Next Stop for BART: Parking Fees? By MATTHEW ARTZ

Tuesday May 03, 2005

Facing a $30 million deficit, BART is considering charging passengers up to $5 a day for parking, and the stations most likely to see parking fees are in Berkeley and Oakland. 

Last week the BART Board of Directors debated several parking fee proposals. One would charge fees at all of its lots. Another would only charge for parking at six lots, all located in Berkeley and Oakland: Ashby, North Berkeley, West Oakland, Rockridge, MacArthur and Lake Merritt. The board is also considering raising fees up to 15 cents a ride and scaling back senior and student discounts. 

BART General Manager Tom Margro said BART proposed charging for parking at the six lots because they were typically filled to capacity and the Berkeley City Council last year voted unanimously in favor of parking fees at BART stations in Berkeley. 

BART board member Bob Franklin, who represents part of Berkeley and supports parking fees, said the fee would open up more spaces for BART riders and make BART fares more equitable. Currently, he said, maintenance of each parking space costs BART about $1 a day. Most of the money for parking lot maintenance comes from fares paid by all passengers regardless of whether they park at BART or not. 

“Basically it’s an unfair subsidy given to drivers,” he said. Franklin also said that if parking fees are collected motorists who don’t use BART will be less likely to park in BART lots. 

The City Council has another incentive to encourage parking fees at Berkeley BART lots. The city contends that public agencies like BART and UC Berkeley are subject to the city’s ten percent parking tax. With 1,437 parking spaces in Berkeley, if BART charged $2 per space, Berkeley could net about $80,000 a year. 

However, like UC Berkeley, BART has disagreed with the city’s position. When Oakland asked BART to collect city parking taxes, BART lawyers argued that the agency was exempt from the tax, according to Carter Mau, BART’s manager of customer access.  

Franklin said he expected the board to pass parking fees of between $1 and $2 dollars for the Berkeley and Oakland stations, with a higher fee for West Oakland, where private parking garages charge $6 for daily parking. Currently BART charges $2 a day to park at Colma and Daly City and 25 cents to park at Lake Merritt. 

BART’s deficit stems mainly from falling revenues and increasing costs, Margro said. While sales tax revenues and ridership (BART’s two sources of income) have dropped over the past five years, employee salaries and benefits have increased. BART currently serves an average of 310,00 riders every weekday, down from 335,000 in 2001, Margro said. Adding to BART’s financial troubles, the agency has a $25 million unfunded liability for retiree medical benefits, he added. 

Enacting the maximum parking and fare hikes would generate about $4 million for the agency. To make up more of the shortfall, Margro has proposed cutting 115 positions, half of which are already vacant, he said. 

The board has until the end of June to pass a budget for the 2006 fiscal year, which begins July 1. Franklin said he expects the board to vote on a parking fee at its June 8 meeting.  

BART is not required to run a balanced budget. It last approved a budget with a deficit in 1995. Last year, BART closed a $40 million deficit with fare increases, budget cuts and the use of money that had been earmarked for capital projects. Previously the board approved a 3.7 percent fare increase set to go into effect in January. It will be the agency’s third fare increase since 2001.›