By Robert Cruickshank/California High Speed Rail Blog
A battle that has been simmering for years finally exploded into the open today in San Francisco, where protestors blocked one of Google’s private buses that carries workers from their homes in the Mission to Google HQ in Mountain View. Protestors charged that Google was contributing to a two-tier transportation system in the Bay Area, where tech workers get free express bus service whereas everyone else has to make do with transit systems like Muni, BART and Caltrain that are increasingly struggling to meet soaring demand.
It’s a fair point. Every dollar that Google and other companies spend on these private transit systems is a dollar not being spent on operations, maintenance, or expansion of existing transit systems. In Seattle, for example, Microsoft operates a similar system – but the company is also one of the biggest backers of expanding the public rail system, which in 2023 will open a new route to Microsoft’s front door, and the company has been a leader in lobbying the state legislature for more transit funding.
In California, where transit systems have suffered from repeated budget cuts thanks to decades of conservative anti-tax policies, the need for new transit funding is severe. This is especially true on the Caltrain corridor connecting San Francisco and San José and points in between. This is a tech train, or at least it ought to be. The commute from the Mission to Mountain View should be easy and swift. But decades of deferred infrastructure upgrades mean that it isn’t, and now is the time to rectify the situation with new investments in the Peninsula Rail Corridor. Meanwhile Caltrain struggles to cobble together operating funding to meet surging demand, BART is experiencing increasing operational problems due to its own aging fleet and facilities, and Muni has needed a big infusion of cash to upgrade its own service for some time now.
The solution, then, is obvious. Google needs to take the lead in lobbying Sacramento for a statewide transit and rail funding package. Bay Area businesses have not been shy about this in the past. BART is the creation of the Bay Area Council, and the Silicon Valley Leadership Group have fought hard to bring BART to Santa Clara County and to support other regional transit. And they’ve been big backers of the high speed rail project, which will help provide the added capacity on the Peninsula Rail Corridor that these tech companies and their employees require.
Google shouldn’t have to do this alone. Elected officials at the local, state, and federal levels need to also begin working to craft a statewide transit and rail funding package in order to help California solve its energy, environmental, and economic challenges. And advocates will need to take up the work of defining and then defending a package once it goes to the ballot.
Bay Area transit has begun to fall behind other parts of the state and the country. It’s time for the region to lead again, rather than remain mired in conflicts between those able to enjoy good transit service and those who are stuck with a system that isn’t getting the investment it needs.