The Transit Metropolis: ideas for the Bay Area from good transit cities around the world

Robert Cervero’s The Transit Metropolis: A Global Inquiry includes case studies of a dozen cities around the world with different transit strategies, in search of patterns and good practices for the effective use and growth of transit. I was reading with the Bay Area in mind, looking for regions that had similar characteristics and how they solved similar problems. The book looked at a variety of metropolitan areas, including ones that were very centralized, very sprawling, and ones that were multi-centered like the Bay Area.

There were a number of practices and conclusions that seemed potentially relevant for the Bay Area.

* Coordinated governance The Bay Area is a spread out region with multiple centers. Transit governance is fragmented by geography and by mode (one agency for buses, another for trains). Germany has metropolitan regions with similar characteristics, and has developed a type of governance for this situation, illustrated in in a case study of the Munich region. They have an umbrella organization that plans regional transit development, with coordinated financing, schedules, and marketing.

The umbrella organization has two tiers. There is an executive board composed of representatives from the state, and the mayors of Munich and the other cities in the metro region. The executive board sets overall service and fare policies, and approve capital and operating budgets, allocate funding across operators, and reward individual operators for being productive and cost-effective. Thenre is also a management board composed of department heads of the rail and bus companies that deliver services. This group manages operational details and coordinates timetables and fares. Can the Bay Area draw on this model to have stronger central governance while continuing to have local operations?

* Convenience and connectivity. One of the key lessons from the book is that quality matters – transit systems grow ridership in areas with where many people own cars if the service is high quality. Convenience makes a huge difference. People are very sensitive to the amount of time they need to wait, the effort to get to transit, and the difficulty of connections. Effective transit systems deliver convenience and connectivity with a coordinated system of long-haul, express, local, and feeder routes, all ultra-coordinated to minimize transfers, reduce the pain of transfers, and reach people close to where they live or work. People get out of their cars when the system becomes convenient for them. Today in the Bay Area different modes are seen as serving different markets – if they were coordinated then overall usage would grow

* The last mile – connecting to people. Where settlement is distributed, cities have developed innovative solutions to get transit nearer to where people live. Solutions described in the book range from high-speed Bus Rapid Transit in Ottawa where the buses can fan out into neighborhoods after a high-speed central route, and various sorts of shuttle/van/carshare programs that can pick up/deliver people close to where they want to be. Digital schedules and alerts maximize convenience and minimize waiting. Employer shuttles play some of this role in the Bay Area – we could have more of this sort of last mile option. Also, open transit data is the foundation for innovation for services that help people take transit. But good data can’t substitute for convenient service./

* Marketing. Successful transit programs programs coordinate with employers, schools, sports, festivals, shopping, and other attractions to encourage transit. BART has been running radio ads, but the effectiveness is limited because BART only serves some areas, and just marketing Bart doesn’t let people know about the feeder services that get them to the train, or get them to where they’re going on a given day. Currently Bay Area transit marketing is fragmented, and customer communications seems subordinated to operations – are there more opportunities to increase use with better marketing?

* Land use vision. One of the main factors leading to successful transit growth over time is an overall land use vision for the region. Successful cities had different types of land use patterns – the key wasn’t the specific land use strategy – but having the vision and building toward it incrementally over time. This seems like a challenge in the Bay Area – can SB 375, the law that requires municipal planning to reduce carbon emissions, help guide the region toward a land use vision?

Community organizing and leadership matters Regions that built and improved their transit systems had leaders like Jaime Lerner in Curitiba and citizen advocates Hans Blumenfeld and Jane Jacobs in Toronto, who articulated a vision for their cities and worked persistently over many years to fulfill the vision in many small steps.

These examples from The Transit Metropolis show that it is possible to have effective transit in regions like the Bay Area that have multiple centers where a lot of people have cars. A book by another Berkeley professorThe Country and the City, tells the inspiring story of how citizen organizers working over decades were able to guide Bay Area development to preserve green space and keep sprawl in check. The opportunity and the challenge is to draw on the organizing practices described in the Country and the City to improve transit so people have better opportunities to Drive Less.

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