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SamTrans to buy its way out of disastrous BART extension deal

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  • 2/15 SMCo. Times
    Published Thursday, February 15, 2007, by the San Mateo County Times BART, SamTrans parting ways Breakup over money seen as beneficial to riders of SFO
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 16, 2007
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      Published Thursday, February 15, 2007, by the San Mateo County Times

      BART, SamTrans parting ways
      Breakup over money seen as beneficial to riders of SFO extension

      By Michael Manekin
      Staff Writer

      The marriage is almost over.

      After the money disputes, the public spats and numerous lawsuit
      threats, SamTrans and BART are calling quits to the 17-year
      partnership behind the underperforming BART-to-SFO extension.

      Not to worry: The BART line -- which connects Colma, South San
      Francisco, San Bruno, Millbrae and San Francisco International
      Airport to the rest of the Bay Area -- will survive, but the
      relationship between SamTrans and BART is about to end in divorce.

      For some six months, the Metropolitan Transportation Commission,
      the Bay Area's regional transportation governing body, has tried
      to draw the feuding agencies toward an amicable conclusion of their

      On Wednesday morning, before the MTC's Planning and Allocations
      committee, the commission came one step closer to success -- and
      with any luck, said transportation officials, the MTC and BART
      boards will approve the agreement by the end of the month.

      "In the spirit of Valentine's Day, I hope we can all move forward,"
      SamTrans director Mike Scanlon told the committee Wednesday morning.

      What went wrong?

      Money, of course.

      Under the terms of the marriage, SamTrans agreed to accept the
      operating costs of the Peninsula's five-stop BART extension. That
      shouldn't have been a problem: The new BART line was supposed to be
      one of the first transit operations in the country to achieve more
      than 100 percent fare-box revenue, essentially paying for itself
      through fares. For SamTrans, the idea was to kick back and watch
      the money roll in.

      Only, 9/11 and the subsequent dot-com bust ended that dream. Initial
      daily ridership projections were pegged at 50,000. But since the
      line's SFO extension arrived in 2003, it has only drawn some 30,000
      riders a day. Although both BART and SamTrans herald the line's 70
      percent fare-box recovery as an unprecedented success for Bay Area
      transit, operating the extension still costs SamTrans the remaining
      30 percent.

      "The extension was never supposed to cost SamTrans a penny," said
      SamTrans spokesman Jonah Weinberg. "Unfortunately, it has never
      met the expectation that it would be wildly successful."

      Not being "wildly successful" has cost SamTrans as much as $17
      million a year to run the line. Since 2003 the borderline debacle
      has cost the agency $48 million. The marriage with BART quickly
      soured when the two agencies started to bicker about the amount of
      money which the underresourced SamTrans had to pay annually toward
      operating the extension.

      Last year SamTrans even capped the amount of money paid to BART at
      $5 million. Shortly thereafter the MTC stepped in to broker an end
      to the marriage.

      "We were certainly on a bad course," said Scanlon. "This (agreement)
      is reasonable -- and as good of a solution we could have come to in
      order to deal with an extremely complex problem."

      Under the terms <http://tinyurl.com/2d24sn> of the divorce
      proceedings, SamTrans washes its hands of the extension by allowing
      BART to take full control of its rail line. In return for the
      trouble, BART would receive $32 million -- the lion's share of
      SamTrans' anticipated portion of bond money from the voter-approved
      Proposition 1B. Alongside an additional $800,000 from SamTrans'
      annual share of state transit funding toward BART, the funds will go
      toward the construction of a BART extension to Warm Springs in
      Alameda County, a project that SamTrans was supposed to have helped
      fund with revenue from the money-losing extension.

      In addition, the San Mateo County Transportation Authority would
      continue to pay BART 2 percent, about $1.2 million a year, of the
      county's half-cent sales tax toward the Warm Springs extension.

      "No divorce is a good thing, but given the situation, this is the
      best solution for everyone involved," Weinberg said.

      While SamTrans has suffered through this difficult marriage, so have
      county taxpayers and commuters. In a desperate attempt to cut some of
      the costs, SamTrans has spent the last few years consolidating BART
      train lines and reducing service -- cutting out direct trains to
      Millbrae and increasing wait times at the airport from seven to 15

      Both BART and SamTrans officials insist that handing the operating
      of the extension over to BART will only benefit riders.

      "Instead of being constrained by the building limitations that
      SamTrans imposed," said BART spokesman Linton Johnson, "we'll be
      able to run the service that the customers want." As BART conducts
      ridership surveys and budget studies on the extension, service
      changes could arrive as early as the fall, Johnson added.

      The divorce, said Johnson, is the unfortunate result of two parents
      who have "opposing viewpoints and opposing budget limitations" on
      how to raise a child.

      "We wanted the kid to grow up really fast and be a genius at a young
      age, and (SamTrans) wanted the kids to grow up really fast, too, but
      they weren't willing to pay for it," he said.

      Only, Weinberg said, SamTrans has a "bunch of children to look
      out for " -- citing the agency's bus fleet and paratransit, plus
      Caltrain, which the agency jointly funds alongside agencies in
      Santa Clara County and San Francisco -- and "couldn't benefit any
      one of our children to the detriment of the others."

      In the meantime, Weinberg said, "we wish our child to grow and
      prosper now that it's left home."

      Staff writer Michael Manekin covers transportation. He can be reached
      at (650) 348-4331 or by e-mail at mmanekin@...

      [BATN: See also:

      SamTrans looks to escape ruinous Millbrae BART extension deal

      SamTrans-BART deal turns failed Millbrae extension over to BART

      Comment: SamTrans divorces BART over failed SMCo. extension

      Editorial: Vigilance required to avoid BART extension disasters

      SMCo. to quietly blow up to $30m to keep BART SFO running

      Despite successes, Caltrain faces $5.3m deficit, tough choices

      Caltrain ridership booms to all-time (143 years) record high

      BART ridership to SFO fails to take off

      Yet another MTC giveaway to failed BART Millbrae boondoggle

      Nevin lost support due to role in SMCo. BART extension disaster

      Letter: BART-SFO extension proves to be financial disaster

      Letter: Renegotiate catastrophically disastrous BART SFO deal

      Tax funds up, but SamTrans, Caltrain still suffer BART burden

      SamTrans faces $25m budget deficit, partly due to BART subsidy

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

      BART and MTC discuss Millbrae extension loan repayment

      MTC calls in $60m loan for MTC-backed BART-Millbrae fiasco

      BART awaits final federal payment for SFO extension

      Millbrae BART remains a dead zone

      BART to cut service, hike fares on failed Millbae extension

      SamTrans to halve peak BART service, keep stations open weekends

      BART still seeking to bankrupt SamTrans, gut Caltrain service

      Was SFO/Millbrae BART extension worth the cost?

      Column: SamTrans defict linked to BART; board unaccountable

      Letter: SamTrans must not starve bus system for BART

      Letter: SamTrans must re-focus on buses, not BART subsidies

      Letter: "Boss" [Mike] Nevin bungled SMCo. transit finances

      Comment: Poor SMCo. transit leadership has brought crisis

      Comment: SMCo. BART disaster killing Caltrain, SamTrans

      $1.7b SMCo. BART extension still plagued with problems

      MTC still defends fraudulent BART SFO/Millbrae predictions

      etc., etc., etc.]
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