Complete Failure Of The Elected To Provide A Rapid Public Transportation To San Francisco Bay Area Residents – OpEd
By Ahsan Qazi
It is 7:45 am. I am leaving my home in Manteca, California, and commuting to my work in Fremont, California. It is a 60.2-mile drive. I am one of the residents like many who moved to the Central Valley because of extremely expensive housing in the Bay Area and a very high cost of living. Like many individuals, I too had to search for an alternative to finding an affordable home.
One way, it takes me approximately one hour and forty-five minutes to commute to work, and that is on a regular rush hour traffic morning without accidents. When there is an accident, my arrival time usually is 11:30 am and sometimes, my arrival time was close to 12:00 pm. On average, I spend four hours of my day commuting. Why? The answer is simple. There is no rapid public transportation system or a sophisticated train or bus system network in place for residents like me to commute to work and get back home in a reasonable timely manner. One might ask, why not look at Amtrak or the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART)? I explored such alternatives too. The commute would take longer than commuting in my own vehicle and I would have to look further for additional transport to reach my office. This would also translate into additional costs.
This is the story of many Bay Area commuters, whether they live within Bay Area or in the Central Valley. An hour’s commute anywhere within Bay Area is considered “normal.” Every day, while driving to work and back home, I think about several questions. Given the number of people living in the Bay Area, and working in Silicon Valley, I.T. sector, and various other fields, why have the government agencies been so negligent in putting any focus on building, enhancing, and making public transportation a priority?
A close look at the California highways, i think about the potential to build a highly advanced network of transportation system (a rapid train system or express bus lanes that can make commuters life stress-free and get commuters to their destination in a cost-effective and timely manner:
- Interstate 5 is a north-south auxiliary Interstate stretching across northern to Southern California.
- State Route 99 is a north-south state highway stretching almost the entire length of Central Valley.
- U.S. Route 101 is a north–south US Numbered Highway, stretching from Los Angeles, California to Washington.
- I-80 is an east-west transcontinental freeway that crosses the United States from San Francisco to New York.
- I-680 is a north–south auxiliary Interstate Highway in Northern California. Curving around the eastern cities of the San Francisco Bay Area from San Jose to I-80 at Fairfield.
- I-880 north–south auxiliary Interstate Highway in the San Francisco Bay Area of Northern California. Runs parallel to the eastern shore of San Francisco Bay.
The potential to make rapid transportation systems through many of these routes exists, especially down the I-5, connecting the public directly to Los Angeles. With a sophisticated network of train tracks, many connection points can be created throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, and it is entirely possible.
Furthermore, there are additional questions I ponder while sitting in the brutal traffic, fatigued. Why do the residents have to sit in horrible traffic every day and remain stuck in traffic for hours on end when there is room to build a first-class Rapid Train System? If European countries smaller than California can build a world-class transportation system, why has this not been done in California?
If the residents were provided a rapid transportation system that can connect them to every part of the Silicon Valley, San Francisco Bay Area, and other regions of California, the traffic congestion can be avoided, allowing people to navigate within the city and out of the city with ease. Also, living in the most innovative region of the world where technological advancement is happening in Silicon Valley, where advancement in technology is changing the very fabric of society globally, why is there a lack of collaboration between the private and the public sector to provide residents with rapid and efficient means of public transportation, so people feel confident in using public transportation? Why is the state that is considered the world’s sixth-largest economy so poor and negligent in public transportation?
There is room to build towers, room to build homes or communities and apartment buildings, but why is there no room for government agencies to plan and focus on public transportation. Take inspiration and talent from Europe to provide some relief to residents since the need for improvements in the public transportation is much needed.
I further think to myself, perhaps, providing residents with rapid public transportation that connects them well from one end of California to another end, from Sacramento to the Bay Area, Los Angeles, and many other parts of California, is not the goal or the intention of the government agencies and the elected officials. Much time is wasted in the political noise and partisan/ bi-partisan political noise that actions needed to improve the lives of citizens are extremely slow. Unfortunately, there is no slowness or forgiveness in collecting federal and state taxes from citizens and what do citizens get in return from the state or the federal agencies?
Infrastructure continues to crumble, and the public sees no output from the taxes given to state and federal governments. Instead, the taxpayer is used to fund foreign wars with one signature and bipartisan unity. In the article, “Stranded: How America’s Failing Public Transportation Increases Inequality,” reported in The Atlantic by Gillian B. White, a contributing writer at The Atlantic and the senior vice president of Capital B News, she reports, “To be certain, the aging and inadequate transportation infrastructure is an issue for Americans up and down the economic ladder. Throughout the country highways are crumbling, bridges are in need of repair, and railways remain inadequate. Improvement to public transportation—buses, trains, and safer routes for bicycles—is something that just about everyone who lives in a major metropolitan area has on their wish list.” The lifestyle of citizens and residents at home is being neglected. One might ask, well, efforts are being made and as the phrase goes, “slowly but surely,” public transport is getting better. This is not the case.
Ricardo Cano, a contributor to the San Francisco Chronicle noted in his article, “Traffic congestion on the Bay Bridge and Bay Area highways, which dropped precipitously at the height of stay-at-home orders, has essentially returned — and is now worse during some parts of the week.” In another article titled “There’s one hour of the week where Bay Bridge traffic is surpassing pre-pandemic levels,” Cano writes, “And the historic rise in gas prices appears to have not had any measurable impact on driving activity in the region, as Bay Bridge traffic has notably risen since March, even as the region’s gas prices began climbing sharply in late February — signaling that Bay Area motorists endured prices at the pump rather than scale back their driving activity.” How can Bay Area residents scale back their driving activity when there is no rapid or efficient public transportation system available to scale back on and no governmental efforts are made to emphasize commuting in public transport? The available public transport is inefficient and extremely slow, and no proper network is set up to make traveling an easy feat.
Jeff Morales, Special to CalMatter, the former CEO of the California High-Speed Rail Authority and former director of the California Department of Transportation writes in the blog titled, “California needs to put its money where its mouth is on public transportation” discusses why public transportation projects continue to be a failure. In pointing out the problem, he writes, “For all the progress, an important problem hasn’t been addressed: the disconnect between statewide policy goals and funding structures. The lack of dedicated funding and structures to develop transit and rail projects — as compared with the well-established funding for highways — particularly undermines our ability to make systemic, strategic investments that can have broad, statewide benefits.”
According to Morales, the idea that California needs to prioritize its resources and focus on achieving its visionary goals for transit and rail as part of its climate change strategy, serious strategic thinking and action is required. How long will commuters continue to suffer in the brutal Bay Area traffic? How many meetings and discussions need to take place until proper work is done while the mental and the physical health of people is affected negatively in daily commute?
It is about time that the elected officials, state, and federal agencies formulate an actionable plan and possibly involve the private sector to deliver some results to the public. This shamelessness of the politicians and their political noise needs to end, and positive actions need to be taken now. The time for finger-pointing politics and useless debates between the politicians needs to end. Mimicking the sentiments in the article, “The Weakness and Incompetence of Today’s American Government is Not an Accident” by Joseph Guth, Fellow at the Science & Environmental Health Network, I and many in the public sphere also believe, “The Nation has lost the political, legal and institutional structures necessary for government to act in the broader public interest.” Guth adds, “What is left is the ineffectual, incompetent, resource-poor, distrusted, and confused government now struggling before our eyes.”
The current state of politics according to Guth is “Even more profound has been the restructuring of laws and democratic institutions to diminish government’s responsiveness to the needs of the general citizenry and direct it toward those of corporations and the wealthy: the extreme gerrymandering of political districts, dismantling of voting rights through voter suppression laws, and unchecked flooding of corporate money into the political system.” This is also what Morales is hinting at in his article too. Morales states in his article that addressing the disconnect between policy goals and funding structures is crucial. It is crucial for the successful implementation of a balanced and sustainable transportation system. This will help California meet the environmental goals it needs to meet.
The life of citizens at home needs to be prioritized and immediate funding of all foreign wars need to be stopped. If a single signature or a minimal discussion can get billions of dollars and military technology (weaponry) approved for Ukraine’s war at the expense of taxpayers, then why cannot the government agencies improve the lives of citizens at home by strategically investing in transportation projects that immediately deliver a positive result for the public.
As I prepare for my tomorrow’s commute to work, I dread sitting in the traffic for 2+ hours and pray that there is no accident, so I like my fellow commuters do not remain stuck in traffic for hours. I am reminded of Václav Havel’s words, “The salvation of this human world lies nowhere else than in the human heart, in the human power to reflect, in human meekness and human responsibility.” With such powerful words, I hope that this revives the consciousness of the elected officials and the decision makers in the government agencies to act swiftly for the benefit of the public and act in the best interest of the public. San Francisco Bay Area needs a rapid transport system that is extremely efficient, affordable, and connects its residents to all parts of the Bay Area, so commuters can start having faith in the government system that works in the interest of the public for once.