By Wendi Kallins
Every day, thousands of Marin residents take transit to and from work, shopping, school, and medical appointments. They are making Marin a better place. Transit benefits those who use it as well as those who don’t, and more use will help us all. How do we get more people to use transit? It has to go where and when people want to go; it has be accessible and affordable. It has to be consistent so people can count on it to get to appointments on time. And it has to be a pleasant and safe ride; otherwise, why would people forgo the “convenience” of their cars? Except, what’s convenient about streets choked with traffic and air choking with exhaust?
Reducing the number of cars on the road reduces CO2 in the air. Fewer cars mean less roadway taken up for parking, and fewer collisions for cars, pedestrians, and bicyclists. Taking transit supports the transit system, which provides mobility to all residents, including youth under 16, the elderly, people with disabilities, low-income families, and those who choose to live without a car. Having transit available means that families can substantially reduce their cost of living, allowing them to reallocate dollars to housing, food, education, recreation, healthcare, and life. And unlike driving, the more people who use transit, the better the service gets, because riders bear part of the cost directly through fares.
If you commute to San Francisco, you’re in luck. Our regional system,Golden Gate Transit, provides ferries and buses designed to take you to your destination in downtown San Francisco seamlessly and efficiently. If you want to travel around Marin, however, that’s another story. Transit will take longer than it would to drive, and you may have to transfer one or two times..
Those who have traveled in Europe, or even in some stateside metropolitan areas, are amazed at how safe, easy, and convenient it is to use public transit. Trains run every 15 minutes, and every 5-10 minutes during rush hour. Buses are right there to take you to your final destination. Transit is cheap and efficient and lots of people use it. Why can’t we have that here in Marin?
Most of those places with frequent transit are dense urban areas. It’s easy to provide robust transit service where there are lots of potential transit riders, and people going to the same destinations at similar times. In suburbia, the number of potential riders per square mile is low, and thus transit service is not frequent. With inconvenient transit, who wants to ride it? And as fewer people make use of transit, that line will be cut, making transit even less of an option.
Marin Transit planners (our local bus service) are exploring ways to improve service by identifying popular destinations. They’ve added smaller shuttles that take people to desired stops like Marin’s hospitals. A new study is exploring more school bus services. SMART train service between Marin and Sonoma is set to begin next year. Golden Gate Transit is adding a new bus service to the East Bay during commute hours. These buses will connect people to key points in Berkeley, Emeryville and Albany.
All these will help, but we won’t get better transit until there are more routes, more frequency, more riders and more funding.
How do we solve this dilemma? Sustainable Fairfax is conducting a pilot program called ReduceX2 to encourage people to switch from driving to transit, walking or biking. The goal is for participants to find a way to reduce their auto usage by two trips a week – a modest reduction. If these efforts were multiplied around the county, perhaps we would see a boost in ridership and thus a boost in service.
These are small steps, but major strides are needed. The only way we can get frequent and convenient service is to use it. And people won’t use it until it is frequent and convenient. Then there is the vexing problem of paying for transit. Public transit is just that – a public service that must be subsidized to function. Although public transit in Marin is limited today, residents have shown support for it through sales tax measures dedicated to transit.
Creating a seamless and convenient public transit system in Marin will go a long way towards relieving traffic congestion and reducing pollution. CALM is willing to step up and work with Marin Transit and other citizens’ groups to grapple with this multi-faceted public issue.
Let’s find ways to make successful transit a self-fulfilling prophe