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A plan to combine the Bay Area’s dozens of transit networks

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SF-based Assemblymember David Chiu wants to put different agencies on the same track

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The Bay Area almost has more public transit than it knows what to do with—and that’s the problem, at least according to Assemblymember David Chiu.

The San Francisco-based lawmaker announced a plan to align all of the region’s disparate and competing transit agencies, and make the different systems play nice with each other.

That’s the big-picture goal, anyway. Chiu’s immediate proposal is more of an installment on that vision: His new bill Assembly Bill 2057 would establish a single universal bus fare across the Bay Area and one single discount standard for every agency, create a combined transit map and departure time reference, and develop a new type of transfer that works across every transit line.

The legislation also establishes a consulting team for bigger, more grandiose implementations down the line, like a single fare for all Bay Area transit, and (the holy grail for harried commuters) a scheduled alignment between different systems.

Eventually, someday, the region could achieve something like unity, merging dozens of disparate systems into a single one. Or that idea could breakdown if, as is often the case, agencies can’t force compatibility between so many moving parts designed to work separately. In any case, Chiu’s initial foray will help suss out how this vast project might work.

In a statement Monday, the lawmaker called regional transit “disjointed,” “intimidating,” and “frustrating,” and claimed that the difficulty of coordinating overlapping systems drives down public use.

Chiu claims there are 27 different transit agencies working throughout the Bay Area, although this number varies. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) recognizes 23 Bay Area transit operators, ferry services included, while Seamless Bay Area, a transit nonprofit sponsoring Chiu’s legislation, counts 151.

Most Bay Area commuters use more than one system, but there’s little if any coordination between the agencies. Caltrain and BART will time transfers at Millbrae station, for example, but switching from BART to Muni or AC Transit is a gamble at best most days.

Until the creation of Trans Link (which preceded Clipper) in 2002, there wasn’t a single, unified way to pay, and that system operated in pilot mode until 2010. But even today, there are still a few systems that don’t accept it, and the rules for using Clipper are different for every agency.

According to the U.S. Census, in San Francisco 38.9 percent of workers 16 year of age or older commute to work in a car, and more than 30 percent drive alone. And another 33.5 percent use public transit, but this is a fairly high number—in Alameda County it’s just 15.7 percent, in San Mateo 10.6 percent, and in Santa Clara County a dismal 4.6.

For now the bill remains a hazy outline. But once there’s more meat on its bones, it will pass through committee hearings in Sacramento at a later date.