Association’s State Legislative Program Protects Riders, Workers

Association-sponsored legislation would improve safety for transit workers, riders, and the public. Will the Legislature approve these bills?

By Arianna Smith
Managing Editor
Transit California 

Every two-year session, Senators and Assemblymembers in the California Legislature introduce thousands of bills to create new laws or change existing ones, and the Governor signs several hundred into law.  This year, the Association’s legislative program includes sponsorship of two bills. As the year progresses, it will also include the adoption of positions in support or opposition to other legislation impacting transit agencies statewide, as directed by the Association’s State Legislative Committee. 

Sponsored Legislation

For the 2024 legislative session, the Association is co-sponsoring two safety-focused measures.

Assembly Bill 1904, authored by Assemblymember Chris Ward (D-San Diego), makes it safer and simpler for transit bus operators to merge back into surrounding traffic after making stops. The measure, which is co-sponsored by the Association and the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System, would reduce service delays and improve traffic safety through a high-visibility fix: it would allow agencies to equip their buses with flashing LED yield right-of-way signs or static decal yield signs.  

“Transit buses currently face many delays when attempting to re-enter traffic after stopping to let passengers on at bus stops,” said Assemblymember Ward. “AB 1904 will give all California transit agencies the authority to equip buses with yield signs to signal drivers, improving safety and the overall reliability of transit schedules. I’m proud to carry this important piece of legislation with the Association as a co-sponsor.”

The Santa Cruz Metropolitan Transit District (Santa Cruz METRO and the Santa Clara Valley Transit Authority (VTA) received authorization to add yield signage to buses through 2008 legislation authored by then-Assemblymember John Laird (D- Santa Cruz). The Association wrote in support at the time, “[T]his bill will raise awareness and enhance safety on the roadways between motorists and transit buses, which make frequent stops along routes. The Association contends that both VTA and SCMTD had a positive experience with a similar program in the past and showed improved operations along heavily congested routes where buses were having problems navigating back into traffic after a stop.”

AB 1904 would allow all transit agencies in California to authorize this update. The measure has been referred to the Assembly Transportation Committee and will likely be heard in mid-March.

Assembly Bill 2824, introduced by Assemblymember Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento), is the second Association-sponsored measure in 2024. The Association is co-sponsoring this bill with the San Diego Metropolitan Transit System, Sacramento Regional Transit District, California Conference Board of the Amalgamated Transit Union, and Transit Workers Union. 

It reflects the hard work of the Association’s Transit Operator and Rider Safety Subcommittee on best practices to protect transit workers and riders from assault and battery.

The Subcommittee was established in 2023 to support member agencies working to improve the enforcement of violations on transit systems or those that may impact transit service. In its work, the Subcommittee has ecplored policies that could expand the use of temporary or permanent “prohibition orders,” which some agencies use to ban certain individuals from using their transit systems, including those who commit serious crimes like violence against employees or passengers, or those who repeatedly commit infractions that affect public health like urinating or defecating on agency property.  Some agencies have used these orders effectively since they were initially established in state law in the early 2010s. The Subcommittee has also explored policies that would increase fines and penalties for certain crimes committed against transit workers.  

The language in print does not yet reflect the full policy proposal and would be amended into the bill in the coming weeks. (Authors sometimes introduce bills  to meet legislative deadlines while continuing to work on bill language with stakeholders.) The bill is likely to be referred to the Assembly Public Safety Committee, which is chaired by Assemblymember McCarty, and it will be heard in March or April. 

"Safety is always the top priority for Association member agencies. This year's sponsored bills reflect our prime focus on keeping our riders, operators, and local communities safe," said Alchemy Graham, Legislative and Regulatory Advocate for the Association. "We're looking forward to working with Assemblymember Ward to make buses across the state safer with new traffic safety features. We're also excited to collaborate with Assemblymember McCarty to secure new protections for our riders and operators."

Additional 2024 policy goals that may become Association-supported legislation include pursuing priority access to electricity for transit agencies during grid disruptions, addressing homelessness on transit systems, and improving driver testing, certification, and licensing timeframes.

What Else is the Association Watching?

In addition to sponsored and supported legislation, the Association is taking part in the policy discussions of several recently introduced measures.

As currently written, Senate Bill 960 (Wiener) would require Caltrans’ Director of Transportation to adopt a policy on “transit priority projects,” which would be defined to include roadway designs, operations, enforcement actions, treatments, and projects “to help transit buses and other transit vehicles avoid traffic congestion, reduce signal delays, and move more predictably and reliably” on state-owned roads. Caltrans and the California Transportation Commission (CTC) would also be required to establish 4- and 10-year targets for transit vehicles on state highways, as well as for the state highway operation and protection program (SHOPP) asset management plan to prioritize the implementation of comfortable, convenient, and connected facilities for pedestrians, bicyclists, and transit users on all projects in while repealing the existing requirement for the CTC to adopt targets and performance measures. The Association does not currently have a position on the measure, but advocates will continue to engage with the author’s office and with stakeholders, as well as to monitor amendments. The Association may take a position later in the legislative process as the bill moves forward and gets amended.

Another bill that the Association is reviewing but has not yet taken a position on is Assembly Bill 2503 (Lee), which proposes to exempt railroad electrification projects and railroad siding projects from the requirements of the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA).

Finally, many Association members followed legislation amended in January 2024 to direct the California State Transportation Agency (CalSTA) to consolidate all Bay Area transit agencies (Senate Bill 397 (Wahab)). The Legislature did not take that measure up for a vote due to legislative deadlines, it cannot be considered during the remainder of the current legislative session. However, discussions about proposals continue regarding transit agency consolidation as a potential means of addressing ridership recovery and agency fiscal solvency.  Following the demise of Senate Bill 397, the bill’s author introduced Senate Bill 926 (Wahab), an identical measure. Additionally, Assembly Bill 1837 (Papan) states the intent of the Legislature to “subsequent legislation to encourage coordination and collaboration among transit agencies in the San Francisco Bay area,” and it may be amended to include greater detail in the coming months. The Association has carried forward its position on Senate Bill 397 to Senate Bill 936, but has not taken a position on Assembly Bill 1837.

The Association remains engaged in these discussions with guidance from the Bay Area membership agencies. The Association also remains deeply involved in the work of the recently established Transit Transformation Task Force, which includes 12 individuals representing Association member agencies, and which will provide recommendations in 2025 regarding long-term statewide transit operational needs. In anticipation of these recommendations, currently the Association maintains that legislative action to consider agency consolidation remains premature.

All measures introduced during the 2023-24 legislative session must pass the Legislature by August 31 for consideration by the Governor. Measures signed into law by the Governor will take effect on January 1, 2025 unless a later date is set in the bill.

We encourage you to follow the Association’s legislation tracker for information on all current transit and transportation-related bills of interest.

This year is the second year in the 2023-24 session, so bills that do not pass the Legislature this year must be reintroduced in the 2025-2026 session, after new legislators have been elected and sworn into office.  Such bills would be required to start the approval process from the very beginning.

How Does the Association Take Legislative Positions, and What Can Member Agencies do to Help?

The Association’s State Legislative Committee reviews and adopts positions on legislation introduced by the Legislature. The Committee meets twice per month when the Legislature is in session and while legislation is under consideration on the Governor’s desk (January-October each year). Committee members also recommend what legislation the Association should sponsor, and they help develop and approve language for these bills for consideration by the Association’s Executive Committee.

Beyond participation in and interaction with the State Legislative Committee, Association members have several opportunities to make their voices heard on sponsored, supported, or opposed legislation.  

Throughout the legislative session, the Association’s Executive Director Michael Pimentel will broadcast actions that member organizations can take when the Legislature is preparing to consider individual bills. These “action alerts” may include requests for, and instructions on how to: register your agency’s position on legislation with legislative committees, show support or opposition for bills to key committee members, provide remote or in-person testimony during committee hearings, and/or boost Association messaging about bills on your agency’s social media accounts.

Additionally, individuals at member agencies who are interested in raising their voices to support Association legislative positions should consider participating in the advocacy portion of the Association’s 2024 Spring Legislative Conference on May 21 in Sacramento. After the programming portion of the event, conference attendees from member organizations are encouraged to meet with the state legislators and staff who represent all or parts of their service areas at the State Capitol to discuss policy and budget priorities. Transit California will feature instructions and talking points for these advocacy meetings in the April 2024 issue.

Get the insider’s perspective

Stay up to date on everything important in transit today.

Subscribe now
Connect with us