As BART stares down a fiscal cliff, the system’s board voted to raise parking rates at the agency’s stations, increase fares by 11% over the next two years and approve a two-year budget that includes a $93 million deficit.
The drastic ridership decline kicked off by the pandemic has led to a structural deficit in BART’s budget. Put simply, the system’s revenues are not enough to cover its expenses.
Over the next two years, the system’s operating deficits stand at $693 million. While that shortfall is being plugged by $601 million in federal funding, the wind-down of that additional funding means years of $300 million deficits in the future.
BART detailed the furious lobbying efforts being made by staff and leadership to try and sway the governor and state lawmakers to include at least a portion of the $5 billion being requested by an alliance of California public transit agencies to overcome its budget gap. The text of the budget bill is slated to be released Monday, with last amendments up until June 15.
BART’s ridership recovery has remained flat as of late, sitting at 40% of pre-pandemic ridership on weekdays and at 60% on weekends, according to Bob Powers, BART’s general manager. In September, the system plans to institute service changes that would trade more trains on weekends and nights with scaled-back service during weekdays.
“None of these solutions will solve this entirely, but we're going to do everything we can to push off that fiscal cliff,” Pam Herhold, BART’s assistant general manager of performance and budget, said at the system's board meeting Thursday.
Fare increases would be split up between two separate 5.5% increases in January 2024 and January 2025.
“The roller coaster ride of lacking the courage to keep up with inflation years ago has really served this agency poorly,” said Director Bevan Dufty.
An alternative motion to lower the fare increases to 4% from Director Rebecca Saltzman was voted down by the board.
“We need to end up trying to balance that budget as much as we can,” Director John McPartland said. “It’s not going to save us from the fiscal cliff, but it's the responsible thing to do from the standpoint of trying to do everything we can do to control our costs.”
BART staffers estimated that the fare increases would raise up to $26 million through Fiscal Year 2025 and up to $120 million through Fiscal Year 2028
Alongside the fare increases was an increase from 20% to 50% for discounts to low-income riders provided as part of the Clipper Start program. Bay Area residents between the ages of 19 and 64 who have a household income of 200% of the federal poverty level or less are eligible for the discount.
Staffers estimated BART would lose $7 million in revenue through Fiscal Year 2025 and $24 million through Fiscal Year 2028 from the increased discounts to the Clipper Start program.
“We have to remain disciplined on the fare increases,” said Director Debora Allen. We have to continue, and if we don’t, we have to fall further and further behind and ask for more and more public money. I don’t think we can cut off our nose to spite our face.”
Daily parking fees would rise from $1-$3 to $3-$6.30. The parking price increases would start later this year with South Hayward and North Concord daily parking fees rising to the $3 floor.
Monthly parking rates would rise from $63-$105 to $84-$220, depending on the station. Parking costs would also be levied on weekends and between 3-6 p.m. on weekdays if the lots are at least 90% full starting January 2024.
“We have had the same pricing policy for 10 years, so it's ready to be updated,” said Saltzman, who noted that BART’s parking revenue currently does not cover its parking costs. “I think this will help manage the demand, particularly in stations with transit-oriented development.”
Kevin Truong can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org