Great post at Future Oakland about transit advocacy in Oakland

dto510 has an excellent post up today at Future Oakland about the state of transit and transportation advocacy in Oakland.

It’s easy to feel down about transportation in Oakland lately, with BRT in jeopardy, the Council’s decision to roll back the parking meter hours at the expense of City services, and of course the Council’s short-sighted endorsement of the Oakland Airport Connector.

But dto510 reminds us that there actually is quite a bit to celebrate. Transit advocates have been begging the City to look seriously at parking for years, repeatedly and loudly requested a real parking study this Spring, and were of course, ignored at every turn. Well, thanks to the furor over the meter hours, we’re getting finally going to get one! The recently announced grant from the Air District to start a shuttle from Jack London Square to Uptown fulfills another of our longstanding wishes. And the controversy over the Airport Connector finally alerted the Council to just how much Oakland gets screwed by the MTC.

So things are actually looking up, and I encourage everyone to click through and read dto510′s full post. The concluding paragraph is my favorite, so I’ll share it with you guys here:

The twentieth anniversary of the Loma Prieta earthquake reminds us how great a difference we can make. Thanks to far-sighted San Francisco Mayor Art Agnos and dedicated West Oaklanders, highways were torn down, and in their place, vibrant communities now blossom. Enormous portions of West Oakland were basically uninhabitable before Mandela Parkway replaced the cursed Cypress Structure over the strident objections of CalTrans and regional business interests. Transit and bike-ped advocacy isn’t just about getting places, it’s about creating successful, healthy, and beautiful communities. There’s a rising tide of bicycle, pedestrian, and transit activism in Oakland, and it’s not only new groups like Walk Oakland Bike Oakland, but also shares a vision with long-standing advocates in fields as diverse as social justice, public safety, business, and neighborhood preservation. We can’t expect to win huge battles against free parking or BART waste right away, but the steps we’ve made this year are meaningful and form the foundation for future progress.

Thanks for the reminder, dto510.

36 thoughts on “Great post at Future Oakland about transit advocacy in Oakland

  1. Patrick

    I believe they’ll perform a parking study like I believe Courtney Ruby will do her required audits.

  2. oakie

    I try to observe buses as much as I can, and I have to say the average is 5 ot 6. It is pathetic. And a huge tax burden on all the people who don’t use buses (except for transbay routes, which are fully loaded and make perfect sense for the constricted alternatives to the city).

    And why should they? When the crime rate is equidistant between New York and Iraq–during the heavy war years, not many people will get out of their cars and become vulnerable to the lack of safety on the streets of Oakland.

    The idea that if we simply add more and more buses and then middle class people will use them is a dream. And it’s insanity to think it will change until the crime problem is addessed.

    And it’s sad that they reversed the parking hours 6-8pm? Are you out of touch with reality?

  3. david vartanoff

    @ oakie Clearly, you don’t ‘observe’ the buses I ride. While some runs are lightly used, on others I am standing because all seats are taken. No transit system has perfect load balance on all routes, and the neighborhood feeders are what make the trunks seem so productive.

  4. len raphael

    dv, which of the published stats on ac bus usage would give an indication as to which lines during what hours should be changed to say mini buses?

    in the oac evaluation, was any lip service paid to evaluating “personal transportation systems” (eg. ) which are relatively cheap monorail type systems?

    -len raphael

  5. len raphael

    With Rick F. gone from AC, and clinton k, and rk long gone, does the AC board’s decision to buy american buses mean that the Belgian buses were a bad decision, or only that there are now better alternatives?

  6. david vartanoff

    len et al, I don’t have ridership stats to hand, but the rider stop usage graphic among the docs posted as part of the 15% service cuts had gross ##. Some stops were multiple route with no breakout, but I would think AC’s planning people could get you tighter figures. That said, AC did vans in the late 80′s ’til about 2000 IIRC. The sad ## are that the driver is the major cost and although ATU tried to gouge extra for artics we all know they will never accept lower wages for vans. The other problem is that although a van might work for say 6 runs out of 15 on a given route, they are essentially useless in rush hour.
    As to the VH’s I believe they were dumb from the get go. At least the last order has AC.

    The serious issues now are which of the service realignments should proceed, what the result of the Cal Supremes’ Prop 42 decision will be, and what can be done to lessen automobile sabotage on congested streets. For instance, could AC get diamond/stripe rush hour bus only lanes ANYWHERE? I was very dismayed that the service changes proposed for the 51 ignored what the study had shown to be the most aggravating causes of delay in favor of degrading service for all riders as well as the backdoor neighborhood surcharge.

  7. Ken O

    @oakie: people do cars because the way our land+transport systems are set up today, the CAR is placed on a fuckin pedastal and every alternative is given a shit sandwich.gas has been WAY too cheap since the 40s in the USA and only when that changed for Americans c. 2005-present have people really considered transport alternatives.

    due to car LOS being uber important for city planners evereywhere for decades, cars by default are most conducive to being ultra lazy, pampered, convenient, private/solo. but as every engineer knwos there are always tradeoffs.

    trains/bikes/bus/shoes will always fit more people into a compact space than private automobiles EVER will. and since we don’t stop breeding and linger longer, we have ever more humans trying to fit into the same size spaces — cities. solution: fewer cars, more alt mobility options.

    if people really are “poor” they’ll ditch cars and change to bikes, scooters, motorcycles (which they are) and smaller cars for better MPG instead of bitchin about parking rates.

    VanHurl buses were damn waste of money. They don’t hold up on broke down oaktown streets. Glad we are buying American product now, support our own damn jobs at least. Likewise my bike taxi was made in New York for instance, supported NY jobs.

    @Len: don’t know why ACboard chose American specifically but probably economy and stimulus bill example led the way. makes sense to me. let’s push them to push BRT through!

    @oakie re crime: that will change. if you didn’t notice, “white” suburbans are fleeing back INTO the cities now. gentrification, reverse white flight, been in place since 2000s. that will push crime to other areas. in oak it’s just west and east and a little central that has most crime. uptown, temescal are groovin fine. oakland is MUCh safer than many parts of SF now. (ie mission, bayview, soma — google “sf pizza no delivery after dark map”)

  8. David

    Ken, why don’t you and certain other ‘transit’ advocates admit you just don’t like people and parents (“stop breeding” etc).

    How about I let you have my two young kids for a day. You try to do your errands solely by bus/BART. I’m not even talking about carting spoiled rugrats to soccer/ballet/French lessons/etc. I’m talking about, say, my last Saturday. Grocery shopping, picking up a new toilet at the Home Depot (take that on a bus), seeing the grandparents etc etc. Not only is the car more efficient, it’s cheaper–you’re talking about multiple bus tickets etc etc.

    How long will it take you to realize your war on cars is counterproductive? Killing parking, etc etc all it does is degrade people’s lives and yes, make your ‘city living’ worse (even less reason for me to go to downtown if I have to haul the family on a bus, never mind I really don’t want my boy picking up the lovely behavior/attitudes/language of your ‘urban youth’).

    A car with 2-4 people in it is more fuel efficient than a half-filled bus or train. Again, the war on cars makes little economic or environmental sense. It’s just another effort by nannying social engineers who are frustrated that their dreams of overlording a city like they did their train sets when they were six aren’t realized.

  9. Ralph

    We need to move beyond this “us” vs “them” transit discussion. The reality is those who advocate for alternative/public transportation will need to peacefully coexist with drivers. And drivers need to acknowledge that benefits accrue all around when we have smart inclusive transportation policy. That being said, I do worry about my boy picking up some of those alternative medication practices of those suburban utes.

  10. david vartanoff

    @David, and all. against kids? No, but I did take four kids to ride BART on opening day. I am against solo drivers in big SUVs. Of course a full sedan/minivan can be an efficient way to go somewhere. As to groceries, yes some super market/Costco trips are better by car, BUT a single backpack of fresh vegies/fruits/protein slabs is very easy by transit or foot. It is that access to supplies that makes a neighborhood desirable to urbanites like me. And on a more pragmatic level, we simply cannot afford the wasted real estate, let alone oil, to have everyone drive everywhere. Parking is NOT free. Parking lots waste land which could be either open green space or useful buildings.
    As to on board behavior, this varies hugely route to route and time of day; somehow I don’t think you or your children will be damaged by elderly Asians w/ sacks of groceries or hordes of Cal students; middle/high students as school lets out are a different story.
    Social engineers–you mean like the folks who trashed transit and spent billions to facillitate suburban sprawl? Or perhaps those who redlined city neighborhoods to encourage white flight?
    I used to have a neighbor who drove the two blocks to the liquor store for his cigarettes–in a full size Ford pickup w/a camper shell. Do I want to take away his right to be stupid, no, but like the unruly kids on the bus, I do want to raise a generation who think/act differently.

  11. Ralph

    as we all fall into the generalization trap, i’d like to point out that being on public transportation with Cal students is not always a bed of roses. And a BART ride with Concord residents (i.e. adults) headed to a Giants game ain’t no picnic either.

  12. David

    You must travel on different bus routes than I do.

    Do you have kids? Grocery shopping by foot is not easy, and after one starts making more than minimum wage, it’s not time efficient either. I know, I’ve done the experiment. I really don’t have time in between getting home and fixing dinner to go grocery shopping every day or every other day, therefore, I go once or twice a week, and even though I only live 3 blocks from a grocery store, yes, I drive there, because I’m not carrying $100 worth of groceries home on foot.

    Social engineers of all stripes can go f* themselves. This endless redtape, ‘planning,’ public housing, zoning/permit idiocies (i.e. see what it takes to get a garage built/moved or destroyed on your own private property around here). sucking away freedom like a giant mosquito.

    And we’ve been through the whole discussion before….1) Suburbs have existed since cities have. and 2) ‘redlining’ means discouraging minorities from residing in a neighborhood. Eliminating redlining is part of what encouraged white flight, among other things (horrid public schools, crime, the desirability of suburbs-see #1).

  13. Patrick

    Tax-subsidized roads, petroleum company tax write-offs, automobile manufacturer bail-outs, Cash-for-Clunkers and externalizing the environmental and health costs of vehicle pollution are all forms of social engineering as well. They’re just ones you like.

  14. Ralph

    David, you might want to give the delivery service a try. I don’t have kids but it is definitely a much more efficient use of my time. Even if one lives next door to Safeway, the time not spent in the grocery line is worth the $10 charge, which is $0 for $150+ delivery.

  15. David


    1) Tax-subsidized–gas taxes, paid presumably by me and drivers are more than enough to pay for the roads. And they’re also used to partially subsidize mass transit, even if I don’t use it (but I use transit also).

    2) Petroleum tax write-offs. It’s called “depletion” allowances, and it’s the same as depreciation in terms of tax write-offs. If you get rid of depletion allowances, you might as well get rid of depreciation also. And actually, if you did get rid of all that and simplified (and lowered) the corporate tax rate, we’d all be better off. And just FYI, Exxon by itself paid more income taxes than the bottom 50% of people who actually pay income taxes (itself only 53% of workers). And of course, the corporation doesn’t pay corporate taxes; it merely passes its taxes on to you and me in the form of higher prices.

    3) Vehicle pollution. Again, the gasoline internal combustion engine in automobiles is far less polluting than diesel or electric buses (assuming at least some of the electricity is coming from coal plants).

    Any other standard myths you care to express? Or other bits of social engineering you think I like?

  16. david vartanoff

    @ David Probably I do travel more as well as different routes than you. Kids? 40 and 37 respectively. I do bill at more than min wage, so yes I value my time. You hate social engineering that isn’t aligned with your personal behavior choices? Well, at gut level so do we all. Our democracy provides for a robust public debate. You vote for more roads and no zoning, I vote for more transit and fewer roads. I defend to the death your right to espouse what I consider wrongheaded opinions, just be honest enough to admit that everything since organising the tribe in the cave IS social engineering. Preventing you from building a garage that is a potential fire hazard to your neighbors is self defense on their part enforced by the whole of the community rather than one on one violence.

  17. Robert

    Ralph: “We need to move beyond this “us” vs “them” transit discussion. The reality is those who advocate for alternative/public transportation will need to peacefully coexist with drivers. And drivers need to acknowledge that benefits accrue all around when we have smart inclusive transportation policy. ”

    Thank you. That may have been the only fully rational comment posted today.

  18. Patrick


    ” Tax-subsidized–gas taxes, paid presumably by me and drivers are more than enough to pay for the roads.” Yes, with the exception of bridge tolls and the billions of subsidies every year from the Federal government, county and city property taxes, etc. but I quibble. And if gas taxes are “more than enough to pay for roads”, than why are we hit up every other year for bond money to improve our roads? Not to mention (pssssst), in case you haven’t noticed, our roads are in a pretty shitty state of disrepair. Guess we need to goose the gas tax another $1 or $4 a gallon or so, huh? And, I trust you believe the City of Oakland can stop worrying about their 80 year to infinity road resurfacing program because, hey! Gas taxes clearly “pave” the way.

    I’m not talking about depletion allowances. I’m talking about off-shoring and subsidies. Every corporate entity has a right to depletion.

    “And of course, the corporation doesn’t pay corporate taxes; it merely passes its taxes on to you and me in the form of higher prices.” Yes, my point exactly.
    Exxon doesn’t really pay taxes. We do, in the form of excess profits minus a pesky corporate usury tax. Furthermore, Exxon’s profits stem from our stupidity in that we allowed them to supply us with oil that was, by law, already ours. Thank goodness they get to upcharge for the incovenience of having to screw us in the ass via cute, anthropomorphized cars in their commercials. Unfortunately, we didn’t get greased first.

    Regarding vehicle pollution: really? I think you need to come back with at least one viable resource to back up your claims. Yeah, I know. We produce electricity in the US with 51% coal. But we also get 73% of our petroleum derived gasoline from other countries. A good portion is from the sands of Alberta, possibly the most environmentally irresponsible project in human history. The remainder? Shipped in using “bunker oil”, the nastiest, least processed fuel on the face of the earth. One Prius tooling down the highway with 5 people in it is most certainly environmentally superior to 1 bus carrying only a driver. And that happens – almost never.

    Any other standard lies you care to express?

  19. Ralph

    Am I mistaken, I was under the impression that gas tax, barely cover 20% of the costs associated with road upkeep?

  20. Mike d'Ocla

    Ralph: “I was under the impression that gas tax, barely cover 20% of the costs associated with road upkeep?”

    Something like that. The calculable external costs of automobiles are much greater than most people can imagine. I was involved with a study several years ago in the Seattle area which calculated the external costs of automobiles. The typical out-of-pocket costs of driving a car are $5000 per car per year. The total costs, including subsidies and externalized costs are $15,000 per car per year.

  21. Robert

    Ralph, Patrick, Mike, you are mistaken.

    Fuel taxes, registration/license fees, sales taxes on cars and federal grants are equivalent to the entire CalTrans budget. The federal grants come primarily from federal gas taxes, so represent just another tax on users. In addition to paying for state highways, CalTrans gives some grants to local governments for roads, and provides a substantial subsidy for mass transit. Locally Oakland also collects parking fees on autos, which is more than what they spend on road maintenance. Are things exactly in balance? Hard to say given the complexity of funding and taxing within the various budgets, but they are roughly equivalent.

    Externalized cost calculation always are subject to political considerations, so are difficult to accurately calculate. And mass transit has externalized costs also. Buses rely on the very same road/highway system that car and truck drivers pay for, and generate significant pollution. Regarding direct costs, if we take ACTransit as an example, current fare box recovery is about 20%, so that $2.00 bus ride actually costs $10.00. If we assume 600 trips a year for a transit rider (2 one way trips every work day to get to work, and two more trips every week for other things) the direct costs would be $6000. And this still excludes much of the capital costs for buses, and costs for the road system, direct costs paid for by car owners. So before externalized costs are considered, buses are more expensive than cars.

    This is not to say that we shouldn’t be funding transit, but is only to say that we can’t really rely on simple financial calculations to determine the best way to direct transportation policy. Any transportation policy needs to focus on the best way to utilized resources going forward in the future, and not agonize over ‘mistakes’ made in the past.

    I would be more than happy to give up my subsidy if transit riders were willing to give up theirs, on the assumption that the decreased subsidies would be reflected in lower taxes. Even using Mike’s numbers, my costs would go up about 3 fold, while a transit rider’s costs would go up 5 to 10 fold.

  22. David

    Thanks for answering Patrick etc for me, Robert.

    Regarding Patrick’s standard socialist claptrap, you’re moving the goalposts again. Exxon does not ‘receive’ a subsidy for off shore work. How could it? If you’re talking about it paying taxes on activities ex-US that make it money, well, why in heaven’s name should you or I get taxed on activities that are not in the US? (I know the IRS claims global jurisdiction on your earnings, but it’s the only taxing agency in the world that thinks it’s a global entity, and it’s utter crap).

    As for ‘corporate usury’ in getting stuff out of the ground. Give me a break. Can you drill for oil yourself? We pay companies to do things we can’t do. Don’t be dense.

    Finally, regarding social engineering. You think that I support other social engineering more to my taste. You are absolutely incorrect. Get it through your brain. I believe in increasing freedom at every opportunity, peeling back the Leviathan state, reducing its cost structure and impact on our lives, not trying to shoehorn in my preferences or your preferences for running our lives. If I own a parcel of land, I should be able to put up a parking garage if I want. If I drive, well, I should pay for the roads (which I do, as pointed out above). If I take a bus, well, I should pay full fare instead of forcing everybody else to pay for me. It would seriously open up people’s eyes if they knew that it really costs about $10 for a bus ride.

    What you should have learned by now, assuming you’re not some 20 year old college student, is that people don’t change. Trying to force them to do things they don’t want to do is doomed to failure, and all you end up doing is pissing away a lot of money that was essentially stolen from me at the end of a gun.

  23. V Smoothe Post author

    These are complicated issues, more suited to a full post or series of posts than a comment. But quickly, the Caltrans budget represents a fraction of money spent on roads in this State.

  24. Robert

    Ralph, I am not sure what “fact” you are referring to. You stated you were “under the impression” which is not a statement of fact. My information about the CalTrans budget and sources for funding come directly from the state budget, which is publicly available from the state web site. You are welcome to look it up to get your own facts, and see if they disagree with mine.

  25. Robert

    V, perhaps you, or one of the other transit advocates should do that full post, because that statement is made many times without data or references to back it up.

  26. V Smoothe Post author

    What data do you need, Robert? You arbitrarily pick one source of transportation funding because if you screw with random and unrelated numbers enough, you can make them add up to that source’s budget. But anyone who knows anything about transportation funding knows that most of it doesn’t come from Caltrans, it is distributed through MPOs.

  27. Mike d'Ocla

    Robert: “Fuel taxes, registration/license fees, sales taxes on cars and federal grants are equivalent to the entire CalTrans budget. Are things exactly in balance? Hard to say…but they are roughly equivalent.”


    Auto-related expenses which are not covered by fuel taxes, registration/license fees, etc., include police, fire and emergency services (a large percentage of which have to do with cars) etc., etc. Not to mention that the current CalTrans budget does not cover the “deferred maintenance”–CalTrans is way in the hole because of worn-out roads, bridges, and so on.

  28. Eric Fischer

    If anyone actually wants to read the Caltrans budget, here it is:

    If you believe what it says at the top, 2008-2009 Caltrans expenses are $14.3 billion dollars. Elsewhere it is claimed that fuel, vehicle registration and vehicle sales taxes total $8.9 billion. The Caltrans budget says that $3.6 billion comes from the Federal Trust Fund. That seems to leave $1.8 billion unaccounted for and coming from some other source.

    (This is also assuming that it is appropriate to spend all vehicle-related revenues on vehicle-related expenses. Other sales taxes aren’t automatically spent on infrastructure for the things that are sold.)

  29. Ralph

    Robert, as we have not to my knowledge met, i will let you in on a little secret, if I start a sentence with, “I was under the impression” “Correct me if I am wrong” or anything like that I have completed the research and reached my own conclusion.

  30. Robert

    Ralph, I don’t think we have met, but I think we micht share a barber on Lakeshore? What are the sources for your research?

    Eric, The $8.9B number includes fuel taxes, vehicle license and registration, but not the sales tax. Sales tax on autos is not broken out from other sales taxes in the budget summaries. Total state sales tax is about $30B, so around $2B seems reasonable for the sales tax on vehicles. Here is the link for revenue:

    Whether it is appropriate to allocate the auto sales taxes to roads is not my point. My point that car owners pay enough as part of the direct costs of driving a car to cover the bulk of highway costs. Appropriateness is a political question, not financial.

  31. Robert

    Nothing to be worried about, given the general opaqueness of the budget documents. And the CA ones are a model of clarity compared to Oakland.

  32. Ralph

    Robert, Chuck? The other day, I ran into someone who I initially didn’t recall mtg. He was rather sure we did. We thought we figured it out, but I woke the following day in a bolt – it wasn’t what we thought. I am pretty sure he and I met at Center Stage.

    I did the search for subsidy a few days ago in the context of a FB discussion with a friend in the renewables & alternatives energy business. We were trying to figure identify what would make alternatives more attractive.

  33. markko

    at the risk of re-opening a conversation that seems in happy repose, i’ll provide an answer to the questions about road subsidy, in a few points:

    1. the caltrans budget is only a small fraction of statewide spending on roads … it *does* include most highway spending, but no local streets.

    2. direct user fees (gas tax, vehicle registration, tolls, and fines) do NOT cover the full cost of either the Caltrans portion (highways) or the other parts (local streets and roads). over the past 15 years or so, we’ve come to rely much more upon general sales tax (i.e., the sales tax applied to all taxable goods) and on the state general fund (to repay bond indebtedness). note, however, that this is not a conspiracy, it is an explicit choice that the voters of the the state and of various counties have made. (it’s also, to my way of thinking, a mistake, but that’s the risk that comes along with democracy).

    3. the sales tax on gas used to go the the state general fund and now is dedicated to transportation, but this tax should nonetheless be considered a direct user fee, not a subsidy.

    4. people also point to other forms of subsidy for roads (free land for roads, free parking required by planning codes, etc). obviously you won’t find these numbers in any state or local budget.