Hard choices and fiscal finesse put BART on track 

At times, it seems that every Bay Area transit agency is close to derailing due to money woes. But BART, the region’s largest transit agency, is bucking the trend and doing things right.

BART is poised to begin the next fiscal year, which starts July 1, with a budget surplus. It played hardball during its 2009 union negotiations with operators and station agents, and the agency was able to bring hiring and overtime into line before overspending crippled its budget. At the time of those contentious union negotiations, BART faced a $300 million shortfall for the next four years.

Now, BART is reaping the rewards of that frugality. After years of hiring freezes, it is again able to bring on more employees, which should confer the added benefit of bringing down overtime spending even further.

The agency also hopes to save more money later by investing now in updating its aging train fleet. BART has one of the oldest transit fleets in the United States. By spending $3.3 billion now, the agency could save up to $200 million in long-term costs. While it is easy to balk at a large price tag for the cars, there is no guarantee that such funds will be available later, when train replacement becomes necessary.

Riders will see the biggest plus about BART’s fiscal outlook. The transit agency is wisely considering spending more money on updating its car seats to easier-to-clean vinyl. Riders on the Daly City-to-Richmond line could also see increased service that includes the line running for an additional hour.

BART should be praised for its fiscal responsibility and its forward-looking budgeting in years past. It also should be commended for giving back to its riders now that it has the money to spend.

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