DR: There’s always an emphasis on personal transportation. How do you kick start public transportation and more dense settlements? Did you guys make steps toward that in California?
TT: We did. While Prop 87 was going down in flames a week ago, the $60 billion bond package for California infrastructure was passing, with several billion for mass transit. That’s a first, because California’s like most states — it’s up to local transit agencies to pay for buses or light rail. California partnered with local communities for the first time in helping to build clean mass transit. You’ve got a governor who understands that. I mean, he’s European; he wants to make sure we have not only a good light-rail system, like Los Angeles, but when you get to the end of the light rail, there’s something more than a Park and Ride. There are feeder buses, bike paths.
To be honest, he got laughed at by his own Department of Finance when he said, "I want to put money in the budget for bike paths." The Department of Finance came back and said, "It turns out we’ve got 10 or 20 million bucks in here for CalTrans to put bike paths along various rights of way, and they haven’t spent it yet. So Governor, we shouldn’t be allocating more." He said, "Goddamnit, I want that money spent, and then I want another $30 million. And I want that kind of money put into every year’s budget, to help people use their bikes, and to make it more attractive." So yeah, we are trying to do that kind of stuff in California.
DR: Interurban public transit, from big city to big city, is the huge missing piece.
TT: Unfortunately, there again we have big forces at play. When the high-speed rail authority in California qualified the bond measure to put a bond on the ballot to build high-speed rail from north to south California, Herb Kelleher, who was the chief executive of Southwest, said, "We’ve got a $20 million war chest sitting here at Southwest to advertise against that and kill it if it ever comes in front of the voters."
To this day it hasn’t come in front of voters, despite being authorized. Every time there’s a poll taken, people aren’t sure they want to spend $12 or $15 million in public money on a rail line, albeit a fancy, high-speed rail. You’ve got some real problems there.
There were some cheaper things we were starting to look into in California, such as the corridor from San Francisco to Sacramento. There’s a great train service on it now, but it only runs ’til 8:00 at night. If you want to go into downtown San Francisco to go to meetings, then maybe to dinner with friends, you’ve got to be done by about 6:00 to catch the BART out to catch the last train to Sacramento. So people drive. It’s a matter of just extending service on some of these rail lines.
In many cases, the public transportation part of rail lines is painfully slow because commuter trains always take a back seat to the freight trains. Because it take a day and a half to go from Los Angeles to San Francisco by train, nobody does it. So in a few places, with a few million bucks we can build turnouts so the commuter trains can pass the freight trains without one having to stop.
I’m hoping in the next term my colleagues will act on some of this.