Published Sunday, May 14, 2006, in the San Mateo County Times
BART to SFO falls short of success story
SamTrans and BART are like family and often disagree, official says
By Erik N. Nelson
BART marketers launch their latest campaign to attract riders today
with subway cars wrapped in sand-colored advertising, urging riders to
take BART to the San Francisco International Airport.
The campaign is the latest step in a three-year struggle to make the
BART extension from Daly City to the line's terminus at Millbrae into
the bustling success story that many officials once envisioned.
From the point of view of BART and the Bay Area outside San Mateo
County, there is not much to complain about, considering that public
transit is mainly a government-supported endeavor.
"That extension is earning about 70 percent fare-box recovery.
Anywhere else in the country, and they'd declare victory," said Steve
Heminger, executive director of the Metropolitan Transportation
Commission. The 70 percent figure means that about 30 percent of the
extension's operating expenses are subsidized by San Mateo County's
SamTrans transit agency.
"Someday, it'll get close to breaking even and might even turn a
profit," he said.
[BATN: Ha! Anywhere else in the world Heminger would be, at the very
least, completely unemployable, just on the basis of his key role in
ramming through the $6.2 billion (500% over "budget") Bay Bridge
fiasco, not to mention being neck-deep in the BART extension disaster
conceived by his mentor and predecessor Larry Dahms.]
But look at the latest report presented to the directors of SamTrans,
San Mateo County's transit agency: 26,988 average weekday ridership in
March, a 3.2 percent drop from a year earlier.
[BART: For a summary see the SamTrans ridership report
We note yet again that BART/MTC are deliberately misrepresenting the
number of riders on the "SFO extension" by including the Colma
station in the counts, even though it opened as a completely separate
project more than seven years earlier. The actual number of average
weekday boardings (which as usual is about twice the number of humans
riding the trains) was 20,910, some of whom, moreover, are not new
transit riders but are forced transfers from SamTrans bus routes
which have been systematically cut back to fund the black hole of
SamTrans-underwritten BART operating deficits.
Contrast this number with the grotesquely, uh, improbable 68,600 daily
riders (for FY2012) promulgated by BART and MTC in the project EIR,
an "estimate" whose motivation and outcome was to bilk federal
taxpayers of $750 million.
Even better, "projections estimate that the four-station extension
will generate 70,000 new trips per day by 2010", per BART in 1996:
Even so, SamTrans can see the benefits of the $1.5 billion extension.
"The BART line is an established part of the Peninsula's daily life.
People use it; that's keeping more cars off the freeway and providing
meaningful service to a lot of people," said Mark Simon, special
assistant to SamTrans CEO Michael Scanlon.
And in introducing its new marketing campaign, BART officials provided
more positive numbers: "Despite erroneous reports to the contrary, the
number of people who take BART to SFO has steadily increased during
each year since the station opened in June 2003. In fact, comparing
2004 and 2005 -- the first two full fiscal years that the station has
been open -- ridership rose from 1,448,423 passengers to 1,668,632
passengers. That's a 15.2 percent increase."
But since 2005, even the line's signature stop at the airport saw a
2.3 percent drop in weekday riders to 6,352, notes the SamTrans
The stormy relationship between SamTrans and BART seems to have calmed
since the extension's first two years, when the two agencies fought
over subsidizing an anemic new rail service.
As recently as last summer, the two agencies were trading barbs over
SamTrans' efforts to cut back the number of trains and thus the cost
of the line. San Mateo County does not help govern BART -- as do San
Francisco, Alameda and Contra Costa counties -- because its leaders
decided in 1962 their citizens had high enough property taxes and they
already had a rail line, the precursor to Caltrain.
BART board members went so far as to threaten to stop service to all
San Mateo stops but the airport, and noted that SamTrans' pleas of
poverty rang hollow as it spent millions providing Caltrain's new
"baby bullet" service in competition with BART.
Partnerships such as the one between SamTrans and BART are like
families, Simon said, and families often have disagreements.
"Anybody who's been in a family knows that oftentimes those disputes
can be over money," Simon said. "That doesn't mean the partnership
isn't healthy and shouldn't continue."
Asked how the partnership is these days, Simon said: " We're not
feuding right now, but that doesn't mean we couldn't have one
tomorrow. Do we have some real issues on the extension about what's
happening? Absolutely. Does that mean we can't work with our partner
to solve it? No."
Because San Mateo opted out of the BART system, it had to agree to
cover operating costs and share in construction costs, most of which
were covered by federal mass transit funds.
Unexpected increases, particularly in the cost of land, are still
causing tensions between BART and the MTC, which loaned BART $60
million in 1999. BART recently balked at repaying all of it, which is
due to MTC now that the long overdue federal payments have been
authorized by Congress.
[BATN notes that SamTrans "loaned" the BART extension an additional
$72 million -- on top of to the $99 million for which it was already
on the hook -- at as part of the same February 1999 MTC-engineered
bailout of "unexpected" cost overrruns of the MTC-promoted and
MTC-fraudulently-misrepresented project. So when does _that_ loan
The dispute between SamTrans and BART over service has for the moment
been settled. The line now has service every 15 minutes.
MTC spokesman Randy Rentschler said some of the line's difficulties
could be explained by the success of the initial extension into San
Mateo County, which stopped at the Colma station in the 1990s.
"Colma opened up a lot earlier, and for a short time, did turn a
profit," Rentschler said. "Then the idea was, well shoot, this is
going to work all the way to the airport."
[BATN: That "profit" was entirely an accounting fraud cooked up the
make the numbers look good: the deal was that _ALL_ of the revenue for
any trip, no matter how far it extended past Daly City, which involved
the Colma station was credited as "profit", while only _INCREMENTAL_
costs of operating trains down the additional 1.6 mile extension were
counted as expenses. And of course, as in the customary, uh, unorthodox
MTC/BART project-justification-by-any-means accounting system,
all capital, interest and opportunity costs were discounted to zero.
Moreover, the prior Colma numbers do not "explain" the massive and
conclusively proven fraudulence of the Millbrae extension
"predictions", as they were explicitly included in the "studies"
undertaken to justify the extension. They can't have it both ways!]
Contact Erik Nelson at enelson@...