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The Golden Gate Bridge seeks an emergency bailout

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And so does BART as commuters stay home and fares plummet

Light car and foot traffic on a large red bridge.
Traffic at right is light on the Golden Gate Bridge heading toward San Francisco Tuesday, March 17.
Photo by AP Photo/Eric Risberg

The shelter-in-place orders now active across the entire San Francisco Bay Area region have sapped the vitality of sectors of the economy, including the Golden Gate Bridge, which is appealing to the federal government for monetary aid.

San Francisco Examiner reports that bridge crossings this week are down 70 percent at peak hours. The world-famous span is coming up short approximately $300,000 per day in tolls compared to normal.

Golden Gate Bridge District Manager Denis Mulligan says the district will have to turn to the federal government in order to make up the losses. Whereas other Bay Area bridges are state-run, the district is the sole operator of the Golden Gate Bridge and subsists mainly off tolls.

Both San Francisco and Marin counties are under public health orders to travel as little as possible, and for weeks prior to issuing the shelter-in-place orders on Monday city and state governments were warning residents to travel less and less and avoid public gatherings for fear of spreading the novel coronavirus.

Although almost all public transit is operating throughout the Bay Area, each agency is seeing precipitous declines in use, with BART joining the bridge district in appealing for aid.

BART reports that ridership was down 87 percent on Tuesday compared to similar days in February, from over 415,000 trips to barely more than 54,000, the largest decline since the agency began recording passenger deficits last week.

According to the the transit agency’s COVID-19 fact sheet, a sustained ridership loss of 85 percent and a related 50 percent loss in revenue from sources like sales tax and advertising would put BART $55 million in the hole every month.

Last week, several BART board members appealed to Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi for help, warning in a letter that “BART has limited options to reduce operating costs in the short-term,” since most of the agency’s expenses are from payroll.

The agency has also petitioned the state and the Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission for emergency funds. Money immediately available would only be helpful in the short-term; thus far California has appropriated $500 million worth of funding for assistance, of which BART is seeking $55 million.