New Transit-Oriented Communities Policy Encourages Equitable and Sustainable Development

vta in san jose

Photo by Sergio Ruiz

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission’s (MTC) Transit Oriented Communities (TOC) Policy, passed in September 2022, will help the Bay Area respond to the converging crises of climate change, the Bay Area’s general unaffordability, and deepening racial and economic inequities. The policy makes certain transportation funds contingent on local jurisdictions changing zoning and taking other policy actions to encourage walkable, affordable development near transit while protecting existing communities and encouraging greater transit access for surrounding areas.

MTC’s TOC Policy leverages regional and state transportation investments to support a better future for the region by establishing zoning, station access, and anti-displacement requirements for areas around rail station areas and bus rapid transit stops. These strong incentives for transit-oriented growth are consistent with MTC’s commitments under the state-manded Sustainable Communities Strategy, Plan Bay Area 2050.

The TOC Policy applies to 80 jurisdictions and more than 400 stations and stops, including all locations within a half mile of existing and planned transit stations and stops served by any of the following: Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), Caltrain, Sonoma–Marin Area Rail Transit (SMART), Capitol Corridor, and Altamont Corridor Express (ACE) stations; Muni and Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) light-rail stations; Muni and AC Transit bus rapid transit stops; and ferry terminals. The policy excludes parcels with existing housing. MTC has mapped all TOC Policy-applicable jurisdictions and stations. A full list of stations can be found in draft guidelines.


TOC Policy Components

The TOC Policy has four main components: housing and office density standards, community affordability and stabilization policies, sustainable and affordable station access, and limits on allowable parking.

Housing and Office Density

The policy establishes a minimum average density that must be included in local zoning for all land that is zoned to allow residential and office development within one-half mile of qualifying transit stations (excluding land that currently has housing). The policy also sets a floor for density caps, or allowable maximum density, that local jurisdictions may impose on such land.


Housing and Office Density Standards


Level of Transit Service

Residential Density

(Dwelling Units/Acre)

Office Density

(Floor Area Ratio)

Minimum Average Density

Allowable Maximum Density

Minimum Average Density

Allowable Maximum Density

Tier 1: 

Rail stations serving regional centers (i.e., Downtown San Francisco, Downtown Oakland, and Downtown San José)





Tier 2: 

Stop/stations served by two or more BART lines or BART and Caltrain





Tier 3:

Stop/stations served by one BART line, Caltrain, light rail transit, or bus rapid transit





Tier 4: 

Commuter rail (SMART, ACE, Capitol Corridor, Valley Link) stations, Caltrain stations south of Tamien, or ferry terminals





Community Affordability and Stabilization Policies

The policy establishes a menu of policies promoting housing production, affordable housing preservation, tenant protection, and business preservation. A local jurisdiction must implement a minimum of one or two policies from each menu category. Descriptions of each policy menu item can be found in the MTC administrative guidance.


Affordable Housing Production

Policies (2 or more)

Affordable Housing Preservation Policies (2 or more)

Affordable Housing Protection and Anti-Displacement Policies (2 or more)

Commercial Protection and Stabilization Policies (1 or more)

  • Inclusionary zoning
  • Affordable housing funding
  • Affordable housing overlay zones
  • Public land for affordable housing
  • Ministerial approval
  • Public/community land trusts*
  • Development certainty and streamlined entitlement process
  • Funding to preserve unsubsidized affordable housing
  • Tenant or community opportunity to purchase
  • Single-room occupancy preservation
  • Condominium conversion restrictions
  • Public/community land trusts*
  • Funding to support preservation capacity
  • Mobile home preservation
  • Preventing displacement from substandard conditions and associated code enforcement activities*
  • “Just cause” eviction
  • No net loss and right to return for displaced residents
  • Legal assistance for tenants
  • Foreclosure assistance
  • Rental assistance program
  • Rent stabilization
  • Preventing displacement from substandard conditions and associated code enforcement activities*
  • Tenant relocation assistance
  • Mobile home rent stabilization
  • Fair housing enforcement
  • Tenant anti-harassment protections
  • Small business and nonprofit overlay zone
  • Small business and nonprofit preference policy
  • Small business and nonprofit financial assistance program
  • Small business advocate office

* This policy may be used to fulfill only one of the following housing requirements: production, preservation, or protection.


Sustainable and Affordable Station Access

The policy mandates actions to promote affordable and sustainable station access from surrounding communities:


Limits on Allowable Parking

The policy requires cities to limit the number of parking spaces allowed in residential and commercial developments. Jurisdictions must establish these limits either on a parcel-by-parcel basis or for each station area as a whole.


Maximum Parking Allowed for New Development

Level of Transit Service

Residential Development (parking spaces per housing unit)

Commercial Development (parking spaces per 1000 square feet)

Tier 1: 

Rail stations serving regional centers (i.e., downtown San Francisco, downtown Oakland, and downtown San José)





Tier 2: 

Stop/stations served by two or more BART lines or BART and Caltrain





Tier 3:

Stop/stations served by one BART line, Caltrain, light rail transit, or bus rapid transit





Tier 4: 

Commuter rail (SMART, ACE, Capitol Corridor, Valley Link) stations, Caltrain stations south of Tamien, or ferry terminals




Common Questions About the TOC Policy

During the TOC Policy’s development, a few questions came up frequently. People wanted to know whether local jurisdictions will comply with the TOC Policy, whether the market will support development of projects that meet the policy’s standards, how car-dependent residents will be affected, whether the policy is needed in light of what appears to be a sustained remote work trend, and finally how they can follow and become involved in the policy’s implementation.


Will Jurisdictions Choose to Comply with the TOC Policy?

MTC can’t force jurisdictions to comply with its TOC Policy standards, but the policy establishes strong incentives to do so. First, the policy states that MTC will consider deprioritizing transportation projects in station areas that fail to meet requirements in the next cycle of a major MTC funding program known as the One Bay Grant Program (OBAG). The next round of OBAG funding, OBAG4, will begin in 2026, so jurisdictions have ample time to comply if they begin planning now.

Second, the policy prevents MTC from endorsing new transit extensions or allocating funds for such extensions unless the jurisdictions being served first comply with the TOC Policy. This tool ensures that new extensions occur only in locations that are willing to support reasonable densities, minimize parking, protect existing communities, and invest in accessible and equitable station areas.

MTC will not hold up funding for transit extensions that have been planned on the basis of MTC’s former Transit-Oriented Development policy. But jurisdictions with these planned extensions must formally commit to following the new TOC Policy standards by 2026.

To further encourage jurisdictions to comply with the TOC Policy, MTC is providing $23 million in grants for jurisdictions to create or update plans for priority development areas — areas that jurisdictions have designated for jobs and housing growth. Jurisdictions cannot receive these desirable and competitive grants unless they commit to make their plans consistent with the new TOC Policy.


Is the TOC Policy an Intrusion on Local Control?

MTC lacks the funds to support transit, station access, and other community improvements around all of the region’s transit station areas. It is reasonable, therefore, that MTC would prioritize transit and other transportation investments in station areas that will accommodate more residents and jobs and do so in a way that supports equity and that takes the greatest advantage of transit service. This approach is needed to meet the goals of Plan Bay Area 2050, the region’s sustainable communities strategy.

In other places around the world, it is commonplace for state and national governments to establish a spatial plan that focuses on growth and investment in particular areas and to make infrastructure investments that support that vision. For example, in the Netherlands, the national government produces a spatial plan that focuses on regions that need economic help. This commitment to improving particular regions (for example, by increasing jobs in one area and housing in another area) is backed up with infrastructure investment in those regions. The national government is involved in all major urban development projects, including rail stations. It encourages individual cities to produce master plans for each station and prioritizes investment in those stations for which plans align with higher-level goals and targets.


Does the Market Support TOC Policy Standards?

In some cases, the current market may not deliver office and housing densities at the minimum level required by the TOC Policy. There are also indications that projects routinely chose to provide more parking than the maximums imposed by the policy. However, this does not mean that investment will stop if these TOC standards are put in place. One implicit goal of the policy is to prioritize transit-adjacent lands for developers intending to design projects to take advantage of existing transit accessibility. If the TOC Policy allows such developers to outcompete more typical auto-oriented developers, it will have done its job. Given that transit-oriented development will remain in place for 80-plus years, it will be, in some cases, appropriate to wait for a project that is built with the future in mind.


What About People Who Need Their Vehicles?

Although the TOC Policy impacts the region’s most transit-accessible places, it covers only a minute fraction of the land around the Bay Area, much of it with few constraints on the amount of parking that can be built. It is true that the policy will limit the development of new places with abundant parking adjacent to transit, but these are the very special areas where MTC has committed to prioritizing jobs and housing for those who rely on transit. Many people might like to have access to both a vehicle and great transit, but the reality is that storing vehicles near transit displaces jobs, housing, and roadway space that is needed to make transit truly accessible. On balance, it makes sense that the policy prioritizes transit-adjacent land for people rather than cars.


Given Post-Pandemic Remote Work, Is the TOC Policy Relevant?

Remote work increases the need for transit-oriented communities. Notably, transit agencies are suffering due to the reduced number of people commuting to work. To capture riders in an era of immense commute flexibility, transit must be the most convenient option. Generally, it is those who live adjacent to transit — particularly those in a car-lite household — who find transit to be the most convenient choice. So, transit ridership growth in our new remote work world truly does depend on rapid growth in transit-oriented communities.


buses on a street in Oakland
Bus rapid transit in Oakland at Broadway and Telegraph Avenue.
Photo by Sergio Ruiz


How Can Bay Area Residents Support Implementation of the TOC Policy?

You can get involved in how cities and counties are implementing (or not implementing) the TOC Policy near your home or your work. First, check out MTC’s mapping tool to look up any station area and see exactly where the requirements apply. Then, find out what is being done to make changes a reality:

  • Ask your local city staff or elected officials whether they have begun planning how your local station areas will comply with the requirements of the TOC Policy.
  • Track whether local jurisdictions are zoning for appropriate densities and parking maximums when they plan to prepare a station access analysis.
  • Ask how local housing and business stabilization policies are following the menu of required policies, and weigh in on whether they have selected menu options that are important to you.
  • Ask for the station access gap analysis that will be used to satisfy the policy, and assess whether this analysis has properly identified pedestrian, bicycle, and transit access needs to make station areas truly accessible.

SPUR is interested in what you are learning about TOC Policy implementation in your area. Share your findings with Erika Pinto ([email protected]) or Jonathon Kass ([email protected]).


Read more about SPUR’s advocacy in favor of this policy:

The Bay Area Won’t Meet Its Goals Without a New Transit-Oriented Development Policy

With a New Policy for Growth Near Transit, MTC Can Center Equity and Sustainability


The new MTC TOC Policy benefited from the coordinated advocacy of a broad coalition of organizations, including 350 Bay Area, Bay Area Housing Action Coalition, Bike East Bay, California YIMBY, East Bay for Everyone, East Bay Housing Organization, East Bay Transit Riders Union, Enterprise Community Partners, Friends of Caltrain, Generation Housing, Greenbelt Alliance, Monument Impact, the Non-Profit Housing Association of Northern California, San Francisco Transit Riders Union, San Mateo County Economic Development Association, Seamless Bay Area, Silicon Valley@Home, TransForm, Urban Habitat, Working Partnerships, and YIMBY Action. SPUR is grateful for the dedication of these coalition partners.


SPUR is grateful to The San Francisco Foundation and the Lisa and Douglas Goldman Fund for support of SPUR”s research on the TOC Policy.