BART considers options to fill budget shortfall

BART officials took its first step in trying to erase a projected budget deficit that ranges from $25 million to $35 million in the upcoming fiscal year.

The transit agency’s Board of Directors discussed a number of fare revenue options from the budget staff at its regular board meeting Thursday that included increasing the minimum fare, surcharging riders who buy the magnetic strip paper tickets and reducing discounts for seniors, youth and persons with disabilities.

One option off the table for the budget staff to study is to raise the minimum fare.

The current minimum fare is currently $1.95, but will increase in January of next year to $2 based on the board’s automatic fare increase formula. Fares across the board will also rise next year too.

The proposal was to go beyond the automatic fare increase of $2 and raise the minimum fare to $2.25. BART said the $2.25 minimum fare would be more align with other transit agencies such San Francisco Muni ($2.50 cash fare, $2.25 via Clipper) and AC Transit ($2.10 cash fare, $2 via Clipper).

BART projects it could make about $4.3 million annually with the increase to the minimum fare.

President of the BART Board of Directors Rebecca Saltzman said she had opposed  the increase in the minimum fare since the board began discussing the option:

“I’ve been in very much opposition to this huge increase to the minimum fare, which does not bring us in line with the rest of the Bay Area.”

Saltzman added:

“This is a very large increase that we’re considering for only one large group of BART riders.”

She also said she had concerns of losing ridership to AC Transit and to transportation network companies such as Uber and Lyft because of the fare increase. Ridership is already on the decline on the weekends.

According to BART, 18 percent of BART trips are minimum fare trips excluding trips made using a San Francisco Muni “A ” Fast Pass.

Director Joel Keller said all of options presented to the board were not great, but said the transit agency has to look at ways in cutting costs and adding revenue to deal with the projected budget shortfall including studying the increasing the minimum fare:

“We’re all going to have to take a look at what matters to us and the people we represent and put that aside for minute, and take look at the financial well-being of this district.”

The only other directors in favor of having the budget staff study the minimum fare increase, other than Keller, were directors John McPartland and Debora Allen.

Options that staff will study under the Title VI analysis, which is a requirement by the federal government before any fare increases can take place, include a surcharge for BART riders who buy paper tickets with the magnetic strip.

Depending on how much BART charges for the surcharge, the transit agency projects to make between $7 million to $17 million.

To encourage BART riders to get a Clipper card, officials said they plan on installing machines that would dispense Clipper cards at transit stations.

BART will also consider reducing discounts for seniors, youth and persons with disabilities to 50 percent, which is the federal guideline. Currently, those riders receive a 62.5 percent discount.

Another consideration directors might take is increasing the age limit for youth fares to 18 to match that of Muni and AC Transit.

The transit agency projects to lose $4 million annually if it does increase the youth age to 18.

Officials at BART will seek public opinion on the options through public outreach such as meetings and surveys.

Pamela Herhold, BART’s manager of financial planning, said she plans to bring the draft results of the Title VI analysis to the board in June.