Bay Area Rapid Transit District board president Gail Murray said Thursday she wants the transit agency's staff to find out how much money would be generated by imposing a surcharge of 5 or 10 cents to BART tickets to compensate for state budget cutbacks.
Murray floated the idea of what she called "a Sacramento surcharge" at Thursday's board meeting after General Manager Dorothy Dugger said the budget approved by the state Legislature and signed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger earlier this week gives BART $37 million less than it originally anticipated.
Dugger said BART officials knew they wouldn't get all the money they had expected this year, but the amount approved this week was still $9 million less than recent projections.
Murray said money from a possible surcharge would be used "to pay off what the governor and the state Legislature have imposed on us."
After the meeting, Murray said imposing a surcharge wouldn't be a case of putting BART riders in the middle of a budget fight between the transit agency and the state.
"It's not BART and the state; it's BART and the public and letting the public know that when the state cuts our money there's a price to pay," Murray said.
She said, "It's important that people start to understand that there are hard choices that have to be made."
Murray said that without a surcharge, BART might have to cut back on cleaning its cars and restrooms and other services, which are steps that will make many patrons unhappy.
She said riders may have to decide whether paying a small surcharge "would be a better choice than having dirty cars."
Dugger said the state's budget contains "the largest loss to public transit ever" in the state's history, which is $1.7 billion statewide.
She said BART has lost a total of $111 million in state funding since 2000.
BART spokesman Linton Johnson said if BART had that $111 million it could buy another 37 new rail cars and those cars could help the agency carry another 5,500 passengers.
After Murray suggested a surcharge on all BART tickets, Dugger said, "It is an idea which would help us explain to the public to explain what's driving the hard choices we have to make to reduce our budget."
Dugger said she will explore all options in dealing with BART's shrinking budget, including the possibility of hiking fees for parking at BART stations.
BART fares rose 5.4 percent in January of this year as part of a plan approved by the board in 2003 which calls for fares to be raised every other year by a percentage based on inflation.
BART directors voted two weeks ago to commission a study that will look at the feasibility of a "peak pricing" policy in which patrons would pay more to ride the system's trains, park in its parking lots and use its busiest stations during rush-hour periods.
BART officials say they're considering such a policy as a way of dealing with their rapidly-growing ridership, which is challenging their system's capacity.
Bay City News