The quiet environs of San Ramon are often described as a world away from bustling San Francisco, but for commuters trying to travel between the two places, the gap is more literal than figurative.
Only 21 percent of suburban commuters in the San Francisco metropolitan area are able to arrive at their jobs via transit within 90 minutes of leaving their homes, according to a new report released by the Brookings Institution, a national research organization. San Jose, a city often derided as sprawling and car-dependent, fared much better than San Francisco, with 45.5 percent of its suburban commuters able to reach their jobs by transit in less than 90 minutes.
The Brookings study combined transit access rates when traveling to urban cores and the suburban cities in their metro areas. Overall, 35 percent of commuters in the San Francisco region could reach their job in 90 minutes, significantly lower than San Jose’s 61.3 percent mark.
Adie Tomer, a researcher who helped compile the report, said the sprawling area that makes up the San Francisco metro region — which includes Fremont and Oakland — contributes to the lower access rating. San Jose’s metro area, which includes Sunnyvale and Santa Clara, is geographically smaller.
However, Tomer said, the San Francisco metro region lacks key suburban bus lines, which would allow commuters to travel directly to their jobs. Instead, many have to travel on circuitous routes between their workplaces and homes.
The vast array of transit agencies in the region is another factor hampering access for commuters, Tomer said. Commuting between the East Bay and San Francisco often requires several transfers on different public
Still, Tomer noted that San Francisco stacks up favorably with other metro regions. Of the 100 cities studied, San Francisco’s transit access rates ranked 18th.
He said the region’s situation could be improved by increasing private investment around transit centers. Also, local lawmakers could push to devote more funding for public transportation.
“Obviously, these are still hard times,” Tomer said. “But not investing in transportation will only lead to more lost productivity.”
John Goodwin, spokesman for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, the lead planning agency in the Bay Area, said efforts are under way to improve transit access for commuters. A new BART expansion project in the East Bay — called eBART — will help reduce travel times for workers heading to downtown San Francisco. Also, more bus feeder routes are being established for business centers outside urban zones, such as Bishop Ranch in San Ramon.
While the MTC has long discussed consolidating some transit agencies in the region, Goodwin didn’t think the Brookings Institution reflected the need for that plan.
“This is talking about using transit to get to urban job centers,” Goodwin said. “But our transit systems are asked to get people to school, medical appointments, recreation events and shopping outlets. There needs to be transit systems set up for all these purposes.”