According to a new Bay Area Council poll, well over 80% of voters support combining BART and Caltrain into one integrated system. The support was 83% without prompting, and 86% when prompted with the idea that this “would provide more efficient, convenient and better service and allow continuous rail around the Bay.”
For users of public transit, including BART, Caltrain and other transit, the share was an astonishing 91%, though the sample was smaller. And the share was over 80% in all 5 big Bay Area counties, and for North Bay lumped together.
The poll does not say anything about options for institutional arrangements that would bring about such integrated and convenient service. There are multiple possible ways to bringing about regionally integrated rail and transit service.
The poll framed BART/Caltrain integration with the benefits of bringing about convenient, integrated service. We suspect that poll questions that asked about whether there should be mergers or other organizational integrations that did not bring about better service, that had high costs, that left some counties out of board representation, or for example, used Measure RR funds for BART improvements in a far-away county, would be much less popular.
These results are consistent with our smaller survey of the Friends of Caltrain audience, where 80-90% of respondents supported coordinated regional rail service, with 57% supporting a BART-Caltrain merger. That survey used the institutional options that Caltrain included in its presentation at the March board governance workshop.
While some local political leaders are concerned about making sure that institutional structures are cost-effective and benefit constituents – this poll very clearly shows that voters find the idea of a well-integrated regional rail network to be overwhelmingly popular. So it would be worthwhile to seek solutions that deliver the integrated system that riders want, in ways that avoid risks and drawbacks.