Senator Wiener’s Bill to Fund Bay Area Public Transportation Service & Improvements To Safety, Cleanliness, and Reliability Passes Assembly Transportation Committee

July 6, 2023

SACRAMENTO – The Assembly’s Transportation Committee passed Senator Scott Wiener’s (D-San Francisco) Senate Bill 532, which provides public transportation with critical funds to avert service cuts and improve the system’s safety, cleanliness, and reliability through the enactment of a bridge toll. The bill passed 10-4 and heads next to the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

“Bay Area public transportation systems are at severe risk of major service cuts, which would badly harm our region’s economic recovery and climate goals, while making traffic congestion worse and stranding transit-dependent riders — we have a responsibility not to let that happen,” said Senator Wiener. “This bill allows agencies to make a range of improvements to make our transit systems cleaner, safer, more reliable, and more seamless. I look forward to working with all stakeholders in the months ahead to strengthen and refine it.”

Early in the pandemic, public transportation ridership collapsed to 5-10% of pre-pandemic ridership, but it’s been rebounding ever since. Over the past year, Muni’s ridership has increased by one-third and BART’s by nearly 50%. BART currently carries between 150-170,000 passengers each weekday and in 2022 carried 42 million passengers, while Muni currently carries well over 400,000 passengers per day. Muni is now at 66% of pre-pandemic ridership, and AC transit is at about the same level. BART is at 43% of pre-pandemic ridership, despite the dramatic reduction in daily commuters to downtown San Francisco and despite BART’s lack of flexibility in re-routing service due to it being a fixed rail system.

Many people report that concerns about safety, cleanliness, and reliability on public transportation are preventing them from returning to ride. A recent Bay Area Council poll found that fewer than one in five BART users would describe the system as safe or clean. However, Bay Area residents also report that they would return to the system if improvements were made - 78% said they would return if cleanliness and safety improved. 

Transit agencies across the Bay Area are already hard at work making these improvements, but many require funds to sustain these changes and enact more improvements. For example, BART has directed significant resources toward improvements to safety, cleanliness and reliability. The agency recently unanimously voted to spend $8.5 million to raise BART police compensation 19% to boost recruitment and retention, a step that builds on their recent officer redeployment to increase the visibility of police in the system and increase the presence of unarmed ambassadors on the system. The redeployment led to a 38% decrease in service calls. BART has also doubled the frequency with which they deep clean cars, and opened bathrooms with service attendants. 

Transit agencies are also facing a far more existential threat from the transit fiscal cliff. For months, transit operators have warned that the end of federal pandemic relief funds threatened to cause operational shortfalls that would lead to major service cuts. Massive service cuts could trigger a transit death spiral, where cuts lead to declines in ridership, which necessitate more cuts.

Read more about the transit fiscal cliff here:

The final budget agreement between the Legislature and the Governor provides $1.1 billion statewide for transit operations, with the Bay Area expected to receive approximately $400 million of that amount over the next four years. This important funding commitment will partially solve the fiscal cliff issue, but unfortunately does not come close to meeting the regional need, which is estimated at $2.5 billion over the next 5 years. Additional regional self-help or other funding sources are needed to fully prevent these impending service cuts.

SB 532 requires the Bay Area Toll Authority to temporarily raise the toll on the Bay Area’s seven state-owned bridges by $1.50 – indexed to inflation – over the 5-year period from January 1, 2024, to December 31, 2028. The increase is expected to yield roughly $180 million annually over the 5-year period. SB 532 directs these funds to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and requires at least 90% of the toll revenues to be used to maintain service at current levels and finance safety, security, cleanliness, and reliability expenses that are crucial for bringing riders back to the system. Up to 10% of the revenues could be set aside for reform initiatives adopted by MTC through its Transit Transformation Action plan, increasing or restoring service beyond FY 22-23 levels, and/or for investing in safety, reliability, cleanliness, and security improvements.

Bridge toll revenues that fund transit service inherently advance equity and economic security because they predominantly benefit transit riders, who are more likely to be lower-income. 60 percent of California residents who commute via public transit have a household income below $35,000, and over half a million California households own no vehicle. In the Bay Area, 14% of households led by a person of color do not own a car and would thus be disproportionately impacted by transit service cuts. Additional provisions to implement an equitable tolling system - such as lowering and/or capping the toll evasion penalties significantly below those currently allowed under state law, and other provisions that reduce the cost burdens of the toll increase on low-income drivers who must drive over bridges frequently - have either been included in the bill or are under discussion. 

SB 532 is co-authored by a group of lawmakers representing a broad swathe of the Bay Area: Senators Cortese and Becker, and Assemblymembers Haney, Ting, Lee, Bonta, and Wicks. The bill is sponsored by transportation equity and policy advocacy group TransForm and regional urban policy organization SPUR.