Public transportation in California is failing, can it make a comeback?

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Bay Area Rapid Transit, San Francisco’s MUNI, Los Angeles Metro and transit agencies across the state are struggling to keep afloat.

Public transit ridership in California hasn’t recovered since plummeting during the pandemic. And since then, transit agencies have been anticipating a “fiscal cliff” — a steep drop in revenue combined with the end of federal aid within two years.

According to CalMatters’ state Capitol reporter Sameea Kamal, there are no clear solutions. And if the state doesn’t step in to help, the few fixes being proposed have problems of their own. They include:

A fare hike or service cuts: This would not only disproportionately impact low-income people who depend on public transit to get around, but also commuters on their way to work and other regular riders. Expensive fares and spotty service also might keep ridership perpetually low.
Slashing transit expansion: With an estimated $22.5 billion to $25 billion budget shortfall on the horizon, Gov. Gavin Newsom is proposing to delay and cut some transit expansions and equipment programs. That doesn’t directly affect services but could hamper efforts to attract more riders.

Revise zoning laws: To increase ridership, some experts say cities should develop more housing around transit areas, ease parking requirements that drive up costs and revive business or downtown districts. (For example, office occupancy took a nosedive in downtown San Francisco during COVID-19 and the city hasn’t recovered since.)

Make working and riding public transit safer: Many transit operators retired or shifted to work with lower health risks, such as trucking. Many drivers and riders alike have also become fed up with the mental health, drug and homelessness crises apparent at transit stations. Some debate whether increasing police is the answer, but one new bill would require operators to collect and publish data on harassment of passengers.

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