MTC report: BA transit "unsustainable"; $1b/year needed to survive
- Published Tuesday, May 4, 2010, by the Oakland Tribune
Bay Area transit needs $1 billion a year to survive
By Janis Mara
Bay Area public transit is caught in a downward spiral, and fundamental changes must be made to rescue it, according to the region's major transportation planning agency's annual report <http://mtc.ca.gov/library/AnnualReport-09>.
The area's more than two dozen transit systems, including BART and AC Transit, are likely to need about $1 billion a year for the next 25 years to survive, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Commission's 2009 annual report. Bay Area ferries, buses and trains are barreling toward deficits totaling about $25 billion deficit in 2033.
"By all measures, the long-term prognosis points to decline, not stability," Steve Heminger, the commission's executive director, said in the report. "The current transit system is unsustainable."
Fewer people are taking transit to work because fewer people have jobs and reduced spending means less revenue from sales tax. In response, agencies cut service and hike fares, further decreasing income from the fare box. Heminger described this cycle as "a road to ruin."
Other problems included operating costs. Since 1997, the total cost of running the Bay Area's transit agencies increased 52 percent, after factoring out inflation.
Many of these cost increases come from raises and benefits for transit employees, according to the report. As just one example, BART employees are among the country's highest paid transit workers.
"If allowed to continue, these trends would eventually threaten the very viability of the Bay Area's transit system," the report said.
The annual report cited figures from the commission's long-range regional transportation plan, Transportation 2035: Change in Motion, which predicted the enormous shortfalls.
In response to the crisis, the commission has formed a task force to come up with potential solutions, the Transit Sustainability Project. The task force's first meeting is May 14 in downtown Oakland at the transportation commission's headquarters.
The report hinted at steps that might be taken to fix the problems. One step might be cutting back service at times with low ridership, such as evenings, and to outlying areas, since "service design" was identified as a key component of sustainable transit.
"Transit operators struggle to satisfy the public's expectation of comprehensive, fixed-route service to even far-flung locations -- whether or not ridership levels make such service truly feasible," the report said.
Cost containment was identified as a second key component of sustainable transit. Reining in costs such as employee salaries might come under this category.
The final component was "institutional arrangements." Bay Area transit has long been criticized as Balkanized, with more than two dozen agencies protecting their own turf. Consolidation and cooperation might come under this category.
"We have multiple layers of decision-making and service delivery -- 28 separate transit agencies, each with its own board, staff and operating team, that confound efforts to deliver a regional system passengers can understand...." the report said.
Contact Janis Mara at 925-952-2671.
[BATN: See also:
MTC report: rising costs put Bay Area transit on "road to ruin"