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BART Boosts Fares by 10%

Friday May 23, 2003

BART is raising its rates, again.  

In the first of five scheduled increases, the BART board of directors voted yesterday to increase all fares by 10 percent. The rate hike, which follows a 5 percent increase at the start of this year, will go into effect Jan. 1. The increase will raise the price of a trip from downtown Berkeley to downtown San Francisco from $2.75 to $3.05. 

BART directors approved the fare hike to help erase a projected $38.8 million deficit for next year. Starting in 2006 and running through 2012, fares are expected to jump every two years by roughly 5.5 percent, providing BART with about $183 million in new revenue. The system is projecting a $400 million shortfall over the next decade. 

“Today we made the tough decisions we had to make,” said Contra Costa board member Dan Richard. 

But the fare increases did face some opposition on the board. Board member Tom Radulovich of San Francisco said he could not approve the hikes for a system that, in his view, favors suburbanites over urban residents. 

“Before we pile on a new fare increase ... we need to fix what is broken,” he said. “BART’s fare structure is not a fair structure.” 

Radulovich, reviving a long-standing debate on the board, said suburban commuters do not pay enough for lengthy trips to urban areas. But Richard argued that the cost of operating a train does not increase significantly with distance. 

The fare increases are part of a larger budget-balancing plan that includes layoffs and shifting workers from BART’s core system. Some workers will be shifted to a new four-station extension, including a stop at San Francisco International Airport that is set to open June 22. A total of 28 workers face loss of their jobs, but management and union officials are working on a plan that may allow for early retirements rather than layoffs. 

Berkeley board member Ron Nakadegawa voiced opposition to the fare hikes for another reason, arguing that workers should take a pay cut rather than allow riders to foot the bill for the deficit. But, in the end, he voted for the hikes. 

“I knew I wasn’t going to get very far” with the call for pay cuts, he said. 

Some critics say BART, which began charging in December for some of the 40,000 parking spots outside its stations, should have tapped drivers for more cash, rather than leaning on all of its riders. Drivers, they argue, create more pollution and tend to be wealthier than those who walk or bicycle to BART. 

“Right now BART parking spots are highly subsidized,” said Cynthia Powell, volunteer coordinator for the Bicycle-Friendly Berkeley Coalition. “Rather than give riders a 10 percent hike, the parking should cost more.” 

Board member Thomas Blalock, who represents Fremont, Hayward, Newark and Union City, said raising fees would only scare commuters away from the nascent parking program. 

“It’s a new system and we have to give it time to settle in,” he said. 

Until last December, all drivers parked for free on a first-come, first-serve basis. Today, commuters pay up to $63 per month for a guaranteed spot in a BART parking lot. So far, the transit agency has attracted only 3,600 of the 9,700 subscribers it was hoping to get. 

The board delayed a vote on an additional 5-cent surcharge on every BART ticket to help pay for a series of seismic retrofitting projects. 

BART tried to win voter approval in November for a $1.05 billion bond to fund the projects, including a retrofit of the transbay tube that runs from Oakland to San Francisco, but fell just short of the two-thirds vote required.  

The measure would have raised property taxes by an average of $7.80 per $100,000 of assessed value to pay for the projects. Critics argued that BART riders, rather than property owners, should pay for the retrofits. 

The board, which will likely seek voter approval of a new bond in March 2004, decided to vote on the 5-cent increase closer to the election so it could send a signal to voters that BART and its riders are willing to foot some of the bill. 

“While this nickel doesn’t represent the entire amount we need, it is a good signal to the public that we are willing to do something for ourselves,” said board member James Fang of San Francisco. 

BART riders in downtown Berkeley had a mixed reaction to the fare hike news Thursday. 

“It sucks,” said Amber Gill, a Berkeley resident who plans to commute to the Lake Merritt BART station in the coming months to take classes at Laney College. 

Keyon Gray, an Oakland resident who uses BART to get to his job at Landmark Shattuck Cinemas in downtown Berkeley, said he understood the board’s vote given the $38.8 million deficit. 

“You have to do it,” he said. “It’s a business like any other.”