SMCo. BART disaster: We told you so, in 1995
- Published Tuesday, May 31, 2005, in the San Mateo County Times
Longtime BART concerns vindicated
By Tom Dempsey
In 1995 I served as one of the 19 citizen members of the San Mateo
County Civil grand jury. One of the major issues the jury reviewed
was the extension of the Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART)
extension to San Francisco International Airport and Millbrae.
In the mid-year report released in November of that year, the 19
citizens that comprised the jury affirmed their opposition to BART's
plan, as approved and financially supported by the San Mateo County
Transit District (SamTrans), to go to SFO as too expensive.
The jury urged county transit officials to develop a plan to improve
Caltrain as a more sensible way to enhance the Peninsula's
[BATN: For a summary (San Mateo County
<http://www.sanmateocourt.org/grandjury> does not have this report
At that time, the BART project was estimated to cost about $1.27
billion with approximately $476 million coming from SamTrans.
This was in contrast to the estimated $705 million for structural
improvements and electrification of the Caltrain line, as well as
extending the line to downtown San Francisco.
I, and other members of the grand jury, feared that the BART
extension would never reap the ridership nor the transit benefits
claimed by its proponents and that the capital outlay would far
outweigh such an investment.
Unfortunately, the concerns were not only ignored, but the members
of the jury were vilified as uninformed and ignorant.
"They didn't know what they're talking about," county Supervisor
Mike Nevin said then.
A decade later, with hindsight as a clear guide for analyzing the
existing condition of mass transit in San Mateo County, the
conclusions of the 1995 grand jury have proved to be tragically
Last year, San Mateo County taxpayers were abruptly informed, via the
threat of a lawsuit by BART against SamTrans, that the BART extension
was woefully in debt and ridership was less than half of what was
promised by its proponents. Worse yet, however, San Mateo County
taxpayers were responsible for paying for the losses, approximately
$11 million, due to the compact between BART and SamTrans that
stipulated that all operating losses for the extension would be paid
by San Mateo County. The proponents had not only signed on to what
became a bloated and over-budget capital project, but also allowed
BART entree into county coffers.
This deal was made by the very same critics of the grand jury,
Mr. Nevin and friends. This year, county residents were informed
through local press accounts that the BART debt is approximately $8
million, much of which will be taken from SamTrans budget reserves.
To help ease the future debt, SamTrans officials are proposing the
weekend closure of the San Bruno and South San Francisco BART
According to SamTrans General Manager Mike Scanlon, the BART
extension was supposed to turn a profit, but has failed to do so
and that failure is forcing the beleaguered transit district "to
take a serious structural look at the kind of business we're in."
To help cover the projected losses, local officials last year added a
$30-million BART subsidy to the renewal plan for San Mateo County's
Measure A, a 25-year, half-cent sales tax measure. Meanwhile, bus
service continues to be slashed as a means to compel county residents
to use the BART system. In addition, bus fares will also be increased
to help cover the costs of the BART debt.
To add insult to grievous injury, the Caltrain system is also in a
state of near free fall. The Peninsula Corridor Joint Powers Board
(JPB) that operates the train line recently eliminated train service
to the Broadway Avenue Station in Burlingame and the station
servicing Atherton in order to cope with flat revenues and depleted
I consider it a great honor to have served my fellow citizens as a
member of the 1995 jury, but I am dismayed that the effort put forth
was dismissed with such incredulity despite the plain truth of the
concerns expressed then and the vindication of those concerns now.
The tragedy of that vindication, however, is the devastation of our
local transit systems and the difficulties it has caused to those
who depend upon those systems.
Resident of Portola Valley for over 50 years
[BATN notes that none of the criminals responsible for the BART-SFO
fraud have suffered even the slightest career embarrassment, let
alone any time assisting the mission of the California Correctional
Peace Officers Association.
Former MTC executive director Larry Dahms is comfortably retired with
a full public pension; former SamTrans executive director Gerry Haugh
is comfortably retired with a full public pension; former MTC
government affairs liaison -- and chief Bay Bridge replacement and
replacement "design" fiasco shill -- Steve Heminger has been promoted
to the executive directorship of MTC; former BART _and_ former
SamTrans staffer Howard Goode who "negotiated" the disastrous deal
from both sides of the table is is comfortably retired with a full
public pension; BART general manager Tom Margro continues to hold his
well-compensated position while scheming further fiscal black-hole
extensions to Oakland airport and San Jose; BART deputy General
Manager Dorothy Dugger continues damage the entire Bay Area's
regional transportation system by consistent hardball lobbying for
BART and BART contractors before everybody and everything else;
former extension manager Takis Salpeas is making trouble for
Washington Metro extensions; later extension manager Jim Van Epps
is now building on success working on BART to San Jose; etc etc etc
And that's not even mentioning the overtly political figures, none
of whom lost office or, apparently, lost any face in this whole
All told, the record is one of completely unmitigated record of
failure and of _negative_ accountability for that failure.
Meanwhile, those who, with 100% accuracy, predicted the fiasco,
are denigrated, insulted and ignored by those pushing for the next
Wallow in nostalgia at
etc etc. ]