As I wrote on InOakland today, a recent Federal Transit Administration ruling comes as close as legally possible to promising that BART’s deeply flawed Oakland Airport Connector will be denied federal funding. The FTA ruling was based on a complaint filed by Public Advocates on behalf of Urban Habitat and TransForm, pointing out that BART’s plan would rob poor and minority communities of needed transit funding while providing a service aimed at the comparatively wealthy. The FTA has upheld the complaint and given the Bay Area a reprieve on the loss of its transit dollars, if our unaccountable regional transit-planning body reprograms the funding away from the Airport Connector and toward transit system preservation at its meeting on Wednesday. BART, unfortunately, is in total denial that civil rights are an insurmountable obstacle, and is urging the Metropolitan Transportation Commission to gamble $70m of regional transit stimulus funds on the extremely unlikely chance that BART can address all of its equity impacts in four weeks. Needless to say, the MTC may fall for this ruse, and throw away much-needed transit funds.
These stimulus funds, contrary to popular belief, can be used to fund transit operations and not just capital projects. The share of the $70m which would go to AC Transit would be almost $7m, with MUNI and BART receiving even more. AC Transit’s $7m share of transit stimulus funds would give the agency about six months before it had to slash service more than already planned because of state budget cuts, which could be enough time to secure additional taxpayer funding without ending night and weekend service.
Here’s the choice before the MTC Wednesday: give BART one last but impossible chance to save their Airport Connector and lose $70m forever, or keep the $70m for the region. The OAC, which becomes more expensive and less useful with every passing year, needs to be put out of its misery. Though the federal government won’t give the OAC a penny, BART has been willing to bankrupt every rival agency and steal from every available pot of money to fund their pipe dream, up to and including robbing their own seismic retrofit bond of funding to fix the Transbay Tube, so losing the FTA’s nod may not actually kill this zombie project.
If you care at all about transit in the Bay Area, I urge you to make your voice heard to the MTC. TransForm has an excellent email form that allows you to communicate with the entire Commission. Please take a minute to send a note to the MTC and urge them to make the OAC’s death throes less harmful, preserve much-needed stimulus funding for less glamorous but more necessary transit operations across the reason, and save Hegenberger from the fate that befell 7th St. For the MTC to do otherwise would just prove the civil rights complaint’s point: that BART and the region place suburban comforts over urban necessities.