New BART budget: cleaner trains, replenished reserves, possible temporary fare reduction
BART customers are going to see many improvements to their commute thanks to the budget the agency’s Board of Directors passed today for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1. The Board also allocated money to temporarily lower fares by 3% for four months – although the fare reduction is contingent upon the outcome of a series of meetings designed in part to gather public input on the impacts on a temporary fare drop on low-income, minority and limited English speaking communities.
In a 6 to 3 vote, the BART Board passed the $582.1 million Fiscal Year 2011 Operating Budget, which included a $4.5 million surplus. The Board approved a plan to allocate most of the surplus funds to improve the commutes for BART customers. The plan also sets aside a portion of the surplus for a possible temporary fare reduction and puts additional money from the excess revenues into rainy-day reserves.
However, before the agency spends any of the surplus, BART staff will return to the Board – most likely in July - to get the Board’s final authorization to spend the surplus.
“What the BART Board did today was historic,” BART Board President James Fang said. “I have never heard of a transit agency anywhere in the world lowering fares when times are good, let alone when times are bad. Thanks in part to this board’s careful financial decision making, we are in the unique position to be able to return the excess revenues to our customers in a meaningful and fiscally responsible way.”
The Board allocated the $4.5 million as follows:
- $2.3 million for possible 3% fare reduction over 4 month, pending outcome of a series of public meetings to gather feedback on that option
- $1 million for BART’s rainy-day reserves, bring total reserves to $25 million
- $750,000 for deep-cleaning of 50 rail cars complete with fresh, new seats
- $200,000 to defer an increase in East Bay paratransit fares for 4 months
- $150,000 for emergency operations facility
In addition, the Board allocated $75,000 of the surplus revenues to install monitors showing real-time train departure information at various businesses located near BART stations.
"BART is 95% on-time,” BART Board Vice President Bob Franklin said. "But if you don't know the schedule or if there is a delay in service, these screens installed in places like coffee shops will display exactly when the next several BART trains are departing."
BART COST-CUTTING & STATE FUNDING HELPED TO CREATE SURPLUS
One major factor contributing to BART’s $4.5 million surplus is the agency’s management has been carefully cutting labor and non-labor costs over the past several years to match lower ridership and sales tax revenues. The ailing economy has caused these two income sources to suffer. Together they account for about 85% of BART’s operating revenues.
Another significant factor contributing to the surplus is the court-ordered, partial restoration of public transit funding. During the past two budget cycles, the State of California diverted all public transit funding, called the State Transit Assistance (STA), into its general fund. That diversion left agencies like BART with huge holes in their budgets. However the recent court ruling coupled with new legislation to fund public transit means BART will have $26 million in STA funds for FY11 and will hopefully continue to receive approximately $23 million in FY12 and each year thereafter.
“While the newly approved STA legislation appears to provide BART with an on-going revenue stream, the funding is more vulnerable to state budget diversions than previous STA revenues that were specifically directed to public transit by a voter-approved constitutional amendment, Proposition 42,” BART General Manager Dorothy Dugger said. “Given the transit industry’s experience with STA funding and the State of California’s ongoing budget problems, future STA revenues are not a guarantee. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission has cautioned transit operators that the law is subject to change and we should treat the funding accordingly. Due to the uncertainty surrounding future STA funds and the economic recovery, we will continue to emphasize controlling expenses.”