Some particularly shameless San Francisco media outlets have been promoting this petition from Orinda city councilman Steve Glazer to prevent future Bay Area Rapid Transit strikes. It’s too bad they didn’t do some reporting about it first.
The petition claims that 375,000 commuters use BART every day. By BART’s own account, there are about 400,000 rides every day. Not riders — rides. Unless all those rides are one-way, BART is likely transporting much closer to 200,000 riders every day — out of the 5.87 million people who live in Bay Area counties where BART runs.
But hey, that’s just a simple fact check! The more insidious logic here lies in the comparisons this campaign makes between BART and transit systems in New York and Washington, D.C., where transit strikes are illegal.
New York is the #1 city in the country for carless households, at 55.7 percent; Washington, D.C. is #4 with nearly 37 percent. San Francisco is #14 at 28.6 percent. But that rate for the Bay Area in total runs around 8 percent, according to recent figures.
The New York subways provide about 8.7 million rides each weekday, compared to the city’s population of about 8.3 million. The Washington, D.C. metro is the second busiest transit system in the country, with about 980,000 rides each day, compared to the metro area’s population of about 5.86 million.
Here’s that fast and loose breakdown for the top five busiest transit systems in the country:
New York: 8.7 million rides for a population of 8.3 million = 105 percent(!)
D.C.: 980,000 rides for a population of 5.9 million = 16.6 percent
Chicago: 729,000 rides for a population of 2.7 million = 27 percent
Boston area: 531,000 rides for a population of 4 million = 13.3 percent
SF Bay Area: 400,000 rides for a population of 5.9 million = 6.8 percent
You can’t directly compare big apples and California car culture.
While a downed BART system certainly has a large impact on transportation in the area, it’s not nearly the same gridlock we’d see from a New York subway strike or a D.C. train stoppage. And when we’re talking about taking away the most basic of union rights — the right to stop work — that massive difference in service level must be acknowledged.
If you want to prevent workers from striking, at least be honest about it. You aren’t standing up for alternative transit in the Bay Area. During the strike, bridges were not overrun with 200,000 extra cars — they saw an increase of a few thousand, a few percent.
The campaign to prevent workers from striking is not about promoting alternative transit or keeping the region’s newly moneyed tech-driven economy humming every day. A lot of those tech companies are in places where BART doesn’t even reach. The campaign is about a neoliberal paradigm that’s swallowed the Bay Area whole, and is pitting the region’s poorest against one another, while still holding tight to its suburban lifestyle.
The San Francisco Chronicle — a newspaper with a unionized newsroom — ran this editorial claiming that the Bay Area should restrict BART strikes because of its “transit-first” urban planning. Clearly the writer hadn’t seen any of the recent vitriol at the Plan Bay Area meetings, where many more suburban residents claimed support for sprawl than did those who supported density and transit.
A BART strike is undoubtedly inconvenient for a lot of people, including me, who has never made close to the kinds of wages the striking workers make. But all of us have a vested interest in labor holding on to any scrap of power it may have left if we ever hope to be able to lobby on our own behalves in the nearly unionless future.
Moreover, we have a vested interest in not letting ourselves be lied to by people like Orinda city councilman Steve Glazer and the media who support him.
Update: I just wanted to include one more number to consider in this debate, which is that approximately 270,000 cars make daily roundtrips across the Bay Bridge (according to Bloomberg). This data isn’t the best, it’s a little fast and loose as I also say above, but that’s potentially 540,000 one-way car trips, transporting at least that number of passengers, probably many more. So, again, “transit first”?