BART may need tax dollars to keep running as pandemic funding is drying up

ByRyan Curry, Suzanne Phan KGO logo
Friday, May 10, 2024
BART to ask voters for critical funding
As money is starting to dry out, BART is looking for new ways to find funding.

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- The BART board of directors is met Thursday to discuss the budget for the next two years. Money is starting to run out.

"I think BART is crucial," said Latrice Porter, a San Leandro resident. "It is the Bay Area. It makes it very easy to get around, because often times, I don't do well with traffic."

Porter used to take BART every day for work. The pandemic came and now her job is remote. Like so many others in the Bay Area, the work location changed and BART took a big hit. Gone are the days of commuters crowding stops getting to and from San Francisco.

Ridership data shows more than 160,000 people use BART daily. But that's about 40% of what it was pre-pandemic.

"I am 100% remote work," Porter said.

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This means BART is not getting nearly as much revenue.

BART says lower ridership, increasing labor costs, and declining sales tax revenues are straining BART finances.

The transit agency also expects to run out of $1.9 billion dollars in federal and state assistance by April 2026.

BART directors reviewed budget projections Thursday and say they're concerned for the future.

"I don't mean to be glib here, right. The big existential issue is that we are relying on $870,000 every day in emergency assistance, and we know that's not a sustainable business plan," said Chris Simi, BART budget director.

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BART says it will be fine for the next two years because of pandemic relief money. But starting in 2027, it faces a major annual deficit.

"Basically $300-to-400 million operating deficit each year," said Alicia Trost, BART spokeswoman.

There is a ballot measure set for 2026 that could raise $1.5 billion dollars a year with a number of new taxes and a vehicle registration surcharge.

"That ballot measure will be very important for funding, not just BART, but all transit in the Bay Area," Trost said.

Senator Aisha Wahab and Senator Scott Wiener are behind the legislation.

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Wahab issued a statement Thursday, saying:

"Multiple agencies across the region are facing fiscal cliffs, and we are creating a sustainable funding source for public transit agencies to maintain existing services and increase the quality, safety, and efficiency of those services. This bill is crucial to keeping public transit available in the Bay Area."

BART has not laid out an option for funding if that measure does not pass. Without proper funding, services could be severely impacted. Even if voters approve the tax measure, the funding won't come until 2028.

"BART's infrastructure is relatively old. Almost 50 years old. There's no way to come up with the kind of revenue that will be required short of a bond measure. Those who are in BART's service area, and those who own homes and properties in those area will be the ones paying back those bonds over a 30-year period or so," said David Fraser, a lecturer for Public Affairs and Administration at Cal State East Bay.

Porter is in favor of the using tax dollars to fund BART. Even though Porter doesn't use it as much, she says so many others rely on it.

"I feel for those less fortunate," Porter said. "They probably don't have a car. Don't have the means to purchase a car. And taking that critical piece away from those to get to their jobs to feed their families. You know thinking of that, that is sad."

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