BART closer to raising fares to solve budget problem

OAKLAND (BCN) — BART’s board of directors met Thursday morning in Oakland to consider options for cutting expenses and increasing fare revenues in response to a projected budget shortfall of more than $30 million.

In fiscal year 2018, the district is looking at an estimated deficit of $30.8 million, along with $3.2 million in additional costs or proposed budget initiatives that result in a revised shortfall of $34 million.

Despite trains being near full capacity during peak periods, ridership is down 2 percent on weekdays and 7 percent on weekends compared to last year, according to district staff.

Costs associated with extending the system to the Warm Springs station in Fremont are also a factor.

“One of the things that strikes me is how a significant portion of the deficit we face this year has been driven by the new extensions that we’re opening,” director Nick Josefowitz said.

“If we open extensions that don’t pay for their own operating costs … we end up having to make really unpleasant choices,” Josefowitz said.

Proposed solutions to close the budget gap include reducing expenses by $5.3 million and increasing fare revenues by $5.6 million.

State funding associated with Senate Bill 1, a new gas tax approved last week by the Legislature, is also expected to provide an additional $16 million in fiscal year 2018, and more in subsequent years.

A $5.4 million reduction in service costs had also initially been proposed, including starting service at 5 a.m. on weekdays instead of 4 a.m., although those plans have been scrapped.

To increase revenue from fares, the board is considering adding a 50-cent surcharge to the cost of paper tickets with a magnetic stripe, which would generate $5.6 million.

The board is also considering reducing a discount for youth riders from 62.5 percent to just 50 percent, which is more in line with discounts offered by other transit agencies in the region, according to BART officials.

They had been considering reducing the discount for senior citizens and people with disabilities, but that plan was taken off the table.

The board is also looking at a one-time reduction of capital allocations, or funding allocated for construction and upgrades to infrastructure, by at least $12.2 million.

Reducing or eliminating fare evasion was also discussed as a means of raising revenue, and Director Joel Keller suggested that increasing police presence at stations could reduce fare evasion as well as vehicle burglaries, which are a common problem in BART parking lots.

“If we stopped fare evasion for a year, it would probably pay for all these new officers,” Keller said. “I don’t know that factually but maybe someone could take a look at that.”

No final action was taken on the proposed budget Thursday.

The board of directors is scheduled to vote on the budget on June 22.

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