The mid-1970s were times of change for Bay Area car owners. New federal air regulations were beginning to take effect, eliminating leaded gas and prompting a flurry of proposals for vehicle inspection programs (now Smog Check). By the late 1970s, the nation was in the throes of the energy crisis, with gas both expensive and hard to get.
Alternatives to driving faced challenges as well. According to an early issue of the Bay Area Monitor from December 1975, Southern Pacific Railroad wanted to sell the West Bay Corridor commuter line (now Caltrain), which it was operating at a deficit of over $5 million a year. BART, which had promised a seat to every rider, was standing-room only on the Concord line by 1978. In the spring of 1979, there was a fire in the Transbay Tube which shut down transbay travel for weeks while repairs were made and policies were revised. Ridesharing and vanpools were new concepts — the Golden Gate Bridge District made news in 1975 by allowing vanpools to cross the bridge for free during commute hours.
In 1979, the Grand Award from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission went jointly to Rides for Bay Area Commuters, a nonprofit vanpool organization, and Sara Conner, former League of Women Voters of the Bay Area president, for her volunteer work on transit. The League, and the Monitor, were very concerned with how driving alternatives would fit within a rapidly evolving transportation landscape, and they knew the region needed to meet the new federal air quality requirements. Accordingly, Holly Hollingsworth O’Konski, Monitor editor from 1977 to 1983, wrote about transportation and air quality issues worldwide with a focus on the Bay Area. A favorite feature was her “Ghost Rider” report on transit expeditions, such as one in March 1980 from the East Bay to Marin, about which she wrote, “If I had driven my car, travel time would have been 15 to 20 minutes less for each trip; but none of the time could have been spent productively, and the cost would have been about $15 more at 25¢ a mile.”
Recurring Monitor themes during the decade from 1975 to 1985 included the struggles to enact a statewide smog check program, transit funding allocations, the woes of the Peninsula Commute Service, and the developing and sometimes competing roles of regional agencies. Reports on joint planning committees, transit operator groups, and state transportation plans were a constant. Regional plans were followed step by step: airports, seaports, and ABAG’s 1978 Environmental Management Plan covering air quality, water quality, water supply, and solid waste.
In October 1982, the Monitor reported that the state had finally passed a smog inspection bill; by then the region was already in the midst of an update of the first air quality plan. Meanwhile, topics had expanded to intercounty rail transit projects and other commute alternatives like bicycles. An April 1983 article noted that “[a]ccording to MTC, a ‘Super Pass’ may be created, good on BART, Muni, and AC Transit, in about two years.” At the same time, BART introduced its first weekly schedule.
After O’Konski’s departure in 1983, the next editors focused on a wider range of regional topics. As residents got used to Smog Check and began worrying about groundwater, articles began to cover issues such as sewer infrastructure problems and toxic pollution, as well as the staples of transportation and air quality. After 10 years, the Monitor was ready to cover the full scope of regional government.
Leslie Stewart is the most recent former editor of the Bay Area Monitor.