BART, SamTrans will soon go their separate ways 

A deal that would relegate a 2003 agreement requiring SamTrans to pay for BART operations on the Peninsula to the scrap heap cleared a major hurdle Wednesday.

The unanimous vote by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission effectively ends the often acrimonious affair between BART and the Peninsula bus operator. SamTrans has subsidized BART’s extension line to San Francisco International Airport since it began operating more than three years ago, Commission spokesman John Goodwin said.

"The divorce is final," Goodwin said following Wednesday’s vote.

The commission played a key role in the on-again-off-again negotiations between the two agencies. They had fallen into an annual habit of arguing about how much SamTrans would pay for Peninsula BART service after overly optimistic ridership figures failed to materialize.

While the SFO line was initially expected to pay for itself, an economic downturn caused ridership to drop well below estimates. Since service began in June 2003, SamTrans has paid $32 million to subsidize the extension.

Facing a $25 million structural deficit, SamTrans refused to pay for full service, forcing BART to reduce the number and frequency of trains, according to officials.

The separation could help relieve some of SamTrans’ deficit in the coming 2007-08 fiscal year, but will have no impact on the current year, for which SamTrans paid $5 million, SamTrans spokeswoman Janet McGovern said.

"Next year and in all subsequent years, it will relieve SamTrans from payments which ranged from $13 million to $5 million," McGovern said.

The SamTrans board called a special meeting for today to vote on whether to allow CEO Mike Scanlon to sign off on the agreement, McGovern said. SamTrans has said they expect the deal to be wrapped up in the coming days.

The agreement will allow BART to concentrate on BART service and SamTrans to focus on bus service, commission spokesman Randy Rentschler said, and will also prevent the two agencies from going to court, which was threatened in 2005.

"This clearly takes that cloud away," he said.

Under the agreement, SamTrans will pay $16 million to BART in the current fiscal year and again in 2007-08, SamTrans spokesman Jonah Weinberg said. The funds would come out of SamTrans’ anticipated $42 million share of state Prop. 1B transportation bond funds rather than operating costs, officials said.

SamTrans will also pay BART $800,000 a year in state capital improvement funds to complete BART’s Fremont extension to Warm Springs — a project not expected to happen for years, Rentschler said.

In addition, MTC will contribute $24 million to BART service over several years from its portion of state Prop. 1B transportation bond money, Rentschler said.

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