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MIJ: Will rising gas prices drive Marin voters to SMART?
Sunday 29 Jun 2008, 01:09
Filed under: Marin, Railroad, SMART, Sonoma, transit

Staff Report
Article Launched: 06/29/2008 12:02:36 AM PDT

SUBURBAN AMERICA may finally have reached the day when the cost of gasoline makes traveling by single passenger auto financially prohibitive.

The problem is that we have put ourselves in a box with few alternatives. Electric-powered cars and readily available affordable biofuels are decades away and there’s only an inadequate transit network to pick up the slack.

Like most suburbs, the North Bay built its public transit for those too old, sick or poor to drive; the so-called “transit dependent.” With the exception of Golden Gate’s well-conceived bus and ferry commute to San Francisco’s Financial District, local bus service was never envisioned to provide Sonoma and Marin residents with a practical way to travel within or between the two counties.

The truth is you generally can’t get from here to there by bus and when you can, it’s inconvenient.

Even if auto commuters decide en masse to convert to transit, there isn’t capacity to carry them. The current scheme was built to transport a relatively small number of riders. While current buses and ferries can handle a few more passengers, neither Golden Gate, Sonoma nor Marin Transit is prepared for a major influx of patronage.

I had thought that the one valid objection to building SMART (Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit) was that potential ridership would be insufficient to justify its cost. Foolish me. Now, the concern is whether SMART will have sufficient capacity to meet demand in a world of $5-$6- or even $7-gas.

Unfortunately, Americans were so welded to their auto-centered lifestyle that they trusted the Bush administration to get us out of this hole with promises of cheap Middle East oil. As a result, we have frittered away eight years with nary a step taken to devise alternatives.

Funding new methods of mobility or technological innovation will be the major quandary. There was a time when we could have imposed a gas surcharge to pay for these internal improvements.

Instead, we thoughtlessly allowed the money generated by the four-fold petroleum price increase to fund Iran, Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. We ended up using the cash to sustain tyrants rather than preparing us for a petro-doomsday.

Don’t think Barack Obama will turn this mess around in a nanosecond. It will take a decade to bring any meaningful solution to fruition.

North Bay leaders now need to do their part extricating us from this morass by devising a midrange transit strategy designed to get average folks conveniently to jobs, schools and shops.

That was Golden Gate Transit’s mission in the early 1970s, when it went into the transbay bus and ferry business. SMART is part of the solution, but by no means the entire answer.

Now, with oil at $140 per barrel, we must bring in experts to draft a workable scenario to move us within and between Marin and Sonoma without being tied exclusively to the gas guzzler.

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