At this week’s MTC Programming and Allocations Committee meeting on Wednesday morning and BART board meeting on Thursday morning, the Bay Area’s regional planning organization and largest regional transit agency are starting to grapple with the impending financial crisis when federal Covid relief funding runs out as transit ridership has been returning gradually.
The Bay Area’s operators face an operating shortfall over $2B over the next 5 fiscal years, with BART, Caltrain, Golden Gate, WETA and SFMTA facing the steepest shortfalls.
BART – cutting service leads to downward spiral
To get a handle on the challenge, MTC is asking agencies to report on their financial status by December, with multiple scenarios, including an assessment of much service each agency can run at specified revenue levels.
BART is bringing an initial assessment to its board on Thursday. BART’s pessimistic scenario has ridership stabilizing at 60% of pre-pandemic levels and the optimistic scenario has ridership stabilizing at 80% of the pre-Covid levels.
In any of the scenarios, BART’s analysis finds that cost savings are not proportional to service cuts. Unless ridership recovers to 80% of pre-pandemic levels, BART would need to cut service by 65% to 85% to achieve budget savings in the 20-40% range. Such steep service cuts would depress ridership and revenue even further, leading to a downward spiral requiring more cuts that would further depress ridership. Because of MTC’s December deadline, it is likely that Caltrain will bring a similar analysis forward in November.
Recovery strategies – a state fiscal bridge, and a longer-term revenue measure.
Using information from the transit agencies, MTC plans to seek multiple years of fiscal bridge funding from the state, supported by a coalition of transit agencies. The state revenue ask would be focused on operating funding to maintain service levels and funding improvements aimed at increasing ridership, such as funding for integrated fares, wayfinding and transit priority improvements called for in the region’s Transformation Action Plan. MTC plans to bring the plans for state budget advocacy to its committees in January, 2023.
In the longer term (2026 or 2028) MTC and BART are considering options for regional funding measures. Any revenue measure would likely require authorizing legislation.
There are several possible options:
- A 9-county measure, presumably led by MTC
- A 5-county measure for the counties that BART serves
- A 3-county measure for the BART district