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Mock funerals mark Bay Area protests over reduced transit funding

Mock funerals mark Bay Area protests over reduced transit funding
Mock funerals mark Bay Area protests over reduced transit funding 03:07

OAKLAND -- As the budget process grinds on in Sacramento, public transit advocates in the Bay Area are staging a last-ditch effort to get the state to support bus and train systems to keep them from running out of money.  On Saturday in Oakland and San Francisco, they held mock funeral marches to highlight the threat.

The 19th Street BART station was quiet as a tomb on Saturday morning. Up on the street, advocates staged a mock funeral procession, with pallbearers carrying caskets containing a BART train and an AC Transit bus. It was part of an effort to pressure Gov. Gavin Newsom to offer more subsidies to keep public transit from plunging over a fiscal cliff.

"It would be just a downward spiral of all our transit agencies in the bay," said funeral march organizer Rebecca Mirbush. "And, you know, it would just be so much harder to get around."

"You think 880's bad? Imagine if no one could take BART," said Oakland transit advocate Carter Lavin. "Imagine if half the people who take BART now have to get in cars. Traffic's going to be catastrophic."

You don't have to imagine. It has already happened. Three years after the pandemic shutdown, BART is still missing more than 60 percent of its previous ridership. Fare revenue is only supplying about 25 percent of the cost of service.  Transit agencies in the Bay Area have burned through most of the emergency funds provided by the federal government and AC Transit board director Jean Walsh said her bus system needs support from the state to keep what riders they now have.

"We need more time and we need more funding," Walsh said. "If we cut funding now, that means we cut service and, when we cut service, fewer people ride.  And if fewer people ride, we cut service more and fewer people ride. It's the death spiral."

Saturday afternoon, a similar funeral march proceeded down Market Street in San Francisco. There, the pressure is on Muni which is still trying to recover ridership, hampered by the switch to remote work along with people and businesses leaving the city.

"The epicenter of all of this advocacy is right here in San Francisco because Muni, BART, AC Transit are the three most vulnerable agencies in the entire state of California," said Muni director Jeffrey Tumlin.

Tumlin said travel patterns have changed dramatically and bus systems are scrambling to try to adjust. There is talk of a voter initiative in the next few years that would provide permanent funding for transit. Tumlin said they're asking for help to get them to that point.

"We've got about three or four years of a fiscal cliff gap that we're asking for support from the state of California in order to be able to fill so that we don't have to severely cut transit just as we're expecting transit to be recovering," he said.

Gov. Newsom's budget plan proposes cutting some rail infrastructure spending and offers no increase to support covering public transit operating costs.

California faces a deficit of billions of dollars, so it may be tough to ask the rest of the state to pay for transit service in the Bay Area that too few people seem interested in using right now. There has been a seismic shift in the way people work and no one knows if things will ever return to the old ways.

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