BART board declines to study 25-cent minimum fare increase

‘We can't keep spending like drunken sailors,’ director Keller says

The BART Board of Directors decided last week not to study increasing the minimum fare by 25 cents in an effort to balance the 2018 fiscal year budget and offset a projected 10-year budget deficit.

At Thursday morning's board meeting, general manager Grace Crunican and her staff told the board that the system is facing a $25-$35 million deficit in fiscal 2018. BART's 10-year deficit is projected to be $326 million.

Directors were fairly split on whether to study the proposed fare increase and didn't hold an official vote on the matter. One director had favored a study if it involved a means-based fare that would be based on riders' ability to pay.

Transit agencies are required by the federal government to study the effects of fare increases before enacting them.

Directors Joel Keller and Debora Allen were in favor of studying the increase because of the projected deficits.

"We can't keep spending like drunken sailors," Keller said.

"It is difficult for our riders," Keller said, but he said he believes a higher minimum fare is an important part of a package to balance the budget.

"I think this district has to act responsibly," he said.

Allen agreed with Keller, saying "We have hard decisions to make."

She said she thinks reducing expenses can be a primary way to balance the budget and offered another option, which was increasing the minimum fare in the core of the system through downtown San Francisco and downtown Oakland and nowhere else.

Director Bevan Dufty disagreed with studying a fare increase, saying he thinks the next five years will be golden ones for BART and that the deficits don't scare him.

BART's minimum fare of $1.95 will already be going up in January 2018. Because of that, director Rebecca Saltzman said the proposed increase would be even greater compared to the current fare.

Saltzman said an increase would cause BART to lose riders in the East Bay to Alameda-Contra Costa Transit or ride hailing services like Uber.

Director Robert Raburn also opposed studying a fare increase.

"The base fare increase is out of line," Raburn said.

BART staff members argued that a 25-cent increase would leave them comparable with the minimum fares on other transit services such as San Francisco Municipal Railway and AC Transit.

The minimum fare on AC Transit is $2 while the minimum fare on Muni is $2.25 for Clipper card users and $2.50 for others.

At the end of the meeting, Crunican asked whether directors would consider a study on a smaller increase, but there was little discussion on the option.

To help balance the budget, BART officials have put a freeze on hiring except for essential positions and have decided not to fill vacant positions. Agency officials are also reducing overtime.

BART spokesman Jim Allison said those expense reductions may help balance the budget this fiscal year and in 2018.

— Keith Burbank, Bay City News


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