The transportation justice movement won two major legislative victories this week to address California’s near-term fiscal crisis in transit operations. The final state budget allows transit agencies to flex $5.1 billion of capital funds for operating costs. While this is not new funding, it will provide the Bay Area with approximately $800 million over the next several years.
In addition, a proposed regional bridge toll increase (SB 532, Weiner) is moving through the legislative process and is expected to generate $180 million annually over 5 years. Ninety percent of the revenues will be dedicated to maintaining transit service levels, as well as for improvements in safety, reliability, cleanliness, and security. While SB 532 would ensure transit-dependent communities don’t face drastic cuts in service, we have serious concerns about the financial impact of increased bridge tolls on low-income communities of color and small businesses.
What’s missing in the response to the current crisis is a deeper set of structural changes to public transit funding. Despite hundreds of billions of new dollars from the Bipartisan Infrastructure bill and Inflation Reduction Act, 80% of annual federal transportation funds are still for highways and roads; and the roughly 20% dedicated to transit does not include dedicated funding for operations. California’s transportation funding also reflects this structural misalignment of funding highways versus transit, walking, and biking. One clear example: the failure of our state leaders to shift any of the almost $6 billion in additional federal highway funding to address the current transit crisis. Even with landmark climate change funding programs, California lags behind other states in supporting transit service on an ongoing basis.
We have the opportunity to finally address these contradictions with a bold regional transportation funding measure. We can prioritize funding for the levels of transit service we need to get people out of cars, ensure people with disabilities have the mobility options they need to live lives of dignity, and support healthy options like biking and walking. But we need a generational commitment to dismantle the outdated structural funding arrangements that continue to prioritize cars – including electric vehicles and autonomous vehicles – over people. Only then can we meaningfully address the climate crisis, support green union jobs, and create the kind of communities our people need and deserve.