(Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

It’s time to think big on transportation

By Teri Olle

As a longtime Cole Valley resident who uses many modes to get around—Muni, biking, walking, and driving—and whose daughters ride the N Judah regularly, I know the transportation issues San Francisco faces all too well. I live in Supervisorial District 5, the geographic center of the City and home to crosstown thoroughfares like Oak and Fell and Muni’s two busiest lines: the N Judah for trains and the 38 Geary for buses. Like most San Franciscans, I’ve definitely noticed the increased congestion, and I’ve had experiences on Muni and my bike that range from unpleasant to frustrating to downright scary.

I am convinced that if we are to meet our current transportation challenges and be prepared for those that will come, we must have better oversight of the funds we have and significantly increase those funds too. And we must think big.

Muni has invested hundreds of millions of dollars to replace most of the vehicles in its fleet. On the surface that would be great. But when my District 5 Supervisor, Vallie Brown, held a hearing on Muni’s 2018 summer meltdown, she uncovered that Muni had failed to hire enough drivers to actually put all our new vehicles to use. The agency was short over 400 operators each day! Supervisor Brown, who knows our transportation issues well as a former aide to two of the district’s past Supervisors, kept the pressure on Muni to hire new drivers and negotiate a better contract to retain current drivers. As we invest in transportation, we must ensure our leaders are, like Supervisor Brown, watching those investments carefully.

Some have argued the City should do more to regulate Lyft and Uber, and yes this would be great, if we had the legal authority to do so. We don’t. They are, unfortunately, the jurisdiction of the California Public Utilities Commission. But what we can and should do is support this November’s Proposition D, spearheaded by Supervisor Aaron Peskin and former D5 Supervisor, Mayor London Breed. Prop. D will levy a small tax on each Lyft and Uber ride, generating up to $32 million each year for transportation improvements. Even the companies themselves are supporting this measure. It is a good start.

Valuable as they are, though, local measures will not be enough to address the massive transportation challenges facing our region over the coming decades. Some estimates place our regional transportation needs in the hundreds of billions of dollars. Our infrastructure struggles to serve the current regional population of 7.75 million, much less the 10 million residents we are projected to have by 2040. So it is welcome news that a team of transportation agencies, business leaders, and nonprofits are working to bring a regional transportation measure to the November 2020 ballot. Dubbed “Faster Bay Area,” the measure will likely be a one cent sales tax and is projected to raise at least $100 billion over the next four decades.

Embracing big, collaborative efforts is the only way we will be able to build a second trans-bay tube for BART, expand ferry service, bring Caltrain and eventually high speed rail to the new Transbay Transit Center, and get all of our regional transit agencies working together in one cohesive, reliable rider experience. Seattle and Los Angeles are well ahead of us on such “mega transportation measures.” It’s time we think big too.

And you can’t talk about transportation, especially regional transportation, without talking about housing. Just like transportation, our housing infrastructure struggles to serve the population we have now, much less the one we will grow to in coming years. We have to build more housing. We have to build more housing near transit. And we have to stop letting a few homeowners block new housing for renters who need it.

The abject opposition to housing ideas like state Sen. Scott Wiener’s SB50 or the refusal to even discuss the idea with him, as we have seen from some in City politics, is irresponsible and it is wrong. If you care about tenants or those who cannot afford a $1.5M condo, if you care about the environment and transit, you should be at the table finding ways to build more homes, not bragging about your unwillingness to sit at the table at all.

We need to think big on transportation. We need to remember that housing is part of any serious conversation about transportation. We need to say “yes and” not “no but.” And we need leaders who do the same.

Teri Olle is a policy advocate who is currently working on tax and economic policy issues to address California’s affordability crisis. She moved to San Francisco in 1994 and has lived in Cole Valley for 16 years.

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