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BART Likely Needs Additional Revenue Source Beyond Fare Revenue

A new funding measure to support BART and possibly other beleaguered transit agencies across the Bay may appear on the ballot
By - posted 2/15/2022 No Comment

By Eli Walsh, Bay City News Foundation

BART will likely need a new funding source in the coming years, the transit agency’s budget officials said Thursday, as relying mostly on fare revenue is not expected to support operating expenses through the end of the decade.

BART’s fare revenue has been unable to consistently reach beyond an average of 30 percent of its pre-pandemic levels over the last two years, and only began to come close last October, outperforming ridership and fare revenue projections in the agency’s fiscal year 2022 budget.

That ridership fell again, however, amid the Bay Area’s surge in cases tied to the omicron variant over the last three months. As such, BART now projects it will only reach 36 percent of its pre-pandemic ridership when the fiscal year ends June 30, a significant drop from the 53 percent of pre-pandemic ridership the agency projected in the FY 2022 budget.

And while BART has received roughly $1.3 billion in federal relief funding since the pandemic began, the agency has used roughly half of that amount, spending $25 million per month over the last six months. At that pace and with the agency’s current operating schedule, budget officials said BART will run out of federal funding in 2024 between January and September, depending on how many riders have returned to the system by then.

“It is clear that we are facing our most challenging revenue outlook throughout our system’s 50-year period,” BART Assistant General Manager for Performance and Budget Pamela Herhold said during Thursday’s meeting of the BART Board of Directors. Herhold added that cutting expenses will not allow BART to make up its projected deficits beyond 2024, with cumulative totals ranging from $225 million and $2.2. billion over the next 10 years, while still maintaining adequate service across the five counties in which it operates.

Before the pandemic, BART officials had projected average weekday ridership to surpass 500,000 once the agency’s expansion into central Santa Clara County is complete. BART’s base projection is now just 70 percent of pre-pandemic expectations, with best-case projections at only 80 percent.

To make up for the long-term loss in fare revenue, BART officials said they are in the exploratory stage of placing a revenue-generating measure on a future ballot, most likely in November 2024. The Metropolitan Transportation Commission has considered a funding measure that would support beleaguered transit agencies across all nine counties in the Bay Area.

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