Recently, a good friend to the ECA forwarded me a quote from candidate Chris Coursey. Chris is challenging Shirlee Zane for her 3rd District Sonoma County Supervisor seat in 2020. The ECA has already endorsed Shirlee Zane for Supervisor and we contributed some dollars to her campaign “war chest”.
In his letter to our good friend, Mr. Coursey pulled no punches in his support of all things that might impact the climate being bad. Mr. Coursey believes all actions by the Board of Supervisors must be considered and mitigated before said actions taken by the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors.
Chris Coursey went on to say that the funds from Measure M should be spent more on public transit than roads in the future.
This column is an “opinion” piece. I try to write opinions that will make people think, perhaps learn something, consider my opinion and even if they vehemently disagree with my opinion, they can make up their own mind on the issues I write about.
To that end, I am going to take a decidedly “politically incorrect” position on the subject of Public Transportation.
Perhaps it is time to rethink the entire way we fund “public transportation” in the NorthBay region.
It took many years and several efforts to get Measure M to pass this ¼ cent sales tax measure in 2004. Voters initially rejected it but finally accepted it after much debate. There are discussions taking place now as to possibly putting a ballot initiative to the voters in 2020 to extend Measure M (which is set to expire in 2024). Press Democrat link
Much good has resulted from Measure M tax revenues being collected and spent on projects all around Sonoma County that benefitted the community and the commuter. Some money was seeded to the SMART train to help with construction costs. Some money was allocated towards public transit to provide an expanded bus schedule. A lot of the tax revenue went into major construction projects on Highway 101 to widen the 101 and to add a High Occupancy Vehicle Land (HOV) from Windsor to Marin County. Those projects resulted in local jobs being created and local contractors were quite successful over the years in bidding and prosecuting the work funded by Measure M funds.
So, what did we get out of the dollars that went into Public Transit? I realize some folks need to ride the bus to get around, but it sure seems to me there are a lot of empty seats on the buses most of the time. Also, what have we gotten from the SMART train that got some of the Measure M dollars? We got a “halfway built” railroad that is having fewer riders on it than anticipated. Also, SMART is so encumbered with debt payments for their construction costs, the very future of SMART is in question unless an extension of that sales tax measure is passed in 2020 (the current sales tax measure for SMART will expire in 2028). We got a few small contracts out of the building of the SMART train, so those jobs went right back into the economy to benefit the community. But did we really take many cars off of Highway 101 as promised? By Caltrans’ own estimates, there are 1.5 million vehicle trips between Sir Francis Drake Blvd and Airport Blvd in Sonoma County each day. Using SMART’s own estimates of ridership during the week of 2130 passenger trips, that is a whopping 0.2% of all vehicle trips. SMART is not having an impact on lowering commute times, nor is it helping Climate Change as the ridership is so small.
Maybe we need to do the following:
- Forget about SMART train being for commuters. Market it solely for tourism and package brew house tastings and wine tastings coupons with the tickets.
- Forget about Bus transit being a major component of our transportation network. Instead, issue vouchers to be used for LYFT and UBER rides to the frequent riders and get rid of the buses altogether.
- Should Measure M go to the voters, reduce the dollars allocated to Public Transit and increase the percentage of dollars allocated to fixing our roads in Sonoma County and its nine cities.
I could back off of my position if someone could demonstrate to me the buses are nearly filled on some routes. If so, then keep them. But for the underutilized bus routes, let folks use UBER and LYFT. It will save us money in the short run and in the long run.
So, do you think Chris Coursey will agree with this opinion piece? Hell no. Probably most of you would not either but remember-I am just trying to “stir the pot” and get us to think a bit!
That’s All Folks!