MTC starts to explore regional transportation funding measure

On Monday, December 13, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission convened a “listening session” to start to consider the potential for a regional funding measure for public transportation in 2024. The slides and recording are here.

Transit services face a fiscal cliff in the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2024, when Federal relief funding that has kept transit moving during the pandemic will run out, and funding will likely be needed to avoid service cuts, according to MTC analysis.

Polling conducted over the summer showed transportation as a high priority but lower than previous years.  But, voters over the summer were unaware about the risks of service cuts.  And the general election year of 2024 is still a long time from now.  Policy Advisory Council chair Kinman talked about the importance of communication to the public about the needs for funding, and the uses of prior funding.

Common themes that emerged from the listening session included the need to provide funding for transit service; and providing a seamlessly coordinated system for riders.  Open questions include the type of revenue, and importantly the timing of funding for public transportation and affordable housing.

Presenters from transit agencies, the MTC, business organizations, and the Voices for Public Transportation Coalition of transit advocates, equity groups, and labor, and MTC chair Pedroza, all agreed that funding for transit service is essential.  This represents changing winds among regional leaders – historically, business groups and political leaders leaned toward funding shiny new capital projects rather than the basics of funding service.

Also, multiple presenters and members of the public talked about the importance to fund and implement next steps on integrated, affordable fares; integrated schedules, easier-to-use wayfinding; and network management decisions about how to manage a well-coordinated system.  Seamus Murphy, representing the transit agencies, noted that these measures are popular and help build voter confidence.

Multiple presenters talked about the importance of meeting the needs of people who depend on transit, including essential workers who kept health care and services running in the depths of the pandemic, along with seniors, people with disabilities, and youth; and the importance to provide high-quality transit to increase mode share, reduce driving and pollution.

One question that came up was the question about whether to hold one regional ballot measure or many measures for each separate county plus each of the regional transit agencies. Ann Richman, speaking for the region’s county transportation authorities, said that several counties were considering separate measures, but did not disclose which ones. 

A big question for a regional measure will be balancing the need to fund transit with the need to fund affordable housing.  The MTC and Association for Bay Area Governments (ABAG) will be holding another listening session in this Spring focusing on housing. The region’s long-term PlanBayArea includes large needs for both transportation and housing.

With regard to the type of funding, Voices for Public Transportation and a number of public comments, spoke strongly in favor of progressive revenue. Interestingly, Ann Richman of the Transportation Authority of Marin, representing the region’s local transportation tax authorities, also raised questions about the historical reliance on sales taxes which are regressive and can be volatile, and expressed an interest in exploring multiple mechanisms. Richman and others spoke about the importance of polling to assess the types of taxes that voters will favor.

In order to hold a regional transportation measure, legislation would be needed in Sacramento in 2023. So a broad regional discussion to shape a funding measure would need to start this coming year, in 2022.  Stay tuned for opportunities to participate in the discussion.