SamTrans, BART settling differences 

A deal in the works between the Peninsula’s bus operator, SamTrans, and BART could bring to an end the millions in local tax-dollar subsidies paid out for BART service as well as ongoing disputes between the agencies.

The potential agreement — which has been hammered out over the last two years through the Metropolitan Transportation Commission — would shift all responsibility and costs for BART operations on the Peninsula to BART. Under current agreements, SamTrans pays for BART operations on the San Francisco International Airport extension line. In return, the county, which does not have a seat on BART’s governing board, does not pay a share of sales tax revenue to BART like others within the agency’s boundaries.

SamTrans and BART have been at odds over the cost of operations for the airport extension line since at least 2005, when BART threatened to sue SamTrans. Most recently, SamTrans budgeted $5 million for the current fiscal year, while BART budgeted SamTrans’ portion at more than $10 million.

Ridership and revenue projections on the Peninsula extension line, once expected to pay for itself, proved overly optimistic. Since the service began in June 2003, SamTrans has paid more than $32 million in subsidies.

Under the proposed agreement, up for a vote by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission Programming and Allocations Committee today, SamTrans would pay $16 million to BART in the current fiscal year and again in 2007-08, according to SamTrans spokesman Jonah Weinberg. The funds would come out of SamTrans’ anticipated $42 million in state Prop. 1B transportation bond funds approved by voters in November, officials said.

SamTrans would also be on the hook to BART for $800,000 a year in state capital improvement funds until BART’s Fremont-to-Warms Springs extension is completed, said Randy Rentschler, commission spokesman.

"None of the money would come from SamTrans’ operating budget," Weinberg said.

The Metropolitan Transportation Commission would also contribute $24 million to BART service from its portion of state Prop. 1B transportation bond money, Rentschler said.

If approved by the Programming and Allocations Committee today, the pact will go to the BART board approval Feb. 22 and the full Transportation Commission board Feb. 28.

Two other agreements between SamTrans, BART and the San Mateo County Transportation Authority — expected to wrap up before the end of the month — must be finalized before the deal is complete, Weinberg said.

While local transportation advocates over the years have been critical of the BART-SamTrans deal, Executive Director of BayRail Alliance Margaret Okuzumi said it is time to move on.

"I’m greatly encouraged that SamTrans and BART have been working to relieve some of the financial pressures on SamTrans," Okuzumi said.

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