Protesters and supporters overwehlm the MTC's Oakland Airport Meeting. Photo Author.
The Federal Transit Administration killed the Oakland Airport Connector due to Title VI (Civil Rights Act) complaints. The FTA did this by denying certain federal funds that then made the project uneconomic. This was sensible for two reasons. First BART took a number of actions, such as raising the surcharge on the SFO airport extension without much community input.
Then it planned to replace a perfectly adequate $3.00 bus connection to the Oakland Airport with a $6.00 aerial tramway costing some $550 million, including $100 million in new debt for BART. Again, community input was minimal, although a number of community groups bitterly opposed the project on the grounds of waste, high construction costs and high per passenger fare. BART still lists the project on its web site, even though the FTA money has been denied and the remaining funds dispersed to other projects.
As a direct result of the FTA action, BART has prepared its required Public Participation Plan and submitted it to the FTA. BART must have approval of this plan to again be eligible for federal funds.
BART is looking at putting together a Citizens Advisory Committee, but suggests that it has insufficient funds to do so now, as it has two already – one focused upon BART police and the other for Disadvantaged Business Enterprise. In other words, nothing will happen with that idea, even though supported by community input.
BART Directors can not be contacted directly. Right now an e-mail to any Director goes to a central location, where it is sorted and perhaps routed to the Director. The suggestion that Directors be directly contacted is being considered along the idea that Directors become more involved in their communities.
Then there is the plan for outreach when a specific project or change is being contemplated. BART would work with Community Based Organizations and its Title VI Community Advisory Group (when established) to begin the process. BART would then work with the CBOs to schedule meetings in local venues at times and places recommended by the CBOs.
Then BART would schedule the meetings, publicize them and set targets for participation, while clearly describing how the participation will impact BART’s decisions. BART would then make the decision and communicate the results back to the community.
Other ideas include bulletin boards at the stations, using the electronic arrival sign to display meetings and even video casting Board meetings with live and on demand viewing. The 40 page main document and 8 appendices contain a host of other ideas for generating input from minority, low income and persons with limited English skills.
Back in March and April, BART held 17 community meetings in 22 days, to announce that in the future, there would be community input before raising fares, changing service or implementing any decision affecting riders. After the meetings, a survey was held about the value of these meetings, asking (in question 1) how important was it to attend such meetings and what would make it better? The overwhelming winner was “No Answer.” The cumbersome survey lasted for 12 questions and elicited written comments as well.
Urban Habitat, in its comments about the plan noted that it needed to be strengthened, including immediately adding the Citizens Advisory Committee. Their letter went on to say that BART needed to show how this input would affect decisions and that such decisions needed to be more transparent. Urban Habitat also wanted BART Directors to attend ALL meetings in their districts to more effectively represent their constituents.
Oddly enough, the draft plan was available in five languages (English, Chinese, Laotian, Spanish and Vietnamese), while the final plan was only available in English. In any event, the plan was submitted and it remains to be seen how the FTA responds.