Tilly Chang, Executive Director of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority, on the evolution of transit
As the San Francisco’s economy booms with the growth of the tech industry and the Bay Area’s population continues to increase, more strain has been put on transportation systems in recent years than ever before.
Tilly Chang has been the Executive Director of the San Francisco County Transportation Authority (CTA) since 2013; during her time in the position, she has seen an “exponential” increase in ridership on Bay Area Regional Transit (BART), Caltrain, and San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency (MUNI) systems.
While Chang is working on long-term expansion plans and demand management strategies such as shifting some travelers to certain modes of transportation in different time periods, she also believes that cross-sector collaboration and the adoption of new technologies will be crucial in solving capacity issues in public transportation.
“We’re working to raise revenues and increase capacity, but it’s going to take time,” said Chang. “New technologies are opening up options — and they are testing some of our policy frameworks, but I believe our policy frameworks are quite durable.”
In coming months and years, San Francisco is working to build out its rail and subway system, as well as to increase vehicle fleets and prioritize bus service to come at even more regular intervals. However, Chang says, this is really only “buying time” before implementing “a whole new transit network vision.”
“Given our current funding situation, coming up with smaller solutions is important, even as we plan projects that could create quantum leaps in capacity,” she said.
According to Chang — who served as the SF CTA’s deputy director for planning for over a decade prior to becoming executive director — part of San Francisco’s transportation planning strategy as a city has been to make it as clear as possible what the goals are and to invite all partners to help achieve them, whether it’s a neighboring jurisdiction, a city government, or the private sector.
“Nowadays, the complexity is not just within our sector, but embedded in the larger social questions we face: How do we make more equitable communities? How do we increase communication between public agencies and the communities we serve?” noted Chang. “We need to have the ability to listen to all sides providing input and sharing different perspectives, to add to the data that we collect. That’s why we’re able to respond rather robustly; we bring in a holistic analysis of how the system is performing from many angles.”
Analyzing new transit changes in San Francisco — brought about by new technologies and service providers — Chang asks: “Is it good for the city? Is this meeting our needs, helping us have a livable, affordable, safe city, promoting economic vitality?”
Recently, the City of San Francisco was a finalist in the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Smart City Challenge; though the city ultimately lost to Columbus, Ohio, there may still be many opportunities to implement the extensive work done by the city in collaboration with UC Berkeley.
“We have always been committed to these innovations, and continue to be committed to them,” said Chang. “We’re continuing to move forward with our safety agenda, applying technologies to reduce and eliminate severe injury and death from traffic fatalities in our street improvement projects.”
While building out the San Francisco Bay Area’s transportation systems will be an ongoing, resource-heavy project, much work is already being done to make transit systems safer and easier to navigate, as well as to better use cutting-edge research to create data-driven policies.