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BART to Millbrae a flaming failure -- gee, who could've guessed?

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  • 5/14 SMCo. Times
    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,
    Message 1 of 1 , May 14 4:29 PM
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      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
      <http://www.samtrans.org/pdf/BOD_Agenda_Reports/05_10_06/CRC_9_Multimodal_Ridership.pdf>

      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:
      <http://groups.yahoo.com/group/BATN/message/11630>...]

      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
      report.

      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
      get repaid?]

      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@...
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