Skip to main content
Politics & Policy

Warning of ‘death spiral,’ lawmakers seek $2B tax hike for transit

A man speaks at a podium with the California Senate seal; listeners and a protest sign are behind him.
State Sens. Scott Wiener and Aisha Wahab are proposing a ballot measure for 2026 to bring in up to $2 billion for regional transportation agencies. | Source: Loren Elliott for The Standard

To stanch the fiscal wounds that have roiled Bay Area transportation since the start of the pandemic, two Bay Area lawmakers are proposing a ballot measure for November 2026 that would inject massive funding into regional transit agencies.

Senate Bill 1031 would amass between $750 million and $2 billion a year through taxes to beef up funding across the nine Bay Area counties in an attempt to avoid service cuts and improve roadways.

The legislation would also call for a plan to consolidate at least some of the 27 transit operators across the region in response to years of mounting complaints from riders who have described the labyrinth of bureaucratic agencies as confusing and a barrier to better service.

“We need to keep moving,” said state Sen. Scott Wiener at a press conference on Monday at San Francisco’s Powell BART Station. “We need to have as strong a transportation system as possible.”

The bill would first need to pass at the state level before heading to the ballot box. It could pull from a variety of funding streams that include sales, business payroll or parcel taxes. The rate at which those taxes could increase would be decided by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.

The legislation comes as post-pandemic ridership continues to climb but has struggled to fully recover in the face of work-from-home trends that have significantly impacted potential commuters.

A woman speaks at a rally holding a model bus, with protesters and signs saying "Fund Transit Now" in the background.
State Sen. Aisha Wahab (D-Silicon Valley) speaks at a press conference about Senate Bill 1031 at Hallidie Plaza in San Francisco on Monday. | Source: Loren Elliott for The Standard

Across the entire region, public transportation services are only seeing about two-thirds as many riders compared to pre-2020 levels, according to Metropolitan Transportation Commission spokesperson Rebecca Long. Recovery figures vary for specific agencies: BART is at 45% of pre-pandemic ridership, while Muni is at 70%.

“We’re building a legacy of transit that will bring the Bay Area forward,” said state Sen. Aisha Wahab, who is co-sponsoring the bill with Wiener.

Without a boost in funding, transit advocates on Monday warned of a “death spiral” whereby service cuts could further diminish ridership, leading to ever-worsening budget crises. The commission estimated that Bay Area transit operators will face a budget deficit of at least $600 million if new funding doesn’t come through.

State legislators have tried to get more funding for transit in recent years. Lawmakers recently put $400 million from state coffers into Bay Area agencies to help avoid a fiscal cliff, but that funding will dry up by mid-2026.

“We were able to avoid that reckoning for a few years,” Wiener said. “But people are also demanding more reliable and safer service.”

The legislative effort announced Monday would also include a variety of capital improvements, including zero-emission vehicles, pothole repairs and more bicycle routes.

Chonita Chew, a Berkeley resident who helps advocate for seniors seeking better transit options, told The Standard that Wiener and Wahab’s bill will help provide a vital service for her community but will likely take a lot of heavy lifting on behalf of elected officials and organizers to see to completion.

“It’s going to be so long before they work out all the tweaks,” Chew said. “For all these seniors, by the time they work out all the tweaks, it’ll be ready to roll for them.”

Correction: An earlier version of this story misstated the ridership recovery figures for BART and Muni.