BART’s Board of Directors decided to gradually bump up fares every two years in 2006, but pledged to keep increases below the rate of inflation.
Now, staring a budget shortfall in the face, the current directors may rethink that plan and beef up future fare hikes.
At Thursday’s BART board meeting, directors considered an “extension of the productivity adjusted, inflation-based fare increase program,” which governs how quickly the price of a ticket increases.
According to a March budget memo, the current schedule was designed to lowball the biennial fare boost:
BART’s productivity-adjusted, inflation-based fare increase program, first approved by the BART Board in 2006 and renewed for a second series in 2013, calls for fares to increase by slightly less than inflation every two years. Fare increases are calculated using an average of the local and national consumer price index (CPI) over the preceding two years, minus 0.5 percent. to account for increases in BART efficiency.
The policy is intended to maintain fiscal stability for the District and predictable fares for custom.
Warning riders of a pending fare hike, BART blog noted in December 2005 that inflation minus 0.5 percent came out to a 3.7 percent increase that year.
According to a 2006 analysis from University of South Florida comparing transit systems nationwide, the average fare on BART was $2.25 (before inflation-based increases), which was the most expensive light-rail fare among the 22 systems assessed.
And according to a 2018 fact sheet from BART, the average fare systemwide last year was $3.90. Note that this isn’t adjusted for average trip length.
Now that the fare program is up for a third course, BART finds that its revenues have lagged, thanks in part to a decline in ridership. BART Manager Grace Crunican wrote in the March memo:
The decline in ridership and the allocation of incremental fare revenue to high-priority capital needs under the current less-than-inflation-based fare increase program both contribute to projected shortfalls .
When the eight-year fare program was implemented in 2014, we anticipated a funding gap would result during the last few years as fare monies needed for operations were earmarked for capital investments. However the ongoing downturn in ridership has worsened the projected financial gap.
Unlike Muni, which relies on fares for only a small percentage of its budget, the San Francisco Chronicle notes that two-thirds of BART’s receipts come out of the fare box.
BART faces significant public backlash over complaints about safety concerns, gripes about crowding, and lack of cleanliness. The annual rider survey, released in January, found that while 56 percent of those surveyed say they’re happy with BART overall, that number is down 13 points from two years prior.
Agency directors did not commit to a fare plan Thursday, but wrestled with the budget conundrum. Director Liz Ames, whose district covers southeastern Alameda County, argued that a downturn in ridership is the worst time to raise fares.
“[Ridership] will continue to decline if we don’t do certain things,” urged Ames, arguing that more visible security and police presence would make commuters feel safer and improve BART’s fortunes.
“There’s lawlessness going on on the trains,” added Ames.
Janice Li, who represents parts of San Francisco, acknowledge that security needs more attention, but also argued that BART needs community liaisons who can assist the public directly in stations.
“The reason folks are not taking BART is we don’t have that presence at stations ... [I]t feels like it’s very empty at a platform level,” said Li, citing feedback from community groups.
New fares, if decided on, would go into effect in 2022.