BART weighs voter initiatives to meet long-term needs 

Voters will likely have to approve a tax increase for BART to be able to meet its financial demands. - S.F. EXAMINER FILE PHOTO
  • S.F. Examiner File Photo
  • Voters will likely have to approve a tax increase for BART to be able to meet its financial demands.

BART passengers can already expect to pay more for fares and parking in the near future, but for the transit agency to meet its colossal long-range needs regional voters likely will need to approve tax increases.

With ridership potentially doubling in the next 15 years, BART’s 40-year-old infrastructure will be unable to meet the strain placed upon it, said Chief Financial Officer Carter Mau. The repercussions of the growing demand and aging resources are staggering — BART needs to spend about $750 million a year to address capacity and state-of-good-repair issues.

Next month, BART will begin discussing ways to address that gaping hole with immediate fixes, such as continuing its inflation-based fare index — a formula that increases rates every two years — and boosting daily parking fees by 50 cents. The fare increase initiative is set to expire this year, but BART is scheduled to hold a public hearing
Feb. 14 about extending it.

“We’re planning on moving forward with this,” Mau said. “The fare formula is the foundation for BART’s financial health.”

But even if the fare program is extended and BART adds market-based parking rates, it would raise only $700 million over 12 years.

As a result, the agency is exploring other options, including asking voters to approve a $1 billion general obligation bond. Other voter-involved initiatives include a $50 parcel tax that would raise $45 million a year and a quarter-cent sales tax increase that would generate $125 million annually.

Each initiative would require a collective two-thirds approval from voters in San Francisco, Alameda and Contra Costa counties, which make up the BART district. Mau said an initiative — the agency has not identified a specific one — would likely be necessary in the next five years.  

“This is such a huge nut to crack; we can’t balance it just on our riders,” said Mau. “But we think that voters will
realize the importance of BART.”

Tom Radulovich, president of BART’s board of directors, said the agency also could seek more regional and local funding sources. Currently, bridge tolls only pay for infrastructure improvement projects, but Radulovich said BART could pressure regional lawmakers to invest more in the agency’s core system needs.

Development fees for downtown San Francisco businesses could be increased, bringing a new revenue stream for BART. And the agency could do a better job of realizing efficiencies in its day-to-day operations, freeing up more funds for its long-term capital needs, Radulovich said.

“It’s going to have to be a combination of things,” Radulovich said. “But whatever we do, we’ll need to do it fast. The longer we wait, the more the system breaks down. And that will create a huge problem for the people after us.”

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Will Reisman

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