San Mateo Daily Journal: Bureaucratic waste takes toll on many Bay Area workers

lydia kou bridge toll san mateo daily journal

This article originally appeared in the San Mateo Daily Journal

By: Lydia Kou

The politicians in Sacramento are racing to enact a new bridge toll hike that will cost workers commuting regularly across our Bay Area bridges up to an additional $375 every year — in addition to the $1,750 they pay now.

And why force Bay Area workers to pay more? The simple answer is because politicians are refusing to do their jobs — rooting out the waste, fraud and costly inefficiency in Bay Area transit agencies.

The additional $1.50 per toll will, as usual, hit working families the hardest. The janitor who must come to work when transit isn’t running, the teacher, bus driver, small businessperson struggling to make ends meet — they are being asked to subsidize the unconscionable waste and duplication in the Bay Area’s transit systems.

There are 27 separate Bay Area transit agencies, which means massive duplication of highly paid staff. The SamTrans executive director alone makes $352,000 per year and received a $20,000 signing bonus. The BART general manager started in 2019 at a salary of $385,000 — plus $62,500 in benefits. Not every agency pays as much, but multiply bureaucratic salaries like this across 27 separate agencies and the cost reaches tens of millions.

News reports have consistently shown that the transit agencies are refusing to get their own house in order when it comes to rooting out costly fraud, with BART being the greatest offender. The agency refused to fund its own inspector general so she could do her job, but even without adequate funding she was uncovering insider dealing and outright wage theft. A bill to demand accountability from state Sen. Steve Glazer was vetoed last year.

This illegal waste and fraud are in addition to the transparent waste embraced by local politicians — like the nearly $7 billion they want us to pay to extend Caltrain from the current Mission Bay station to San Francisco’s nearly empty downtown (you read that right — billion with a B) even though the existing station was just linked to the downtown with a Muni subway.

The transit agencies had plenty of warning during the three years since COVID, but they continued their wasteful ways, and now they are asking hard-working commuters to pay the bill.

We should say “no” — not because we want to defund vital transit, but because now is the time to demand the agencies, and the politicians who fund them, reform their wasteful ways.

There is no reason that the Bay Area should have 27 separate bureaucracies overseeing transit. There should be one. The benefits are clear.

Beyond the savings of eliminating literally hundreds of duplicative bureaucratic positions, one agency will be dramatically more efficient. Right now, for example, you have half-empty AC Transit buses competing with half-empty BART trains.

Consolidate. Use the buses to feed into rail with one fast and seamless system that works better for everyone and cuts back on traffic across our major bridges. Have one fare system. One route map. One seamless transit experience.

The politicians are promising to do better in the future and they say that the bridge toll hike is only for five years. We’ve heard that story many times before.

They are kicking the can down the road, refusing to take on the agencies to demand accountability and consolidation, and we are paying the price.

We need to say “no” to costly bureaucratic waste and duplication and “yes” to commonsense and change by embracing consolidation and reform, not making hard-working commuters fund failure.

We’re fighting back – and we need your help. Join us and sign our petition to say “No bridge toll hikes to fund bureaucratic waste” here.

Changing the status quo that isn’t delivering for our communities starts with changing the culture of sending the same people to Sacramento again and again. If you agree, join our campaign for change today