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Vote on utopian Bay Area transit unification canceled

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Ongoing novel coronavirus concerns have derailed “Faster Bay Area,” at least for now

A wide white building flanked by high-rises.
The Transbay Transit Center in San Francisco.
Photo by Brock Keeling

A coalition of the Bay Area’s biggest businesses spent years creating a utopian plan to unite dozens of regional transit agencies under one banner to create an all-encompassing network. Now, due to the novel coronavirus, the November vote for funding is off—and a shadow is cast over the long-term future of the plan dubbed Faster Bay Area.

On Tuesday, the three groups behind the Faster Bay Area campaign—Silicon Valley Leadership Group, a public policy coalition made up of companies like Adobe, Google, and Zoom; SPUR, an urban design think-tank based in SF; and the Bay Area Council, a business association with members ranging from Salesforce to the 49ers—announced they will drop plans for the November vote, saying that current events pose too many obstacles.

“Considering the uncertainty of the legislative season, the urgent need to focus all our attention on immediate challenges of COVID-19, and the complexity of what we are trying to accomplish,” Faster Bay Area will have to go the sidelines until a future election yet to be determined, the three groups said in a joint letter.

That means Bay Area voters will not face the prospect of the one-cent sales tax that the Faster planners had hoped to push in the November vote in order to generate $100 billion over 40 years.

Nor will voters have to decide whether Faster’s vision of, well, a faster Bay Area is worth it.

Faster would combine 26 different Bay Area transit agencies under the banner of a single network. It would create a new public position, the Bay Area’s Regional Transit Network Planner, a role whose job would be to make the region’s patchwork of buses, trains, and ferries work together.

Campaign materials for the proposal promise that under this framework, you’d rarely wait longer than 15 minutes for a ride. Currently independent agencies like BART, Muni, AC Transit, and Caltrain would be part of a single nine-county network, with one map and integrated schedules, all overseen by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

On top of the planned tax increase, Faster wanted to tap some of the Bay Area’s largest employers—many of whom are already part of the groups behind the proposal—to contribute a combined $30 billion to the transit network.

San Jose-based State Sen. Jim Beall, Faster’s point-person in the state legislature, agreed to try to fast track legislation through the system to reach the governor’s desk by June and then get the tax increase before voters in November. If people backed the plan, the path would be open to turn Faster into a reality.

Now the best that backers can hope for is that the proposal will idle long enough to outlast the current crisis and then, perhaps, reemerge in the next election cycle.

Nobody at Faster was immediately available to comment on the potential future of the project.