Bay Area mass transit’s future in jeopardy experts say

Bay Area transit systems are experiencing unprecedented financial strain, and transit experts are saying the future of mass transit in the Bay Area is in danger.

Ridership is down, revenue is down, and experts say the economy cannot recover without a healthy mass transit system. The Bay Area is a patchwork quilt of transit agencies, each one with its own quirks and now each one facing its own financial obstacle.

"It's pretty sad how downhill public transportation and Muni is going in the city," said Sofia Castillo from San Francisco.

Transit riders like Castillo say they rely on those rides. "I take Muni almost every day to get to work and to get home," she said. "So, kind of cutting the lines has had an impact on the way I travel."

Earlier this month, Muni announced some of its drastically-cut lines could be permanent and needs a new financial model in two years or it could "fall off a financial cliff."

BART is facing a $975 million loss over the next three years.

And Wednesday, Caltrain joined that chorus of financial woes, after San Francisco supervisors voted down a tax measure aimed at funding the rail line.

"I would be lying to you if I said I know exactly what things are going to look like in the transit world a year from now," said John Goodwin from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC). MTC is the government agency responsible for coordinating regional transit.

Goodwin said a robust transit system is critical for the Bay Area's economy to function.

"The recovery of San Francisco, the recovery of the region, the recovery of the nation depends on effective transit service," said Goodwin.

Despite the fact that transit agencies find themselves in similar circumstances, each one followed a different path to the current financial crunch.

"Each of the agencies has a little bit of a different funding model," said Goodwin.

A 30 member Blue Ribbon Task Force is working on short and long term plans for Bay Area transit agencies.

Among the ideas members are looking at, bringing all of the Bay Area's different transit systems under one umbrella. A region-wide transit system that backers say could reduce overhead and streamline operations.

"There's a strong business case to be made for streamlining operations," said Goodwin. "Both operations on the ground and administrative operations. There's no question about that."

The Bay Areas freeways are already at or over capacity, so adding more automobiles to the roads will only add to congestion.

Despite the differences between the various transit agencies, there is a common thread, that is that if any of them fail or reduce service, it will have a disproportionate impact on economically challenged communities and communities of color.