Legislation would take immediate action towards greater transit agency coordination leading to a more reliable, appealing experience for riders
Sacramento, CA—Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco) announced today he introduced a bill to create a more seamless, integrated Bay Area transit system. Assembly Bill 629 would instruct Bay Area transit agencies to take short-term, immediate steps towards coordination and integration by establishing a fare integration pilot program, creating a regional transit map and wayfinding system, using real-time transit data to improve rider experience, and identifying a transit priority network to get buses moving faster.
“Navigating our disjointed transit system can be an intimidating and frustrating experience for riders, which leads to less transit ridership overall,” said Assemblymember Chiu. “As we navigate our way out of the pandemic and look to increase ridership, we must put the rider experience first and create a more seamless, reliable transportation system.”
There are currently 27 independent transit agencies operating in the nine-county Bay Area. Transit agencies utilize different fare structures, discounts, loyalty programs, wayfinding apps, mapping, branding systems, and capital planning processes. A lack of schedule coordination and real time transit data across agencies can make transferring unreliable and can leave riders stranded. The fragmented nature of service leads to a confusing, intimidating, and often chaotic experience for Bay Area commuters.
Despite substantial investment in transportation infrastructure over several decades, Bay Area transit commutes have not improved and ridership has not increased. Between 2001 and 2016, Bay Area bus speeds decreased by 9 percent while commute times increased by 11 percent. Only 12 percent of the population have used transit to commute since 1970. Between 2016 and 2018, ridership across Bay Area public transit systems fell by 5.2 percent. In comparison, regions with highly integrated networks of local and regional transit services, like Seattle or London, have high transit ridership.
AB 629 would instruct the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) to identify a transit priority network of regional and local corridors that need immediate transportation fixes. MTC will set goals for transit improvements on these corridors that could eventually support a regional bus rapid transit system.
The bill would also direct transit agencies to create a fare integration pilot program with a special fare pass that would allow riders to travel across more than one operator while paying a limited, fixed fare. AB 629 takes immediate, short-term steps towards a more coordinated Bay Area transit system by requiring MTC to work with agencies to design a single regional transit map, standardize wayfinding mechanisms, and report real time transit data across the region.
During the pandemic, transit ridership has dramatically declined. As the Bay Area moves to recover, it makes little sense to rebuild an already struggling, disjointed system exactly as it was before. Recognizing this reality, MTC convened a 32-member Blue Ribbon Transit Recovery Task Force (BRTF), which is composed of transit agency managers, advocates, and local and state policymakers. The goal of the BRTF has been to steer Bay Area transit agencies out of the pandemic and make long-term recommendations that would improve the transit network, including recommendations on long-term integration. An early version of AB 629 introduced last year, which did not advance after the onset of the pandemic, included the creation of a similar task force to work towards agency coordination.
The Bay Area has already seen the tangible benefits of initial agency coordination over the past year, as Caltrain has aligned schedules with BART at Millbrae station, and Golden Gate Transit has provided local service within San Francisco for the first time. Additionally, Bay Area transit agencies successfully banded together to advocate for emergency federal stabilization funding.
AB 629 is supported by a broad coalition of Bay Area transit advocates and planners.
"AB 629 is a unique opportunity to make taking public transit easier, more efficient and more affordable--things we should have been doing before the pandemic, and which are more essential than ever,” said Nick Josefowitz, SPUR Policy Chief and MTC Vice President. “Assemblymember Chiu's AB629 makes public transit a key part of our region's recovery and helps create a seamless transit network that we can take pride in and that helps us reach our climate and equity goals."
"If we want to bring back transit riders as we recover from the pandemic, we must build a customer-focused transit system that works as a complete network to help people get where they need to go easily, regardless of transit agency,” said Ian Griffiths, Co-Founder and Director of Seamless Bay Area. “AB 629 takes important first steps toward network management of the Bay Area's transit system, with immediate progress on fares, wayfinding and real time arrival information.”
"Passing AB 629 means that we're putting riders first,” said BART Board Director Janice Li. “It's not rocket science, and these simple, overdue measures will make sure transit agencies like BART are coordinating closely across the region to make Bay Area transit work for our riders. There's no time like now to serve our riders better as we are providing essential trips for our working class families and front-line workers across the bay."
“As Bay Area residents get ready to get back out, our roads are already nearly as crowded as they were pre-pandemic, while transit ridership is still down,” said BART Board Director Rebecca Saltzman. “We’re in a climate crisis, and California won't meet our climate goals without reducing driving. This is the time for public transit to shine, by providing a convenient, fast, and affordable commute. AB 629 will take an important step towards achieving that.”
AB 629 is expected to be heard in the Assembly Transportation Committee in the coming weeks.