Asm. Bob Blumenfield: It’s Time to Think Big on Transit

(The following op/ed was written by Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield (D-SFV), Chair of the Assembly Budget Committee in support of AB 650.  Blumenfield’s legislation has already passed the Assembly and passed the Senate Appropriations Committee yesterday.  It needs to pass the full Senate and go back to the Assembly for a concurrence vote before heading to the governor’s desk.  This piece first appeared in the California Progress Report and is reprinted here with the consent of Blumenfield’s office. – DN)

Traffic is killing us.  It eats up our time, it thins our wallets as our cars idly burn through expensive gasoline, and it spoils the air we breathe.  We need a path to real public transportation alternatives in order to get out of our cars and on with our lives.

That’s why I have authored legislation calling for a group of experts to develop California’s first statewide public transit development and financing plan.  And, ever mindful of our trying budget times, it will not cost our state’s besieged General Fund a dime.

Assembly Bill (AB) 650 establishes a blue ribbon task force to craft a public transportation development plan for California based on an assessment of what transit we have, what amount of transit we need, and how we can finance transit construction.  The task force will be composed of 12 experts in finance, transit, the environment, and public health who must complete their plan by September 30, 2012.  This work would be undertaken, in part, through workshops conducted across the state.  And, it would be financed from existing transit moneys provided through California’s gas tax, specifically those devoted to transit planning.

The blue ribbon task force is a tried and true way to help California find solutions to complex and enduring problems, like public transportation.  In recent years, task forces have helped California enact comprehensive fisheries protections off our coast and achieve breakthrough reforms that balance our state’s water supply needs with environmental protection.

I come from Los Angeles where traffic is a big part of life.  While traffic congestion is a cause for consternation across California, it is particularly bad in Southern California where traffic delays have nearly tripled over the past twenty years.

Each commuter loses 63 hours of life to traveling by car at peak hours.  This staggering statistic is a reflection that we do not have enough transit alternatives.

Last month, while work was being done to expand Los Angeles’ 405 freeway, Angelenos everywhere were warned of the coming Carmageddon – massive gridlock that would paralyze the city.  It was a comical spectacle for everyone not living in Los Angeles.  But, more than anything else, this episode shows why we need more transit.

The simple truth is that California’s population is expected to grow by more than four million people over the next 10 years.  This will lead to more time wastefully spent in traffic congestion.  In 2005, transit prevented 540 million hours of traffic around the country, saving us $10.2 billion in lost economic productivity.

Transit investment creates jobs and reduces our footprint on the environment.  Every $1 billion invested in transportation infrastructure creates 47,500 jobs.  Every $1 invested in transit generates $6 dollars in local economic activity.  For each person taking transit instead of driving, 4,800 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions will be prevented per year.  By 2025, an estimated 1 in 5 Californians will be over 65 and 20% percent of this demographic does not drive.

Unfortunately, funding for transit hasn’t kept pace with demand.  While we have secured a more stable funding source for transit in recent years, the demand for transit services has increased around the state, especially as fuel prices have risen, traffic congestion has grown, and Californians look for ways to cut commuting expenses and their environmental impact.

Today, most long-term transit infrastructure development planning occurs in a series of patchwork measures.  We need to think bigger.  Building and maintaining an effective public transportation network requires a commitment and vision that makes transit an integral part of transportation in 21st Century California.  AB 650 will help get us there.