Stephen Zwerling
Mass Transit and the Politics of Technology
A Study of BART and the San Francisco Bay Area.

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data

Zwerling, Stephen.

Mass transit and the politics of technology; a study of BART and the San Francisco Bay area.

(Praeger special studies in U. S. economic, social, and political issues)


1. San Francisco Bay region-Local transit.
2. San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit District.

I. Title. HE4491.S46Z94   388.4'09794'6   73-15202

ISBN 0-275-08390-0


111 Fourth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10003, U.S.A.
5, Cromwell Place, London SW7 2JL, England

Published in the United States of America in 1974
by Praeger Publishers, Inc.

All rights reserved

1974 by Praeger Publishers, Inc.

In memory of Zachary Zwerling
July 18, 1969 -- June 27, 1972

a little boy who liked to
ride the bus and who would
have liked to ride the train.


This is a book about the political consequences of technological choice. The substantive portion of the book deals with two public transit agencies in the San Francisco Bay Area. I am more concerned, however, with the issues of politics and technology than with those of transportation. This is, therefore, a book about how two different methods (technologies) for coping with a transportation problem can produce significantly different consequences. The emphasis on politics rather than transportation has troubled some people, and it is important to address their concerns.

Much of the material presented here is based upon research performed for a Ph.D. in Political Science (University of California, Berkeley, 1972). One of the focal agencies in this study, the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) District, initiated passenger service operations at about the same time as my thesis was submitted. Because BART is a subject of great interest throughout the nation, my thesis attracted considerable attention. Many individuals who have read it have given thoughtful comments and criticisms, for which I am grateful.

Having noted that I am less than enthusiastic about BART, some of these commentators have wondered whether I am a foe of rail rapid transit and/or an advocate of bus systems. The answer is no. I am not categorically opposed to trains or in favor of buses. Neither am I an expert in the field of urban transportation.

The reader who wishes to find here a substantive criticism of BART as a transportation system will be disappointed. My analysis is a procedural one and is directed at the public organization that manages the transportation system. The book does not ask whether BART is "good" or "bad." It does inquire about the conditions under which rapid transit became a salient consideration and the likely consequences of BART for the citizens of the Bay Area.

My intention is to demonstrate how proposals for large-scale technological systems, such as BART, have social and political con-sequences that were neither anticipated nor intended. This is the crux of the book. We are living in a complex and dynamic society. Increasingly, citizens are asked to underwrite technologies said to be capable of ameliorating particular problems. In many instances, however, these proposed public investments create more serious problems than they resolve, and we find ourselves surprised by the negative outcomes.

BART will undoubtedly have a significant impact on the future of the Bay Area. It is my belief, however, that the major consequences of BART will have little to do with transportation and a great deal to do with political freedom. It is this larger impact that is of concern to me and that I hope will be of concern to others as well.

I should add that although this book ends at the time when BART began to carry passengers, the early results of BART's operating experience have confirmed the conclusions I reached earlier.


Acknowledging the assistance of others is both necessary and difficult; necessary because without this assistance, I could not have arrived at this point; difficult because so much is owed to so many that it seems impossible to know where they leave off and I begin. Having recognized the risks inherent in such an enterprise, and being mindful that there are many (unnamed) people who have contributed to this undertaking, let me single out a few of the individuals who have been of particular assistance.

In terms of theoretical development, I owe a great deal to Professors Todd LaPorte (Political Science) and Robert Biller (Public Policy) of the University of California, Berkeley. Professors K. N. Lee of the University of Washington and Kenneth Mayers of Bennington College were instrumental in helping me to refine some of the basic concepts and their political implications. Professor Melvin Webber of the Institute of Urban and Regional Development at the University of California, Berkeley not only made financial assistance available but shared with me his vast knowledge of transportation policy in the Bay Area.

The conduct of the research itself was greatly facilitated by Alan Bingham of AC Transit and Larry Dahms of BARTD, each of whom provided me with access to and space in these focal agencies. While many people in both organizations could be thanked, I should single out Harry Moses and Mary Lou Mulhern of BARTD and Sharon Rodriguez of AC Transit for going out of their way to assist in some of the more mundane activities involved in this research. The staff of the Institute of Governmental Studies at the University of California, Berkeley -- and particularly Phyllis Barusch, Karen Chase, Ora Huth, Harriet Nathan, and Stanley Scott -- was especially generous in providing me with information regarding transportation and government in the Bay Area.

Last, but not least, is the acknowledgment due my wife, Jeanne, and my daughter, Katy. For several years they have wondered how I could seem to work so hard and accomplish so little (in retrospect, I have often wondered the same thing). Happily for me, they were kind enough not to have asked that question.


Part I: Technology as a Strategic Element of Public Choice

Chapter 1: The Problem and its context
Chapter 2: AC Transit and BARTD: The Comparison of a Mediating and an Intensive Technology
Chapter 3: The Interaction between BARTD and its Service Environment: Some Examples

Part II: The Context of Present Choice

Chapter 4: The AC Transit - BARTD Relationship: Organizational Perspectives
Chapter 5: The AC Transit - BARTD Relationship: Environmental Perspectives
Chapter 6: The AC Transit - BARTD Relationship: Policy Options for the Future
Selected Bibliography
About the Author


How do we explain organizational effectiveness, the extent to which organizations realize the purposes for which they were created? In early 1970 I decided to examine the literature to find out what was known (and not known) about organizational goals and goal achievements. I discovered that most of this literature could be classified according to its analytical focus on either the structure of the organizations under consideration -- that is, the persistent patterns of interaction among individuals within theiorganization -- or the behavior of individuals within the organization, particularly with respect to problems of leadership and participant motivation. In much of the literature there is an explicit recognition that an organization is influenced by the society in which it is situated, but -- with few exceptions -- there is little beyond that acknowledgment.

It was actually the stimulation provided by those few interesting exceptions, particularly by the work of James D. Thompson, that led to the initiation of this research project, which was an attempt to learn something about how persons and groups outside of an organization influence the intentions and actions of those within an organization. The general hypothesis underlying the proposed research was that the effectiveness of an organization depends upon prior agreement between the organization and parts of its external environment regarding the objectives to be pursued and the appropriate means of pursuing them. It seemed reasonable to postulate that, all other things being equal, the greater the extent of agreement about what should be done, the greater the likelihood that the organization will be effective. Conversely, the greater the dissensus regarding the organizational mission, the greater the resulting conflict over organizational actions and the less likely it is that the organizational goals will be achieved.

Armed with a research design, I searched the organization population of the San Francisco Bay Area for a suitable empirical focus. This search culminated in the choice of public transit agencies, in particular the Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District (AC Transit) and the Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BARTD), as appropriate sites for conducting field research.

During the course of my investigation, I stumbled onto an interesting difference. Public opinion regarding AC Transit was both consistent and uniform. Indeed, the only negative comments I heard suggested that that agency's leadership was somewhat unimaginative. Public opinion regarding BARTD, however, was sharply divided. Some people were positive toward BARTD; others were negative; few were neutral. What accounted for the fact that two public agencies offering a mass transportation service in approximately the same locality were so differently perceived? The answer, in this case, appears to be associated with the character of the particular transportation technologies employed by AC Transit and BARTD, with what it means to have opted for a bus system rather than a rail system.

In an effort to explore the relationship between technology and organizational effectiveness, it became apparent that although transportation systems are "sold" to the public as neutral technological instruments, the principal outcomes of such technologies are social and political. In view of the current national and international attention focused on the Bay Area's rapid transit system, it seemed particularly important to elaborate some of the political consequences of technological choice. Now that BART is "on stage,"we have much to learn that can be applied to other transportation systems still "in the wings," especially with respect to fashioning our future.

About the Author

STEPHEN ZWERLING is [at publication time in 1974] currently an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Connecticut where he teaches Public Administation and Theories of Administrative Organization. His major research interests focus oin intention and action in public organizations, with -- as this book demonstrates -- a particualr concern with the role of technology in public policy formation.

Prior to his present appointment, Dr Zwerling serverd as Associate Coordinator of the Experimental Program in Health Sciences and Medical Edication at the University of California, Berkeley. That program, while seemingly far removed from the field of mass transportation, was theoretically connected insofar as planning for organizational development under conditions of social complexity is concerned.

Dr Zwerling received his undergraduate training at Whittier College, an M.B.A. from the University of California, Berkeley, and -- after serving with the Peace Corps -- his M.A. and Ph.D. in Political Sciences from the University of California, Berkeley.

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