Too many people go to too many locales to work, and, as housing prices have surged, many have moved farther way, which makes trains less practical, given the lack of a dominant job center. But in its desire to emulate places like New York, Los Angeles has spent some $15 billion trying to evolve into what some East Coast enthusiasts call the “next great transit city.”
The rail lines have earned Mayor Eric Garcetti almost endless plaudits from places like the New York Times. Yet, since 1990, transit’s work trip market share has dropped from 5.6 percent to 5.1 percent. MTA system ridership stands at least 15 percent below 1985 levels, when there was only bus service, and the population of Los Angeles County was about 20 percent lower. In some places, like Orange County, the fall has been even more precipitous, down 30 percent since 2008. It is no surprise, then, that, according to a recent USC study, the new lines have done little or nothing to lessen congestion.
Sacramento County led a cascade of area governments suing the state in an effort to block the Delta tunnels, saying the $17 billion project would harm local farmers, endangered fish and low-income communities at the south end of the county.
California officials are notorious for ladling on one environmental regulation after another, forcing developers to spend years or even decades producing waist-deep environmental-impact reports and dealing with endless regulatory hassles and litigation. The main tool environmentalists use to stop growth is the 1970s-era California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). It’s the equivalent of placing a “sue me” sign on every job site. . . . CEQA also remains uncorrected because of a disturbing double standard. Whenever there’s a big publicly funded project backed by prominent lawmakers, the first thing backers do is to exempt it from the act’s requirements. Why reform a poorly functioning law when it can be used to stop projects you don’t like, but never inhibits the ones you do like?
Despite the frequent portrayal of long commuting as the norm, only 2.2 percent of the nation’s workers travel 90 minutes or more, one way to work. Moreover, that long commuting is concentrated in and near just a few combined statistical areas (CSAs), the larger the larger metropolitan area definition that combines adjacent metropolitan areas like Bridgeport-Stamford with New York, San Jose with San Francisco and Riverside-San Bernardino with Los Angeles. Figure 1 shows that 17 of the 25 metropolitan areas with the largest share of 90-plus minute commuters are in or adjacent to just four combined statistical areas (CSAs). . . . None of this is surprising, considering that each of these markets is plagued by urban containment land use policies that force up house prices. Harvard research indicates that domestic migration is being driven by the differential in house prices and people have been leaving the New York, Washington and San Francisco CSAs for other parts of the country. Seattle has done better, simply because its expensive housing is still a bargain compared to the much more onerous house costs in coastal California, from which migrants are being drawn.
Despite a systemwide drop off in ridership, almost all BART employees will receive a $500 ridership bonus in their paychecks next month as part of their labor contract, the transit agency said this week. San Francisco Chronicle columnists Matier & Ross first reported the bonus, which will go to 3,600 employees BART employees, except for around 12 or so managers who report to BART General Manager Grace Crunican.