Bay Area voters like BART, and they'd like to pay more to make BART better.
A poll commissioned by the transit agency and conducted in May — while BART and its unions were haggling over a new labor contract but before BART workers staged a 4½-day strike after their contract expired June 30 — revealed solid support for either a sales tax increase or a bond issuance to pay for system improvements, according to draft poll results.
Of the 1,102 respondents, 75 percent said they had favorable or very favorable impressions of BART service.
And 72 percent of respondents said they were in favor of a sales tax increase, with 69 percent in favor of BART paying for upgrades to its 40-year-old system with a general obligation bond.
However, only 8 percent of respondents said they were daily riders.
A two-thirds majority of voters in the three counties primarily served by BART — San Francisco, Alameda and Contra Costa — would need to approve any revenue-generating measure.
Support ebbed and flowed depending on the dollar amount. A $3 billion bond garnered 63 percent support, compared to 74 percent for an $850 million bond.
Increasing BART's existing half-cent sales tax — which currently delivers $215 million annually — by one-sixteenth of a cent has 73 percent support, while a quarter-cent increase gained 68 percent support.
BART paid Oakland-based Fairbank, Maslin, Maullin, Metz & Associates $45,000 to conduct the poll, according to agency spokeswoman Alicia Trost.
BART has an estimated $6 billion worth of capital needs over the next decade, according to its 2013-14 fiscal year budget, and none of it has funding identified.
The agency hopes to pay $1.3 billion, or 25 percent of the total cost, for its three most immediate needs: 1,000 new rail cars, a new maintenance complex in Hayward and a new train control system. Grants from the regional Metropolitan Transportation Commission, which distributes state and federal money, will cover the rest, Trost said.
Beginning in January, BART will raise fares every other year to raise $70 million to pay for the most pressing improvements by 2020.
Savings from its labor unions also would go toward capital needs, but the agency said it ultimately would need help at the ballot box.
The May poll also showed strong support for BART workers to both contribute portions of their paychecks to their pensions and receive raises — 71 percent and 78 percent, respectively.
Workers do not currently contribute to their pensions.