By Tim Hunt
BART directors have a big sales job aheadUploaded: Feb 18, 2016
There are striking differences with transit use between Northern and Southern California.
In the Bay Area, BART has been dealing with its aging trains and stations amid consistent record ridership. That likely reflects the difficulty of getting across the Bay Bridge at peak commute hours to say nothing of the cost of parking in San Francisco as well as the job growth in the big cities as well as other communities with BART stations (Orinda and Lafayette do not fit that category).
The record ridership contrasts sharply with what is going on in SoCal. For nearly a decade, transit ridership has fallen despite expensive new light rail and many efforts to coax drivers out of their cars. The Los Angeles Times reported that the county transportation authority saw a more than a 10 percent drop in its ridership over nine years from 2006 to 2015. That’s despite a $9 billion investment in new subway and light rail lines—ridership now is less than it was 30 years ago when only buses served the area.
The Times reported that the situation is similar in Orange County (down 30 percent on bus ridership), while smaller bus agencies are off 25 percent.
So much for getting people out of their cars in the area where people do not speak about how many miles it is to your destination—it is all time based—a cultural recognition that it may take 30 minutes to go 10 miles on the freeway at the wrong time of day.
For the Bay Area, specifically BART, it’s a much different situation—sadly, 20-20 hindsight—that $9 billion would have made huge improvements in BART, including extensions to Livermore and San Jose. That would not have been likely politically given the influence of Southern California voters and politicians.
For BART, its directors are considering putting a $2-3 billion bond issue on the November ballot to update the aging system. At one level, it should be an easy sell. Ridership is soaring and equipment and infrastructure is aging.
The BART directors got a reality check earlier this month when more than 30 East Bay elected officials, rallied by state Sen. Steve Glazer who rode his “no-strike for BART workers” platform to election, joined together to issue their own set of demands.
The bottom line was that they correctly believe that the BART workers are very, very well compensated—particularly given the job requirements (high school degree for station agents and train operators)—plus the benefits are over the top. They are calling for the BART directors to get control of the agency spending on personnel before turning to the public for more money.
Of course, they are right. A bond issue will take a two-thirds vote so it will be critical to the BART board to find common ground so they do not have elected officials actively opposing the measure. Generally, most liberal Alameda County voters love to approve any government spending that hits the ballot, so it will be up to the suburbs to exert influence to bring BART directors more in touch with reality.