BART seeks $1B from SF, but is it feasible? 

click to enlarge With the Bay Area set to grow by 1.9 million people by 2040, BART is preparing for more riders and asking The City to shoulder its load. - GABRIELLE LURIE/SPECIAL TO THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • Gabrielle Lurie/Special to the S.F. Examiner
  • With the Bay Area set to grow by 1.9 million people by 2040, BART is preparing for more riders and asking The City to shoulder its load.

BART is nearly at its operational limits. The cars are crammed. The trains are aging. A single stoppage can delay the entire system.

Adding to the capacity problems, the Bay Area is expected to grow to 9.3 million people by 2040 from its current 7.4 million. Many of those new residents will ride BART.

Now the agency has identified a figure to address the future. BART is asking San Francisco for $1 billion, money that would bolster the transit system's infrastructure to benefit The City, agency staff said.

At a Feb. 9 city Capital Planning Committee meeting, BART planners and board Director Nick Josefowitz, who represents San Francisco, outlined a dire need for The City to pay its share of BART maintenance.

The $1 billion figure could be reached in many ways, they said, but it must be met.

The ask is twice the dollar amount of the controversial Proposition A, a recently passed bond measure raising $500 million for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, which runs Muni. And BART identified $4.5 billion in total capital investment needs for the coming decades. Capital budgets govern stations and other infrastructure needs, and are separate from an operational budget, which funds daily operations.

Alicia Trost, a BART spokeswoman, said some federal funding will buffer this need. But it won't be enough, other staff said in meetings.

Documents show the needed funding would expand a train repair yard in Hayward, buy over 300 additional cars for the Fleet of the Future, revamp all of San Francisco's aging BART stations to the tune of $450 million and deliver $900 million to modernize BART's train-control system, which has been in use since the 1970s.

None of these funding needs take into account a second tube running from the East Bay to San Francisco, which would be a $7 billion to $12 billion investment, BART staff said.

So without cash, BART may crumble. Will San Francisco pay up?

"We know [San Francisco] is looking at a vehicle license fee in the future, or a sales tax," Trost told The San Francisco Examiner. The agency hopes to be a recipient of that money.

But BART board Director Tom Radulovich, who also represents San Francisco, told The Examiner it is an unlikely scenario.

"There isn't a billion dollars in the vehicle license fee for BART," he said. "There's like a $1.25 in there for BART."

Recognizing this, BART planners proposed a general-obligation bond, ranging from $1 billion to $4.5 billion, to the Capital Planning Committee.

A multibillion dollar BART bond would be voted on by residents of San Francisco, Contra Costa and Alameda counties, and would need a two-thirds majority to pass. BART's last polling showed such a bond would lose by a slim margin, but the agency believes it can overcome that.

In pitching the bond to San Francisco, one BART planner said the system's infrastructure is poor and only getting worse.

Members of the Planning Committee, which includes a representative of the Mayor's Office, were concerned about how voters would react to such a high price tag of a bond or other revenue requests.

"It's a leap," one committee member told Josefowitz, the recently elected director, and BART planners.

But San Francisco should carry a heavier load, Josefowitz diplomatically told the committee. BART funds itself almost entirely with farebox revenue, at about 80 percent of its capital budget. The rest of the pie is from sales taxes, of which San Francisco pays only a third.

Essentially, San Francisco invests very little money in BART, even though two-thirds of all trips end or begin at stations along Market Street, Josefowitz said. These commuters play a vital role in The City's economy.

Though the tone of the meeting was not bright, Josefowitz was hopeful.

"These kinds of discussions don't come to a resolution overnight," he told The Examiner.

At an annual workshop in late January, directors gathered to learn more about BART's options.

Carter Mau, the executive manager of BART's Office of Planning and Budget, told the board of directors that other revenue streams may exist. Perhaps BART could raise revenue from developer-impact fees from new construction, for instance, or by raising Bay Bridge tolls.

But right now, Mau said, the agency is staring down a $320 million deficit starting with its 2017 operational budget.

During the meeting, some BART directors questioned the agency's funding decisions, sparking the ire of General Manager Grace Crunican.

Crunican told the board that BART must make heavy investments sooner rather than later.

"We've spent so many years gluing things together. BART hasn't looked to the future," Crunican said, impassioned. "That's how we got here in the first place."

About The Author

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez

Joe Fitzgerald Rodriguez

Born and raised in San Francisco, Fitzgerald Rodriguez was a staff writer at the San Francisco Bay Guardian, and now writes the S.F. Examiner's political column On Guard. He is also a transportation beat reporter covering pedestrians, Muni, BART, bikes, and anything with wheels.
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