BART Board member Joel Keller called it a “hold you nose” kind of vote when his board agreed yesterday to become the latest transit agency to raise fares in the midst of a recession.
The message from the board: Don’t hate us. We hate doing this to you as much you will hate paying for it.
Local public transit politics these days is about allocating pain. This was evident in BART board’s decision to raise basic fares 6.1 percent July 1, and also raise the minimum fare by 25 cents and the price of tickets to San Francisco International Airport by $2.50. The board also agreed to begin charging a $1 parking fee at eight more stations.
Perhaps surprisingly, the diverse BART board agreed on most aspects of the fare increase with a minimum of discord.
Suburban board members like Keller of Brentwood and Gail Murray of Walnut Creek agreed to accept $1 a day parking fees at more stations even though they are no big fans of parking fees.
Board members from more urban areas in San Francisco and Oakland agreed to accept the 25 cent increase in the minimum fare for trips 6 miles of less even though that change will have its biggest effect on inner city residents who ride short distances. (The one dissenter in two of the four related fare votes was Tom Radulovich of San Francisco, who opposed the 25 cent increase for the minimum fare and the higher surcharge on travel to SFO.)
Board member Lynette Sweet of San Francisco initally denounced the $2.50 increase on trips to SFO has too much of a burden to the many airport workers who don’t get commute travel subsidies from their employers. When her turn came up to vote, Sweet paused a long moment and then voted for the surcharge after getting assurances that BART will try to get airport bosses to provide some relief for the workers.
Board members said BART is struggling financially because of plunging sales tax revenues, state raids on transit funds, and rising costs for worker health and pension benefits.
BART directors used the fare vote as an opportunity to send some political messages. They want state lawmakers to get their budget act together and stop raiding local governments and transit agencies of funding to bail the state out of its budget problems.
“They’re acting like buffoons up there,” Murray said.
BART board members also said they want BART employee unions to be willing to share the pain of the recession and accept some $100 million in concessions over four years as part of the current contract talks.
BART contracts with five employee unions expire June 30.
Several readers have called or emailed me at the newspaper with messages similar to this one today, “The people of the state are tired of paying for BART’s continual increases. When is BART going to tow the line and make the necessary cut-backs to keep their costs in line?”
For their part, the unions have grumbled that BART’s upper management are handsomely paid and should make sacrifices.
To make their point, the BART employee unions have posted salaries of top BART managers who made more than $200,000 last year at the www.BARTbudgetWaste.org Web site.
BART managers have created the http://bartlabor.com/ Web site to make their case that BART union members should pay more for their health and pension benefits.
To be sure, it looks like a tough year for BART contract talks – which will determine how the pain of BART’s troubles is allocated.
Share you views below on how you think BART should cope with the hard times.