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BART raises fares even as ridership decreases

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“We can’t keep increasing fares while watching ridership drop”

A white light-rail train on elevated tracks, with the tops of trees and buildings visible as it passes. Photo by Sheila Fitzgerald/Shutterstock

The BART Board of Directors approved its budget for the 2020 fiscal year on Thursday. And despite mountains of complaints, the transit agency plans to increase fares through 2026 and spend more on security—even while gloomily predicting that ridership will go down.

In January 2020, fares on BART will increase 5.4 percent, the last in a series of fare hikes approved in 2013.

After that period, thanks to Thursday’s 6-3 vote fares will creep up again every two years starting in 2022, roughly around four percent, using the same inflation-based formula that the system has used for years.

Agency directors ultimately decided not to implement an alternative schedule that would have raised fares more, but still ended up in the paradoxical position of charging more as BART demand wanes.

“We can’t keep increasing fares while watching ridership drop,” Director Liz Ames said Thursday, noting, “We’re projecting [ridership] levels from six years ago.”

Directors were at odds over how—and if—to increase prices. Several directors noted the irony of the board considering both discounts for some riders and price hikes for others at the same time.

“It gives me heartburn,” said Director John McPartland.

BART’s new budget predicts an average of roughly 404,900 weekday trips over the next 12 months, down about three percent compared to last year.

That dip could cost BART $5.6 million, based on budget projections for the 2019-2020 period. BART is taking in more money from sales tax and other revenue funds to make up the difference.

Despite the decline, the $2.3-billion plan includes increased spending on the BART Police Department (the board wants to hire 19 new officers at a cost of $2.1 million total) and fare inspection (half a million dollars).

Spending also includes $2 million for what BART calls “the impacts of regional homelessness in the BART system, including outreach programs, elevator attendants and pit stop restrooms.”