Photo credit: SFMTA Photo credit: SFMTA
Our take on the state of the region

Transit workers are essential to reimagining transit

Last week the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) voted unanimously to support funding to avert a potentially devastating “fiscal cliff” and stabilize the Bay Area’s transit agencies. This funding reflects long-standing Urban Habitat priorities to shift investments from highways to transit and capital expansion to service expansion. Experts are projecting a $6 billion statewide transit operating shortfall over the next 5 years, with MUNI and BART – the agencies most impacted by the changing commute patterns in the Bay Area – facing the largest deficits.

The MTC-approved proposal totals $7.4 billion,** providing the resources needed to address the looming statewide “fiscal cliff” while we work with allies to develop a forward-looking regional transportation measure. The funding request will now be considered in the budget deliberations by the California legislature and governor.

While state funding is absolutely crucial, it alone is not sufficient to build the transit system our region needs to meet our equity and climate goals. Public transit agencies across the country face another challenge: they are finding it much harder to hire enough workers to move riders and run these systems. Prior to COVID, driving a bus in a Bay Area city was already stressful, demanding, and required significant training and skill. The pandemic greatly exacerbated the difficult working conditions that transit operators – one of the most racially and gender diverse workforces in the region – face in getting other essential workers to their jobs. Transit agencies have acknowledged that in addition to the stopgap operating funds, it is critical they recruit additional workers in order for our transit systems to survive and thrive.

Much of the discussion at MTC and in Sacramento has focused on reforms to improve transit service in exchange for state funding. There is no doubt that we need more frequent service, affordable fares, and a better coordinated and integrated system. However, May Day is a timely reminder that our transit workers are essential to any meaningful transformation – and that we must ensure they have the working conditions, wages, and workplace democracy needed to reimagine our transit system at this moment of crisis and opportunity. This May first, we honor all workers, and urge you to join us in recommitting to working alongside transit unions and their members to win a true double victory for our people and our planet.

** The proposed stopgap funding package includes flexibility to shift federal highway funds to transit operations, revenue from Cap and Trade funds, an increase in the state diesel tax to transit service, and a small increase in the vehicle registration fee with an exemption for cars valued at less than $5,000 – which make up 40% of all registered vehicles in California.