Published Thursday, March 11, 2004, in the Peninsula Examiner
Battle over BART
Price tag of extension line has pols arguing.
By Justin Nyberg
REDWOOD CITY -- A legal battle has erupted between two cash-strapped
transportation agencies over the tab for BART's unexpectedly
expensive debut in San Mateo County.
BART directors Wednesday announced they are ready to sue SamTrans,
San Mateo County's transit agency, for breach of contract after
SamTrans announced it could no longer afford to subsidize the
lackluster ridership on BART's Millbrae and SFO extension, and would
simply stop paying.
"BART will not stand for SamTrans to jump the fare gate and not pay
their share of the service," said James Fang, president of the BART
Board of Directors, at a press conference announcing the lawsuit
While the train line opened with much fanfare June 22, revenue from
ticket sales has fallen well below expectations, leaving SamTrans
stuck with a bill four times what it expected when it agreed in 1990
to cover all operating costs for the 8.75-mile extension.
San Mateo County Supervisor and chairman of SamTrans Board of
Directors Mike Nevin said the transit agency has repeatedly offered
to pay the full amount, but wants BART service levels to the
Peninsula to be reduced.
"At the rate we are moving, we would be broke," said Nevin. "We're
saying to them we'll pay our bill and in return we have to stop the
Transit officials blame the systems lackluster ridership on the local
economic downturn. Initial predictions called for 70,000 riders per
day on the BART extension. The system is currently seeing 25,000
riders per day, according to SamTrans spokesperson Jayme Maltbie
SamTrans' first-year subsidy swelled from the original estimate of
$6 million to $24 million.
On Jan. 20, SamTrans General Manager Mike Scanlon notified BART that
SamTrans, which operates bus and shuttle services in San Mateo County
on a $100 million budget, "simply does not have funds to continue
subsidizing SFO extension service." It has already missed $10.7
million in payments and is expected to owe another $20 million next
BART has threatened to file the suit in San Mateo County Superior
Court if SamTrans directors do not vote to resume payments at their
Nevin said BART's lawsuit is ironic, considering it still owes
SamTrans $80.5 million for loans the agency offered BART "in good
faith" since 1999 to help bring BART to the peninsula. The loans
helped cover construction costs when federal funds fell through and
the purchase of real estate for the new track.
"How dare they, because we are a few days late, threaten to sue us?"
BART spokesperson Linton Johnson said the comparison is misleading,
because it involves one-time construction costs while BART is trying
to recover ongoing operating revenue.
"They are just trying to divert the issue," Johnson said.
BART officials say if SamTrans fails to pay up, the costs of the
Peninsula extension will passed on to taxpayers from neighboring
San Francisco supervisors Aaron Peskin, Fiona Ma and Chris Daly have
called on SamTrans to uphold its end of the bargain.