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To cut losses, SamTrans seeks SFO, SMCo. BART fare hike

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  • 5/13 SF Chronicle
    Published Friday, May 13, 2005, in the San Francisco Chronicle SamTrans wants BART to raise fares Weekend closing of 2 Peninsula stations is also suggested By
    Message 1 of 1 , May 13, 2005
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      Published Friday, May 13, 2005, in the San Francisco Chronicle

      SamTrans wants BART to raise fares
      Weekend closing of 2 Peninsula stations is also suggested

      By Leslie Fulbright, Dave Murphy

      SamTrans, tired of losing money subsidizing BART's unprofitable
      Peninsula extension, has proposed raising fares for all BART rides
      into San Francisco International Airport and closing two stations on
      the weekends.

      In a letter sent Monday to BART officials, SamTrans suggests closing
      the South San Francisco and San Bruno stations each Saturday and
      Sunday, increasing the cost of all rides inside the county by $1 and
      adding an additional $1 to the existing $1.50 airport surcharge.

      BART, which is grappling with a $51 million deficit, offered a mixed
      reaction to the proposals.

      "We need to do a little more homework," said BART General Manager
      Thomas Margro. "Closing the two stations with the lowest ridership
      would help contain their costs, and I think that will get serious
      consideration."

      Regarding the proposed $1 fare increase on trips to the airport,
      Margro said, "I would be surprised if that finds much support. I
      don't think riders from the East Bay should pay to support SamTrans."

      [BATN: Oh, but SamTrans SHOULD pay to subsidize affluent airline
      passengers coming from Orinda?????!!!]

      Because San Mateo County is not part of the three-county BART
      district and its residents didn't pay the property or sales taxes that built and help maintain the BART system, SamTrans agreed to pay
      the operating costs for the new five-station route when it opened in
      June 2003.

      At the time, BART officials promised the extension would be
      profitable within five years, but ridership aboard trains south of
      Colma is far below projections.

      However, BART officials could not provide ridership statistics
      Thursday.

      [BATN: BART can, should it _choose_ to, produce ridership numbers
      per-faregate, per-station, per-minute almost immediately. But in the
      meantime, while "BART officials" ponder whether that is information
      which journalists should be privileged to know, BATN directs readers
      to the March 2005 average weekday ridership figures on page 4 of <http://www.samtrans.org/pdf/BOD_Agenda_Reports/5_11_05/Multimodal_Ridership.pdf>]

      In 2005, SamTrans paid BART $8 million and expects to pay $10 million
      more in the 2006 fiscal year. The agency hopes to reduce that to $5
      million in 2007 and then to nothing by 2008.

      "We are facing a difficult budget and looking for ways to lower the
      operating costs for BART," said SamTrans spokeswoman Jayme Kunz.
      "Our operating agreement with BART says the extension is supposed
      to be profitable and any year that it isn't, we meet to find ways to
      make it profitable."

      When the line opened, BART added a $1 surcharge to trips beginning or
      ending in San Mateo County. SamTrans has been paying that surcharge
      for riders traveling within the county, but now, facing a $5.5 million
      operating deficit, the agency wants to pass the fee on to riders.

      In addition, the agency wants to raise by $1 the current $1.50
      surcharge to the airport to further offset its subsidy.

      The proposals must be approved by both the SamTrans and BART boards.
      Public hearings will be held before any changes are made and are
      bound to bring varying opinions.

      San Bruno Mayor Larry Franzella isn't thrilled with the idea of
      closing his city's station on weekends, but he understands the
      pressure facing SamTrans.

      "I see it as probably the best of poor solutions," he said.

      San Bruno resident Angela Marcheschi frequently commutes to San
      Francisco on BART and occasionally to other destinations on weekends,
      but she said another fare increase "would make me stop and think."

      People using Peninsula BART stations already pay substantially
      higher fares than other riders traveling comparable distances. A
      ride between the San Bruno and South San Francisco BART stations,
      which are less than 3-1/2 miles apart by car, costs $2.25 one way.
      In San Francisco, a BART ride between the Balboa Park and Embarcadero
      stations, which are nearly 8 miles apart by car, costs $1.30.

      People riding BART between the East Bay and San Francisco also save
      on bridge tolls, so BART offers them a more substantial advantage
      over driving, Marcheschi said. She said adding another $2 to her
      round-trip fare would make taking her car more tempting.

      "If you drive into the city, you can find $10 parking places," she
      said.

      At the South San Francisco BART station, El Camino High School
      sophomore Jazelle See said the extra dollar would hit hard. She
      already spends $4.65 each way to commute from her Hayward home.

      She also goes to school on BART some weekends, but said that isn't
      as big of a concern as the potential fare increase.

      Also on Thursday, BART officials announced that, in addition to
      raising fares and cutting discounts for seniors and the disabled,
      it would consider cutting the number of cars on each train to more
      closely match ridership. For example, the Pittsburg line would have
      eight cars throughout the day.

      Although it wouldn't impact BART riders, SamTrans may also raise bus
      fares by a quarter for local routes and 50 cents for longer trips to
      help ease its budget shortfall. The SamTrans Board of Directors will
      consider the increase at 10 a.m. June 1 at 1250 San Carlos Ave., San
      Carlos.

      SamTrans weekday ridership has dropped from more than 60,000 at its
      peak a few years ago to less than 50,000 now, while revenue from the
      half-cent sales tax is at about $58 million, down from close to $70
      million.

      Besides attending the public hearing, people can also comment through
      the SamTrans Web site at <http://www.samtrans.com>, by calling (800)
      660-4287 or by writing to the SamTrans Board Secretary, 1250 San
      Carlos Ave., San Carlos, CA 94070.


      E-mail the writers at lfulbright@...
      and dmurphy@...
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