Funding Public Transit in Santa Cruz County
Updated: Apr 27, 2022
The Need Is Clear Modern transportation experts agree on a few things:
Providing a robust public transit system is the only way to transform communities into more equitable, more sustainable and more economically vibrant places benefitting everyone.
Innovative new and equitable funding sources are required. Traditional funding sources such as gas and sales taxes are unlikely to provide sufficient funds to create the robust public transit systems needed.
The above axioms are true for Santa Cruz County. The levels of traffic congestion and commute times are unbearable. GHG emissions from transportation account for the majority of our emissions and continue to rise. People and the planet are suffering. We need a more robust public transit system. Adding passenger rail transit to our bus system will increase county-wide use of public transit from 13,700 trips to 34,200 trips every single day according to the RTC’s recent Transit Corridor Alternatives Analysis (TCAA). Pursuant to the TCAA, the RTC wisely selected electric passenger rail as the locally preferred alternative for impl ementation in the rail corridor. To fund this 150% increase in public transit ridership, local funds will be needed to match available state and federal funding. The RTC’s draft TCAA Business Plan states that besides a traditional sales tax, other sources of local funds include “funds from vehicle levy or registration fees, local fuel tax, property tax, income tax, transient occupancy tax, student fees, vehicle miles traveled charges, and parking fees.” What the Business Plan doesn’t say is how to move forward. Solutions Proactive communities are leading the way in finding the equitable “how” to fund expansions of public transit. One of the most successful strategies is the “collaborative” model utilized by the City of Portland in its Pricing Options for Equitable Mobility (POEM) project, grounded in a commitment to Transportation Justice.
One of the most amazing things about Portland's community-wide effort is that its final report outlines seven near-term and three long-term funding strategies and of these strategies, none involves a sales tax. It should come as no surprise; the final report was unanimously adopted by the Portland City Council with direction to staff to implement the recommendations. The benefits of improving our public transportation system are so numerous, it is short-sighted and unjust to delay finding the funding to transform our transportation system into the more equitable, sustainable and economically just system we want and need. Let’s take advantage of the tremendously creative energy in our community and go to work on a “POEM” project of our own.
Draft TCAA/RNIS Business Plan, 2020, p.6-12