner. Google Maps for transit does a better job, especially when combined with NextBus. (I don’t know if GMaps scraped NextBus, but it should.)
- Put “next bus” or “next train” monitoring at every bus stop and train station. This is the 21st century and there’s metro-area 3G wireless throughout the Bay Area.
Bay Area Transit Can and Should be Cheaper
As my colleagues know, I’m a constant advocate for the use of public transportation. While public transit in the Bay Area is the second-best on the West Coast (after Portland, OR; though admittedly, it’s a short list), many improvements are still necessary, especially given the recession and recent severe service cuts across all agencies. Here’s how I think a lot of money could be saved and service improved overall.