Surplus offers chance to clean up BART train cars 

Passengers traveling on BART could soon be in for a “mint” experience: The transit agency’s contemplating an extensive cleaning program that would replace dirty seat covers and scrub the interiors of train cars.

Unlike nearly every other transit agency in the country, BART is actually dealing with a budget surplus for the upcoming year and is considering ways to spend the money, which amounts to roughly $4.5 million.

One measure being proposed is the Mint Car Program, which would address lingering cleanliness issues inside BART cars. In its 2008 customer-satisfaction study, the cleanliness of train interiors and seat covers received some of the lowest marks from BART passengers.

Daniel Vargas, an 18-year-old BART passenger who makes a daily commute from Richmond to San Francisco, called the seats on the trains “nasty.”

“Sometimes I’ll put my backpack down on the seat and I’ll see a big puff of dust shoot up,” said Vargas. “They also need to get rid of all the floor carpeting because that gets pretty gross, too.”

If the agency implemented the Mint Car Program in 100 cars, it would cost $1.5 million; if expanded to 240 cars, it would cost $3.5 million. BART has 669 cars in its fleet.

The agency is in the envied position of dealing with a budget surplus due to a $26 million funding contribution it unexpectedly received from the state this year. Originally, BART entered this fiscal year with a multimillion-dollar deficit, but the state funding turned that shortfall into a $9 million surplus. BART is anticipating using about $4.5 million for prior commitments — including funding AC Transit connecting services — leaving it with roughly $4.5 million in flexible spending.

The Mint Car Program is one of several proposals under consideration by the board of directors, which will meet Thursday to discuss options. Other plans include up to four free morning commute days next year, a 10-month stretch of half-priced rides on Sundays and a temporary rollback of recent fare increases. A package of these assorted proposals is another possibility.

The agency could always save the surplus for a rainy day, which could come soon, since the economy has yet to make a full recovery.

The board of directors isn’t scheduled to make a formal decision until its June 10 meeting.

Spending options

Possible uses for a $4.5 million BART surplus next fiscal year:

$100,000: Station agent Ask Me program

$200,000: Defer paratransit fare increases

$1.5M-$3.5M: Mint Car Program

$0.6M-$2.3M: Temporary fare rollbacks (one to four months)

$0.75M-$2.5M: Half-price Sunday fares (three to 10 months)

$0.5M-$2M: Free morning rides (one to four days)

Source: BART

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