BART details budget challenges and efforts to boost local ridership, safety

The agency spelled out how a failure would look.

Amanda del Castillo Image
Wednesday, May 31, 2023
BART details budget challenges and efforts to boost local ridership
As BART deals with ongoing struggles, agency leaders are putting the focus on budget challenges and boosting local ridership.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- As BART deals with ongoing struggles, agency leaders are putting the focus on budget challenges and boosting local ridership.

On Tuesday, the transit agency's board president and interim police chief addressed an effort to bring back confidence across the BART system.

The announcement comes on the same day some state lawmakers plan to join business and transit leaders to call for the approval of $5 billion in additional funding for mass transit.

They say transit is still struggling post-pandemic and immediate action is needed to prevent major service cuts across California.

Transit agencies have been surviving off of federal money. However, by 2025, many agencies including BART project that extra cash will run out.

With a focus on getting people back on board. BART Board President Janice Li said across the BART system, weekday ridership is just 44% of pre-pandemic numbers. The numbers that are still very low have encouraged an effort to boost confidence from BART riders.

"We want to make sure that as there's increasing return to the office, and we're seeing those increased ridership numbers, that people are seeing a different BART when they come back," Li told reporters. "They're gonna see bathrooms reopen, they're gonna see attendants at all of our stations in Downtown San Francisco."

MORE: Bay Area public transit agencies say they need more state money to survive

For months, public transit agencies like BART and Muni have said they're running out of money, and fast.

Li said safety is a top priority, and visible throughout the Embarcadero Station Tuesday morning were BART police and other safety personnel.

The department's interim police Chief Kevin Franklin did not deny the public's perception of the lack of safety on trains.

"When incidents like that occur, we have a very high closure rate," Franklin said. "People get arrested if they commit crimes on BART."

MORE: BART unveils Bay Area themed anime mascots to attract young riders

The agency also released new numbers Tuesday morning, saying March and April saw two of the highest monthly arrest totals since the pandemic, crediting its redeployment plan.

Interim Chief Franklin says BART PD has all the funding it needs to fill 31 current vacancies.

However, where the police department budget is secure, the same cannot be said for BART.

In a release, the agency said it's at a "do-or-die decision point" when it described its fate and the need for short-term financial aid to really continue functioning.

"We want to make sure that our state legislators, who hold so much power in determining what the future of BART looks like, that they are hearing directly from our chief and they're hearing directly from us," Li said.

The California State Legislature recently restored $2 billion for the Transit and Intercity Rail Capital Program. However, BART predicts that extra cash will run out by 2025.

In a release, the agency spelled out how a failure would look.

BART says it would include:

  • Trains only once an hour
  • No trains on weekends
  • No trains after 9 p.m. on weeknights
  • Reduced service to San Francisco International and Oakland International airports
  • Some stations closed
  • Entire lines potentially shuttered

MORE: Main reason for low BART ridership, financial issues released in new survey

The Bay Area Council released results of a survey Tuesday showing safety is the main reason why BART is experiencing low ridership numbers.

These are just a few of the reasons why State Senator Scott Wiener along with other legislators and leaders are calling for the governor and legislature to provide additional state funding to avoid such massive service cuts to public transportation across California.

"Our partnerships with the state of California are critical. And just letting them know what fully funding a transit system means to the Bay Area, and we are committed to doing what we can to bring our passengers back," Interim Chief Franklin said.

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