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Sen. Josh Becker has introduced a bill that would require Bay Area transit agencies to coordinate their fare structures and schedules in an effort to entice riders back to public transit.

Senate Bill 917 would require the Metropolitan Transportation Commission and the region’s 27 transit agencies to utilize a universal fare system, coordinate their schedules and develop a single transit map and trip planning system by mid-2024.

Becker, D-San Mateo, noted that the transit agencies operating across the Bay Area’s nine counties have multiple different fare structures, discount and loyalty programs and trip planning systems and lack integrated schedules and live transit data.

As a result, he argued, transferring between multiple public transit systems can be unreliable and leave riders waiting for needlessly long periods of time.

“Right now, riding transit in our region can be a disjointed and unreliable experience,” Becker said. “This legislation will help transform our system into a world-class, seamless experience for the public, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving access to jobs and housing for residents.”

“This legislation will help transform our system into a world-class, seamless experience for the public, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and improving access to jobs and housing for residents.”

Sen. Josh Becker

Becker also argued that making transit across the region more seamless would help entice riders back to systems that have seen significant ridership drops since the pandemic began.

Even before 2020, however, transit ridership across the Bay Area was flagging. According to Becker’s office, transit ridership fell 5.2 percent across the region between 2016 and 2018 and just 12 percent of the Bay Area’s residents have used public transit for their commute since 1970.

“We must act quickly to entice riders back to public transit and put the rider experience front and center,” Becker said.

A fair fare

SB 917’s requirement of a streamlined fare structure would help mitigate the so-called “transfer penalty,” when riders must pay a fare for each individual transit system they enter, regardless of the length of each segment of their trip and even if they use a fare system like Clipper that is available across multiple transit agencies.

According to Becker, the bill would require the universal fare system to include free transfers between local systems, like the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, and regional ones like BART.

The MTC has already endorsed fare integration between transit agencies and formed a Fare Integration Task Force in early 2020 to oversee studies of a potential universal fare system.

Becker argued that riders are already benefiting from inter-agency coordination as Caltrain and BART have aligned their schedules at Millbrae Station and Golden Gate Transit now provides local service within San Francisco.

The bill is supported by regional transit and business groups, including the Bay Area Council and the transportation think tank SPUR.

“As we move past COVID, it’s critical we get commuters back on public transit,” Bay Area Council President and CEO Jim Wunderman said. “Making transit as easy, affordable and convenient for everyone to use is paramount in that effort and better integrating fares is one of the most cost-effective, common-sense tools for making that happen,”

Co-authors include Assembly members Bill Quirk, D-Hayward; Kevin Mullin, D-South San Francisco; Alex Lee, D-San Jose; Marc Levine, D-San Rafael; and Phil Ting, D-San Francisco; and Sens. Bill Dodd, D-Napa; and Scott Wiener, D-San Francisco.

The Senate’s Transportation Committee is expected to begin discussing SB 917 this spring.