BART Faces Financial Reckoning

Of all the public agencies facing financial challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, public transit has taken the biggest initial hit. The reasons for this are obvious: when there’s a lockdown and businesses are closed, commuters stay home. And of those still fortunate enough to have places to go, few want to board busses and trains where they risk heightened exposure to contagions.

Northern California’s biggest transit system is the Bay Area Rapid Transit District, commonly referred to as BART, with operating expenses of nearly $1.0 billion per year. In good years, operating revenues – primarily fares and parking fees – never covered more than around 75 percent of operating costs. But that was back in 2016, when ridership peaked, at around 435,000 per weekday, whereas pre-COVID ridership in early 2020 was running around 405,000 per day. Weekend ridership had been dropping at a higher pace than weekday commuting because of board policies that tolerate homelessness, open use of hard drugs, panhandling and petty theft on the trains.

In addition, over the past four years, the BART board of directors has been giving away an increasing array of discounts at the same time as operating costs have steadily increased. There has also been increasing tolerance on the part of the board for fare evasion which lowers revenues by, depending on which expert you ask, between $25 and $50 million per year.

In April 2020, at the height of the pandemic shutdown, BART ridership fell to 6 percent of […] Read More