MTC report: rising costs put Bay Area transit on "road to ruin"
- Published Monday, May 3, 2010, by the San Francisco Chronicle
Costs put transit agencies on 'road to ruin'
Bay Area mass transit agencies, including AC Transit, are losing money and riders, the transportation commission says.
By Phillip Matier, Andrew Ross
From Sonoma to San Jose, the Bay Area's 28 mass transit systems are bleeding money and riders at a rate that will require a projected bailout of about $1 billion a year for the next 25 years, according to a new report <http://mtc.ca.gov/library/AnnualReport-09> by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission.
Ballooning costs, coupled with a shrinking ridership and vanishing tax revenue, have led to a vicious circle of fare hikes and service cuts that chase away even more patrons -- and lead to more deficits.
"It is a road to ruin," said the transportation commission's executive director, Steve Heminger.
Although transit agencies like to blame the recession, loss of sales-tax subsidies and state cuts for their problems, the report says many of their wounds were self-inflicted.
For example, from 1997 to 2008, the total cost of running the Bay Area's bus, train and ferry systems climbed 52 percent over inflation.
During the same period, however, the number of commuter lines and hours of service increased just 16 percent. Ridership rose a mere 7 percent.
The biggest chunk of the cost increases, according to the report, consists of raises and benefits for management and the rank and file, many of whom are now among the best-paid transit workers in the country. In fact, the cost increases were so dramatic, it's questionable whether the systems could have covered their costs even if the economy had held.
"It's expensive to live in the Bay Area, and we have an aging system," said Scott Haggerty, an Alameda County supervisor and chairman of the transportation commission, which hands out money to the various agencies.
But "there is no question," Haggerty said, that "we have to start looking at cutting back on duplicate services and running more efficiently."
They'd better, because unless the systems change dramatically, they're going to need $25 billion over the next 25 years, the report says.
Where's that money going to come from? No one knows for sure.
But if history is any indication, it's going to come from all of us through higher fares, higher tolls, higher taxes -- or, if you're in San Francisco, from more parking meters and even higher ticket fines.
Contact columnists Phillip Matier and Andrew Ross at (415) 777-8815, or e-mail matierandross@...