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BART to sue SamTrans over SFO extension subsidies

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  • 3/11 Peninsula Examiner
    Published Thursday, March 11, 2004, in the Peninsula Examiner Battle over BART Price tag of extension line has pols arguing. By Justin Nyberg Staff Writer
    Message 1 of 1 , Mar 11, 2004
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      Published Thursday, March 11, 2004, in the Peninsula Examiner

      Battle over BART
      Price tag of extension line has pols arguing.

      By Justin Nyberg
      Staff Writer
      jnyberg@...

      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
      Wednesday.

      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
      bleeding."

      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
      Kunz.

      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
      year.

      BART has threatened to file the suit in San Mateo County Superior
      Court if SamTrans directors do not vote to resume payments at their
      meeting today.

      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?"
      Nevin said.

      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
      counties.

      San Francisco supervisors Aaron Peskin, Fiona Ma and Chris Daly have
      called on SamTrans to uphold its end of the bargain.
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