Cars, trains and uncertainty: How coronavirus will change Bay Area transit

By Rachel Swan : masstransitmag – excerpt

In a region where the whole economy depended on pumping everyone downtown, crowding was a sign of success. Then the coronavirus swept in, forcing workers to stay home and upending the norms of highways and transit in ways that no one had ever expected.

Apr. 27–For years, Bay Area commuters shared a daily ritual. They packed cheek-by-elbow into a stuffy BART train, or pushed their way onto Muni Metro, or crammed together in buses that seemed to lurch with all the weight.

In a region where the whole economy depended on pumping everyone downtown, crowding was a sign of success. Then the coronavirus swept in, forcing workers to stay home and upending the norms of highways and transit in ways that no one had ever expected.

Muni officials shut down the light rail at the end of March, wrapping the entrances in caution tape. BART, facing losses of $37 million a month, cut service in half. Freeways and bridges emptied out. Commuting may look strikingly different when these systems hobble back, retooled for an era of remote work and social distancing.

Riders who loved the bustle and conviviality of transit are now grappling with a rush hour that resembles the 1970s, when people tended to isolate themselves in cars…(more)

Not sure that people ever enjoyed the hustle and bustle part, especially since their eyes were glued to their phones and little communication was going on between riders last time I was on a BART. The author is forgetting the negatives that were moving people off the public transit system prior to the shutdown, i.e. almost daily breakdowns, route shifts, Muni stop and seat removals, constant disruptions, rowdy passengers, and worse.

Rachel is right about the future of transit. It cannot continue as it has been. Trust in Muni will not bounce back for people with a choice. Drivers who can stagger their drive times will and riders will travel less. That trip to Noe Valley for the special cheese may turn into a walk to the closet option near home or a drive to a shop with easier parking.

The question now is how will our government respond? Will it be business as usual, or will our representatives agree that Mom should drive the kids to school rather than put them on a bus.

Will the city authorities who supported transit agency investments in non-Muni enterprises like affordable housing projects, continue to support those efforts while demand for both transit and housing is put on hold during a probable economic downturn? How will the bond markets reacts to the “new normal” when it comes to financing large public projects?

 Raising taxes fines and fees is not going to work in the “new normal”. What will work best for the public when we come out of this?

The Washington Report–COVID-19 Crisis Edition: NMA E-Newsletter #589

By Rob Talley : motorists – excerpt

Editor’s Note: The Washington Report is a regular feature of the NMA’s quarterly Driving Freedoms member magazine. Our representative in DC, Rob Talley, wrote the original version of this newsletter for the spring issue of the magazine before the pandemic halted its publication. So Rob recently updated his dispatch to include more recent developments on Capitol Hill,..The outlook in Washington for any issue, much less transportation policy, was completely upended with the outbreak of the coronavirus and associated US responses beginning in February…

Before the national crisis, House and Senate policymakers were working on transportation-related legislation that would have established funding levels for major highway and transportation safety programs for the next five years. In 2019, the Senate Committee working on the legislation passed a bipartisan proposal that authorized $287 billion in funding over five years.

In January, key Democratic leaders released a much more comprehensive infrastructure framework that would authorize $760 billion in funding. A significant portion, $329 billion, would go toward highways infrastructure according to discussions with staff working on the proposal. Another $105 billion would go toward improving public transit. Also included were non-traditional transportation proposals such as funding $34.3 billion worth of clean energy investment, and modernizing the electric grid to allow for more electric vehicle charging stations. House Republicans have not endorsed the proposal, expressing concerns about the expansive nature of the bill and objecting to some of the priorities.

While policy differences are an overarching problem in finding middle ground, the difference in funding levels is also a significant hurdle to passage. Even the more modest Senate proposed a $287 billion funding level that requires new funding mechanisms as the current gas tax fails to keep up with infrastructure funding needs. Before the pandemic, policy leaders were looking at options that include the vehicle miles traveled tax and even surcharges on electric vehicles to cover EV road use, but these have proven politically sticky…(more)

One assumes the financial priorities have shifted since the pandemic struck and the Federal government will take a break from non-essential funding until is known about the virus. The one thing we do seem to know is that we don’t know enough yet. We need to rely on our scientists and medical talents to help us through this crisis and we need to put a much stronger focus on educating and supporting science and medical staff to prepare for a less stressful future.

Will COVID-19 change the parking business?

By Michael Waters : thehustle – excerpt

The demand for parking is down 90% — and across America, entrepreneurs are finding ways to repurpose empty lots

Across the country, parking lots — once bustling with shoppers, workers, and cars inexplicably parked at a diagonal — have become ghost towns.

With businesses shuttered and many people working from home, demand for parking is down 90% since mid-March, according to data from the startup SpotHero. This decline has hit every sector of the industry, from airport lots to privately-owned residential spaces.

Parking shapes both the landscape and the economics of our cities: It influences how we commute, how much public green space we have, and even how much we pay in rent.

But even in good times, it’s also an industry riddled with inefficiencies. Vacant and underutilized parking spaces have long predated COVID-19.

With lots across America feeling especially barren, some entrepreneurs are seizing on this moment to reconfigure the market — and, in some instances, create entirely new use cases for giant grids of pavement…(more)

Preston seeks to end Muni ‘price gouging’

By Tim Redmond : 48hills – excerpt

Supervisor says 12 percent fare hike may violate state law that limits price increases in an emergency.

Sup. Dean Preston, who helped spearhead opposition to a Muni fare hike, took a new and novel approach today:

He asked the city attorney to look into whether the 12 percent price increase just approved by the Municipal Transportation Agency violates state law against price-gouging during emergencies…(more)

Priorities are the problem at the agency that is attempting to control traffic and produce housing instead of concentrating on moving people. The SFMTA Board needs to drop nonessential-projects to reduce their costs. The Board of supervisors could reject the Board budget when the chance arises.

A few years ago the Board of Supervisors did stop a contract to purchase enough new parking meters to cover the neighborhoods. The SFMTA Board was forced to scale back the purchase to meet the demands of the public and the Supervisors backed them up. This is not a difficult process to understand. If enough riders and the public complain by sending letters to their supervisors we might get them to force the SFMTA Board to re-consider the increase in transit fares. There is always an option to call of a strike against the Muni to get their attention.

You May be Getting a Rebate on Your Car Insurance Due to Coronavirus Social Distancing Measures

fool – excerpt

Read this to find out if your car insurer will give you some money back.

The novel coronavirus, COVID-19, has had a major economic impact in addition to being a public health disaster. But while social distancing to slow the spread of the virus has mostly had an adverse impact on family finances, there’s one area where it could help you save: your auto insurance premiums.

Car insurance premiums are priced based on the likelihood of an accident occurring. And with people driving far fewer miles and fewer motorists on the roads due to stay-at-home orders, the chances of a collision are far less likely.

Because of that, many auto insurers have announced they’ll be providing refunds to their customers…(more)

AAA insurance members to get COVID-19 related refunds

By Katherine Feser :
chron – excerpt

AAA members who insure their automobiles through the Interinsurance Exchange of the Automobile Club and its affiliate insurers (Auto Club Enterprises Insurance Group) will get refund checks because of changing driving habits during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The relief package, totaling $125 million, is being offered as customers are driving less and filing fewer claims because of stay-at-home and shelter-in-place orders and recommendations…

Customers with policies in effect from March 16 to May 15 will receive a 20 percent refund for the period. Policyholders do not need to take any action to get the checks, which are expected be to mailed by the end of May…(more)

Check your insurance company to see if you can expect an automatic rebate or need to apply for it.

SF follows Oakland’s lead, closes some streets to cars during pandemic

By Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez : sfexaminer – excerpt

The City is following The Town’s lead — San Francisco’s streets are about to run “slow” in the name of social distancing…

The streets closed to most vehicle traffic — while still allowing local vehicle traffic for those living in the neighborhoods — are as follows: 17th Street from Noe to Valencia, 20th Avenue from Lincoln to Ortega, 22nd Street from Valencia to Chattanooga, 41st Avenue from Lincoln to Vicente, Ellis Street from Polk to Leavenworth, Holloway from Junipero Serra to Harold, Kirkham from the Great Highway to 7th Avenue, Phelps from Oakdale to Evans, Ortega from the Great Highway to 14th Avenue, Page from Stanyan to Octavia, Quesada from Lane to Fitch, and Scott from Eddy to Page… (more)

There is a map and a warning that not all the listed streets will be closed, etc. Good luck once again in figuring this out.

California Air Resources Board Sued By Minority Activist Group

By John and Ken Staff : iheart – excerpt

UPDATE: As of January 15, 2020 “CARB previously unsuccessfully tried to get the lawsuit thrown out but Fresno County Superior Court Judge Jane Cardoza issued an order in October ‘allowing it to go forward.’

The lawsuit lists CARB’s plan to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by limiting new housing construction as something that is harming the community. The activist group, The Two Hundred, say the plan is driving up the cost of housing, worsening poverty and victimizing minority communities.

The group originates from the Bay Area and is made up of longtime civil rights activists who particularly fight against discrimination.

The plan, the Global Warming Solutions Act, signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in 2006, committed California to a goal of reducing statewide greenhouse gas emissions.

The California Air Resources Board was then required to write “scoping” plans every five years detailing how the specified GHG reduction targets would be met. Well, the 2017 scoping plan includes “guidelines” for new housing that the lawsuit is calling “staggering, unlawful and racist.”…(more)

Sweeping Civil Rights Lawsuit Alleges Racial Bias In Implementation Of California Climate Policies

By Michael Shellenberger : forbes – excerpt

Top civil rights leaders are suing California for climate policies they say disproportionately harm its poorest residents, particularly Latinos and African Americans.

“California politicians are using anti-racist and environmentalist words to hide the regressive impact of their climate policies on the poor and people of color,” said John Gamboa, the co-founder of The Two Hundred, a coalition of prominent civil rights leaders, which filed a lawsuit against the California Air Resources Board (CARB) in Superior Court…

“California’s climate leaders have decided to intentionally increase traffic congestion — to lengthen commute times and encourage gridlock — to try to get more people to ride buses or take other forms of public transit,” the legal complaint alleges…

Lefcoe, who is not involved in the case, said the lawsuit’s challenge to transportation policies is particularly powerful. “Automobiles are the survival mechanism for low-income people,” noted Lefcoe. “If you try to increase the cost of automobiles, you hurt low-income people...(more)

This is one of the most interesting lawsuits to come out that ties low and middle income earners to private vehicles. Given the new distancing guidelines and the importance of drive-through services this is an important case. Allegations of misuse of the cap and trade funds is an interesting component.

Opinion: Stay-at-home order points to traffic solution

Opinion By David Price : padailypost – excerpt

If there’s a bright side to the coronavirus stay-at-home order, it’s the empty freeways.

For years the public has been debating how to deal with increasing traffic on our roads. Most of the things local governments tried didn’t work. Carpool lanes, ramp metering, more mass transit. None of it reduced traffic.

And every year it seemed, there was another tax on the ballot to improve transportation. Residents, frustrated with traffic congestion, passed nearly all of the taxes. But these taxes never produced the relief the government promised even though the sales tax is 9%.

Now, finally, we have a solution. A solution we stumbled upon by accident…(more)

Many workers may choose to save taxpayers millions of dollars and themselves hours of commute time by working at home.