In late February, the BART board held its annual board workshop. Major themes this year were financial stability and improving customer experience to regrow ridership.
The need for a sustainable funding strategy including new funding was front and center given the change in work patterns affecting BART revenue. BART’s ridership historically has closely tracked downtown San Francisco office occupancy which has been trailing the nation, and BART’s revenue has historically depended heavily on fares.
The board discussed the current multi-agency campaign to seek funding in the state budget cycle to bridge the gap for a few years, while laying the groundwork for a regional transportation funding measure.
Currently, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission is planning for an affordable housing bond measure in 2024 and for a regional transportation ballot measure in 2026, while seeking funding from the state to bridge the gap in the near term. MTC is currently polling regarding voter support to fund housing and transit, and results are expected to be public in April or May.
BART board members were cautiously supportive of this timeline but concerned about the risks, since the agency anticipates deficits hitting in 2025. Board members mentioned that Senator Wiener has a backup strategy to bring authorizing legislation for a Bay Area transportation measure in 2023 to go on the ballot as soon as 2024. The board wanted to keep the option for a 2024 measure on the table considering the outcome of the state funding initiative and the polling results.
BART is facing a major structural financial problem since its ridership has historically closely tracked downtown San Francisco office occupancy, and San Francisco has the lowest office occupancy in the country (see charts below).
To regrow transit ridership, the BART board focused on addressing the top concerns of riders affecting customer satisfaction, including cleanliness and personal safety.
The BART board generally supported maintaining overall service levels as a fundamental factor in retaining and regrowing ridership, while looking to potentially shift service hours to serve riders taking trips other than San Francisco commutes, including night and weekend travel, intra-East Bay service; events, family travel, and other non-commute travel needs.
Over time BART has strongly supported the region’s Transit Transformation Action Plan initiatives to help regrow ridership by providing more integrated, affordable service with strategies such as integrated fares, coordinated schedules, and wayfinding.
At the workshop, it was clear to the BART board that the pandemic had caused major changes, and the need is urgent to address rider concerns, transform service to address postpandemic travel needs, and seek new sources of revenue.
“Currently, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission is planning for an affordable housing bond measure in 2024 and for a regional transportation ballot measure in 2026, while seeking funding from the state to bridge the gap in the near term.”
This “mega-measure” nonsense is quite annoying. Vote NO. Over the last several elections, voters in Santa Clara County have passed multiple tax and fee increases including gas taxes, two bridge toll increases, three VTA sales taxes, Santa Clara County’s Measure A 1/8 cent sales tax, the state prop 30 ¼ cent sales tax and the 2010 Measure B Vehicle Registration Fee of $10. Additionally, we’re on the hook to pay back numerous state bond issues including high speed rail, the Proposition 1 water bond and the infrastructure bonds of 2006.
All this nickel and diming contributes into making the Bay Area a horribly expensive place to live; especially for people of modest means, who must pay the greatest percentage of their income in these regressive taxes and fees. Each increase by itself does not amount to much, but the cumulative effect is to add to the unaffordability of the region.
Before increasing taxes YET AGAIN, waste needs to be removed from transportation projects. For example, we need to eliminate the redundant and BART extension between the San Jose and Santa Clara Caltrain stations. The BART segment from these stations would duplicate both the existing Caltrain line and VTA’s 22 and 522 buses to a station that has approximately 1000 riders each weekday.
Why don’t the wealthy high rollers at MTC suggest taxing rich tech companies and leave the little guy alone for a change?