Passenger Rail Forums

Creating an Integrated Transportation Network in the North Bay

“SMART is the spine around which all other transit operators will be able to optimize their service.” -Tom Matoff, LTK

On May 19, 2005, Friends of SMART held their third in a series of community forums on rail transportation in the North Bay. Guest speaker Tom Matoff discussed the importance of integrating rail and bus service. Drawing on his experience with the San Francisco Muni system, Portland’s Tri-Met, and as former General Manager of the Sacramento Regional Transit Agency, where he implemented the timed transfer service that helped make Light Rail succeed, he pointed out that successful transit service depends on the ability of riders to easily transfer from one bus or rail line to another in a well-designed network. Matoff explained, transit integration is important because trip patterns are often diverse and transit riders often will need to transfer to another system to get to their destination. . . .  When regional transit operators approach their planning from a network perspective, even lower density suburban communities can achieve high levels of transit ridership.
Matoff outlined four key points of integration that optimize the service provided by all transit operators:

Schedule coordination – Transit riders can easily transfer from one line to another when average waiting time is under about seven minutes. Convenient connections result either from very frequent service, or from a carefully timed transfer plan. To permit timed transfers, the frequency of bus and train operations must either be identical or the longer frequency must be a multiple of the shorter (i.e., the bus runs every 15 minutes and the train runs on a 30 minute schedule). This enables the train to arrive at the same time buses arrive at the station, enabling transit riders to efficiently transfer from one mode to another.

Common fare structures and instruments – An integrated bus-rail system will utilize common fare structures (e.g. zone pricing and fare tracking) and fare instruments (e.g. tickets, fast passes, SMART cards) that are accepted by all of the carriers. These instruments support easy transfers between buses, trains, and ferries.

Common stations – By sharing stations, transit operators optimize the ease with which transit riders are able to get from one mode to another. Rail, bus and ferries stations should be designed to enable transit riders to get from one transit mode to another, including: direct pathways from one platform to another and good signage.

Combined Marketing – Finally, participating carriers in an integrated transit system will need to make a joint, concerted effort to educate and inform traditional and non-traditional transit riders about the convenience and ease associated with using transit, and transferring from line to line. Matoff emphasized that, “Systems that are designed to avoid transfers are designed to avoid patronage.”

Tom Matoff, former General Manager of the Sacramento Regional Transit Agency, is now Director of Transportation Planning, LTK Engineering Services, Sacramento Office.


SMART and the Environment

In 2006 Friends of SMART explored issues of sustainability, climate protection, and sprawl with David Erickson of the Climate Protection Campaign, David Schonbrunn of Transportation Solutions Defense and Education Fund, John Holzclaw of the Sierra Club, San Rafael City Planner Linda Jackson , and Novato Redevelopment Administrator Ron Gerber. At the February Forum, Erickson reviewed the trends toward global climate change, and the importance of non-governmental actions. The formidable goal is to reach a zero greenhouse gas emission state within fifty years. Policies that would promote development of walk-able transit hubs and reduce driving, especially of single-occupant vehicles are most important. Re-urbanization of thinly developed city cores, and preventing growth at the edges of communities is a key strategy.

Schonbrunn pointed out the problems that can result when decisions by city councils respond to development interests that look for low-cost building sites on the edge of town instead of strengthening energy efficient city centers. The demand for roads, sewer, and other services can strain the city’s financial capacity, and people need to drive nearly everywhere they go instead of walking or bicycling. He suggested that efforts should be focused on reducing long distance driving, charging market rates for parking, and discouraging further greenfield development.

At the May Forum, John Holzclaw, a consultant to the Sierra Club, reviewed his research into the ways that compact, transit-rich neighborhoods encourage people to walk rather than driving automobiles.  Driving predominates in neighborhoods where there are fewer than five homes per acre, whereas people are much more inclined to walk when there are twenty homes per acre. Planners Linda Jackson and Ron Gerber described the ways that city policies can encourage more compact development, particularly through establishment of rail service.

The discussion that followed the February presentation mentioned transfers of development rights as one tool that has been used with some success in other states and in the Tahoe Basin. The proposed Sonoma Mountain development east of Cotati projects a 40% reduction in auto use by residents. The safe routes to schools project has demonstrated that travel habits can be changed through well planned local efforts.

Dave Erickson is a graduate of the Energy Management and Design Program at Sonoma State University. He has 24 years of engineering experience, and works with the Climate Protection Campaign, developing solutions that permit governments and businesses to cost-effectively reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

David Schonbrunn is President of the Transportation Solutions Defense and Education Fund, advocates for better solutions to transportation problems in the Bay Area. It promotes cost-effective transit, Smart Growth, and market-based pricing as preferred responses to traffic congestion that reduce dependence on the private automobile.

John Holzclaw is a consultant in transportation, urban development, energy consumption and air quality. His recent research, for the Surface Transportation Policy Project, the Natural Resources Defense Council, and the Center for Neighborhood Technology, has shown how much people reduce their reliance on cars when they live in compact residential neighborhoods with good transit service, and streets that attract pedestrians and cyclists.

Linda Jackson is long-range planner for the City of San Rafael. She participated in the zoning process that led to transformation of Downtown San Rafael into one of the more vibrant places in the Bay Area, and was project manager for the new General Plan that expanded housing opportunities in transit-oriented areas of the city.

Ron Gerber is Redevelopment and Economic Development Administrator for the City of Novato. He has overseen the Whole Foods mixed use project near the historic Novato Depot that may serve as a pattern for other transit oriented infill housing and commercial activities in the SMART Corridor.


The Passenger Rail Forum is a joint project of Friends of SMART and the Marin and Sonoma County Leagues of Women Voters. These forums provide a meeting ground for people interested in restoring passenger rail service in the North Bay and a chance to hear from those involved in various aspects of transit development.

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