The Wall of Shame
When Public Agencies Ignore the Public

After the badly mismanaged closing of the parking for Capitol Corridor and Amtrak passengers at the Richmond station, TRANSDEF wrote a the most critical letter it had ever written, asking for letters of reprimand for the managers responsible. The Capitol Corridor Joint Powers Authority (CCJPA), the body that controls the Capitol Corridor service, responded with a bland letter that deflected attention away from the charges made, without actually saying anything in response.

As CCJPA contracts with BART to operate its service, CCJPA’s management staff are BART employees. TRANSDEF’s original letter had been addressed to the Boards of both the CCJPA and BART. However, BART did not reply. TRANSDEF then sent this
follow-up letter to BART, which included the assertion:

“BART's Amtrak parking program is a perfect demonstration of much that is wrong with Bay Area transit. It bears the deep imprint of a staff trained to think in siloes. This kind of thinking results in disconnections and gaps, which force the region to develop [the] Seamless Transit [program] as an antidote.”

After a series of TRANSDEF emails, including the one immediately below, BART finally responded with this
non-responsive blow-off letter.

Email to BART1
Email to BART2

What’s interesting about the BART Assistant General Manager’s letter is the absence of any substantive response to TRANSDEF’s letter and emails, and the implication that providing information for an individual user’s needs was somehow an adequate response to the specific policy-based criticisms expressed by a transit advocacy organization. This is unthinkable, given the allegation of a violation of the Title VI anti-discrimination regulations and the inclusion of a BART director in the email chain.

It is clear that, having sent TRANSDEF these two letters, CCJPA and BART consider the matter closed and have made it perfectly clear that they are unwilling to engage in any kind of self-evaluation--or effort to correct their shortcomings.

Caltrans and TAM
The Transportation Authority of Marin (TAM) and Caltrans were very slow in recognizing and responding to the trend in the Eastbound backup leading to the Richmond-San Rafael Bridge, ignoring it for at least four years, and only then proceeding with a solution that will finally be open to traffic in 2017. This led to TRANSDEF proposing in 2015 an Interim Opening of the Third Lane on the Bridge. Apparently at Caltrans’ direction, TAM responded with a non-responsive dismissive letter, and then supplemented it with more detailed non-responsive dismissive letter.

The most interesting quality of these letters is their refusal to acknowledge the urgent need to respond to the congestion created by the agencies’ past failure to act on the obvious trend of increasing congestion. Instead of responding to specific elements of the proposal, which by their nature were intended to be an
interim response to crippling congestion, the letters followed the grand agency tradition of “Announce & Defend.” The responses defend the project the agencies are building, rather than address the interim proposal. Instead of honestly stating that they were unwilling to consider an interim proposal, the letters provide a pseudo-response that appears to consider the individual elements of the proposal. The letters did not--and could not--provide reasons for not implementing the individual elements on an interim basis.

Another way of thinking about the responses is that the agencies remain fixed on their project, and not on the specific real world problem that they themselves created through inattention and inaction. Their focus on minimizing harm to San Quentin Village and East San Rafael entirely ignores the plight of the thousands of drivers they are leaving needlessly stuck in traffic. Speaking psychologically, it would appear that the people in charge are out of touch with the responsibility they bear for the actual experience of road users.

Interestingly, one of the main excuses for delay is the need to conduct environmental review. When asked to explain why studies were needed to support a categorical exemption from CEQA review (the whole point of which is to eliminate the need for studies), MTC obfuscated and refused to provide an explicit rationale.