Bad Choices, bad regulation, incompetence and corruption in San Francisco, California result in Inferior Public Transportation and more expensive housing

Shuttle buses for technology companies like Google, Facebook and Twitter use 250 of the 2500 Muni bus stops in San Francisco. The Municipal Transportation Agency has proposed an 18-month test of a shuttle policy designed to support the private buses, which transport as many as 35,000 workers a day, mostly to and from tech companies in Silicon Valley, while reducing conflicts with Muni buses and establishing guidelines to help the private and public buses get along.

There was a fake outburst by a political activist protesting the technology company shuttle buses.

A San Francisco-area community activist ignited a small media firestorm Monday by posed as a Google employee angry at protesters for blocking his bus.

Max Bell Alper jumped off the blocked bus, yelled and cursed at demonstrators, and pretended to blame them for their concerns about housing costs and gentrification.

“This is a city for the right people who can afford it,” Alper yelled before nearby cameras. “You can’t afford it? You can leave.”

Paying over double for buses so that protected domestic bus makers and unions can benefit

32% of the buses in the US are sourced in California.

* China, South Korea, and Japan all produce more fuel efficient buses than U.S manufacturers
* buses in Tokyo and Seoul are half the price of U.S buses and buses produced in China are even cheaper
* While cynics might question the quality of China’s buses, it is notable that wealthy and well governed Singapore is importing buses from China
* U.S. tax payers face a higher price for subsidizing urban bus services and U.S owners of the domestic firms that produce the buses gain some monopoly rents. They also pay more for the increased fuel costs of less efficient buses
* 80% of bus costs are paid for by the federal government
* only 1.5% of buses are imported but 50% of cars are imported

The City of San Francisco has an $8 billion per year budget. There is an online budget allocation page where people can see what the choices are for the $3.14 billion that will be spent on San Francisco public transportation projects and maintenance from now to 2040. However the $46 billion spent on buses and operations could be drastically reduced or improved by allowing better buses to be procured at less than half the cost.

Change Zoning to allow for more density and taller buildings

Lack of supply of housing relative to demand drives up the price of housing in San Francisco.

San Francisco is less densely populated than Queens. For San Francisco to be as dense as Manhattan, it would have to house 3.2 million people instead of 805,000. It’s obviously not “politically realistic” to imagine San Francisco rezoning to allow that kind of density.

Planners wanted at 8 story buildings along BART and Muni lines but Board of Supervisors shot it down

When the Planning Commission approved the Eastern Neighborhoods Program on August 17, 2008, it recommended a height limit of 85 feet, or 8-story buildings, for Mission Street, between 16th Street and Cesar Chavez Street, in order to take advantage of Mission Street’s high transit service, including BART and Muni lines, and to meet citywide and regional smart growth objectives by increasing housing near transit.

The Board of Supervisors voted to reduce most parcels along Mission Street to their current height limits or to whatever staff proposed, whichever was lowest. In addition, the Board inserted a clause in the Eastern Neighborhoods legislation requiring staff to begin a separate process to better understand the policy concerns related to raising height limits on Mission Street, particularly concerns about local businesses and affordable housing.

The people who want cheaper housing need to fight for the zoning to build taller in the City. It is the only way to get a lot more housing supply in San Francisco.

$13 billion for the part of the $68+ billion high speed rail

California’s 500-plus-mile rail project is projected to cost $68 billion, double what voters originally were told. But we only have roughly $13 billion — less than $10 billion in state borrowing authorization and $3 billion-plus in federal grants — with no other funding in sight.

Regardless, Brown plans to begin initial construction early next year, laying 130 miles of track from Madera to Bakersfield in the San Joaquin Valley, then extending the line over the Tehachapi Pass into Palmdale and continuing to the San Fernando Valley at a total cost of $31 billion.

So at least $18 billion short of what is needed to make the first 130 mile section

Why not recognize that there is no money to build something remotely useful and actually try to build things that would be useful ? San Francisco, Los Angeles and other cities would benefit from useful infrastructure that can actually be completely built and would be highly used.

BART Strikes

The lack of political will to fix things is seen with the recent BART strikes. Many cities do not have ticket booth operators for subways. They have ticket machines and about once a month a much smaller staff go through the trains to give fines to people who did not buy transit tickets.

Union strikes increase the costs to the whole area and harm other workers.
A rational and affordable policy and process for public transportation cannot be worked out.
The necessary severance needs to be negotiated and the people need to be moved out of the way so that efficient and lower cost operations can be achieved.

The dozens of transit systems in the Bay area needs to be unified. there are various phased approaches to transitioning to a unified system.

BART trains, and infrastructure (high speed rail) is way more expensive than in Europe and Asia because they chose to not use the international standard for trains. There are old railway regulations that are part of the problem.

BART will be buying up 1000 new rail cars in the coming years. BART pays about double for its railcars because they are not the standard gauge (different width). It is possible to re-gauge. The South re-gauged after the civil war.

BART extensions of 10 miles will cost over $2 billion and a 15 mile extension $3.2 billion.

Europe has been successfully upgrading to driverless trains

It seems that the bullet should be bitten and regulations and changes that need to be made are done to get to a long term lower cost system. Payoff or force out the union. Change the regulations. Change the gauge. Get to international standards and sourcing for costs that will be two to three times lower.

Track gauge conversion at wikipedia and broad gauge is discussed here

There was an Australian regauging of 1200 miles of rail for about A$140 million in 2002-2008. BART operates five routes on 104 miles (167 km) of line, with 44 stations in four counties.

In the old days the rule was 20 km/day of rail regauged for a battalion of 500-1500 men. BART regauging would require some planning to get equipment to make it go faster and to have a full order of standard cars ready. However, they were planning to buy a bunch of new cars over several years anyway. With a good plan the regauge could be done in one week. The BART strikes lasted over one week.

Related – unsustainable budgets

The rest of San Franciscos budget and choices are also bad. The SF budget suffers from a structural imbalance — revenue growing at 13 percent while expenses increase 25 percent — the talk of cuts and deficits can be misleading. The budget does not shrink; it increases each year and cuts are made to bring the growing expenses in line with revenue that also is growing, just at a slower rate. Mayor Ed Lee’s $7.9 billion budget proposal was nearly a 10 percent increase over the prior year’s budget, or $710 million more. The single largest increase was in labor costs.

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