The candidates vying for two seats on the BART Board of Directors said on Monday that they are in support of a $3.5 million bond measure that would help upgrade the derelict public transportation system.
During a candidate debate forum held in the recreation room at Mission Pool, the candidates answered questions about much needed improvements to the 44-year-old transit system and shared their plans to ensure that equitable access and capacity needs are met in the long-term.
Three of the six candidates present – politician and former San Francisco supervisor Bevan Dufty, activist and local blogger Michael Petrelis, and Golden Gate Restaurant Association Director Gwyneth Borden – are competing to become the director for BART’s District 9. The latter covers stations in central and Southern San Francisco including both stations in the Mission District.
Audience members – some of whom were members of transit, pedestrian and bicycle advocacy groups – wanted to know how the candidates would address BART’s long-festering problems such as aging trains, frequent breakdowns, delays and overcrowding.
The candidates were also probed on their stances on pushing for the passage of a $3.5 billion bond measure placed on the November ballot by BART’s board of directors. The funding would be largely allocated towards fixing and upgrading system’s crumbling infrastructure.
“Assuming that the measure passes we’d like to see money go into rebuilding infrastructure, modernizing the communication system that workers use, and money dedicated to overnight service on the weekend,” said Petrelis, adding that “$3.5 billion is a start,” and that more sources of revenue for BART are needed.
Borden spoke in favor of prioritizing a second Transbay tube to increase rider capacity.
“The future of this region is the tube that can accommodate BART and high speed rail or Caltrain,” she said, though she added that her primary focus would be to shore up current infrastructure.
“I’m very much supportive of the $3.5 billion bond, which doesn’t meet our need of around $10 billion,” she said.
Other candidates also agreed that additional funding is needed beyond the bond to ensure that BART remains an accessible, equitable, and viable alternative to car ownership.
Drawing from his four decades of experience as a politician, Dufty said that he would lobby for funding at the state and federal level.
“The federal government is locked away from transit operations,” said Dufty. “We need leadership to go to Washington and say … ‘we need to be investing in transit operations.’”
Petrelis said that he is in favor of taxing “the banks and tech companies” that benefit from their proximity to BART stations.
“Many of them are getting a free ride, and that has to end,” he said.
But Will Roscoe, an engineer who is running to represent District 7, which includes parts of the Bayview, Mission Bay, SoMA, and the East Bay, said that while immediate funding for upgrades is necessary, he urged voters to “think beyond the tracks’ in terms of the transit system’s future in the Bay Area.
“We can’t assume that same technology that’s been available since industrial age is going to serve the transit agency when we have self driving cars today,” he said. “We need to think much bigger than dumping money into this same technology that was available before dial up internet.”
Despite varying backgrounds and visions, harmony reigned among the District 9 contenders, whom one audience member described as being “best friends.”
“We have a lot of agreement between the three of us,” said Petrelis, adding that his real gripe is directed at BART board president, Tom Radulovich, whom he is currently vying to replace.
The Mission resident’s campaign began two years ago when Petrelis “grew dissatisfied with the unsanitary conditions at the 16th and Mission Streets BART Plaza,” which include pigeon waste, debris, and dirt. After two decades on the board, Radulovich announced last month that he will not be seeking re-election.
Petrelis has been crusading for sanitary improvements at the plaza, involving Public Works and other public agencies himself when his requests for service went unanswered at the BART Board, he said.
Borden too said that she would focus on sanitization, but also on equity.
“Cleanliness of stations is at its worst,” said Borden, adding the district’s new director must think about “how we are responding to our low-income population.”
Borden, who currently serves on the board of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, said she would focus on decreasing fares and extending subsidies regionally to target low-income commuters outside of San Francisco.
Lateefah Simon, a youth advocate and candidate for District 7, said that she would push for the creation of”transit-oriented housing across all metro stations” to ensure equity.
Candidates differed, however, on their perspective on labor unions.
When asked about his position on transit worker strikes, incumbent District 7 director Zakhary Mallett, who recalled two labor strikes that crippled public transportation in 2013, said that he would work to ban them.
“I feel that transit workers going on strike creates a profound impact on most vulnerable populations and disable them from getting to work,” he said.
Dufty, who said that he is running as a “pro-labor candidate,” disagreed.
“I’m disappointed that some of current leadership of the BART board sought to vilify working people who have the right to bargain and to strike if their bargaining efforts are being met with resistance,” he said.
San Francisco voters will decide on November 8 which candidates will best represent them and their districts on these issues.