SamTrans to buy its way out of disastrous BART extension deal
- 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
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
"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.]