BART Transit Blogger Roundtable, Part II

BART photos_1.jpgFlickr Photo: pbo31

Last week regional transit bloggers sat down with BART management and asked questions of General Manager Dorothy Dugger about her transit operation.  This is part two of that roundtable:

  • Impact of economy on operating budget

The
biggest challenge that I’m focused on right now is certainly the
effects of the economic reality that we’re living in on our ability to
do our job. We’re no more immune than any other facet of society, be it
personal family budgets or other government or private organizations.
We’re really seeing the impact of the economy on both of our major
sources of operating revenue: fares (customer revenue is the workhorse
of our budget) and ridership.  After a very robust fiscal year ending
this summer, after seeing very healthy growth rates in ridership
starting about the first of this year, those numbers are trending down
and trending down pretty rapidly. I think the last two months ridership
has been down about 6 percent for those two months. Overall for the
year the reduction will be less than that, but going into next year
we’re looking at about a 4 and a half percent drop in ridership.

Sales
tax, which is the second major source of our revenue, [is] tied to how
the local economy is performing.  Last quarter we had the second worst
sales tax receipts in our history, with about 11-12 percent drop in
sales receipts.  There’s a quarter lag, so that would have reflected
taxable sales activity October, November, December.  [That] makes up
about 35 percent of our revenue.  Fares are about 62 percent.  The rest
is a mishmash of a small amount of property tax, other revenue from
advertising on the system, leasing of properties, etc.  About 95
percent of our operating budget comes from those two sources….

We’ve
made some good progress this year in closing what we’re forecasting as
a $54 million deficit for next year.  The board acted on a series of
revenue increases where their objective was to try to minimize the
impact on the regular, everyday customer.  So the biggest piece of that
revenue package was moving our regularly scheduled inflation-based,
every-other-year fare increase forward six months, not increasing it,
but just bringing it forward in time.  Other elements include
increasing the fare at the [SFO] airport station and expanding parking
charges to eight additional stations in the East Bay.

  • Expansion Versus Core Capacity

We’ve
been working hard to create awareness around core capacity issues,
which is really expanding the built systems to handle more and more
demand.  In my mind it is new service, it is expansion, it’s just not
geographic expansion.

Generally we do not borrow or use BART
funds to build an extension.  I mean, there has probably been some BART
money in every expansion that we’ve built, but the bulk of the funding
for those capital improvements have come from special purpose fund
sources that have been made available for those purposes, the local
sales tax measures in the BART counties that have been passed
historically with a BART extension as a marquee project.  The voters
have said, ‘yes,’ we’re willing to approve a new sales tax to generate
revenue to build those extensions.  Grants from regional, state,
federal sources.  SFO attracted $750 million in discretional federal
money.  Warm Springs is a real hodge-podge of funding sources.

  • On plans for future urban BART extensions

We
have for many many years been working with San Francisco Planning and
in our own work looking at things like a Geary Corridor line.  There
hasn’t been anything very recently and I think the San Francisco
decision making and thrust has been to go with the BRT-type
improvements on Geary on the surface street.

We participated in a leadership role with an MTC effort to look
at a region-wide study of metropolitan rail system to look at some of
those issue to look at what solution is suited for what demand, what
would it take for BART to become a more urban rail system, not just
primarily commuter–about half of our surface looks like commuter, half
looks like urban rail–identifying some opportunities for infill
stations on existing lines.  We looked at another study a few years
ago–again MTC was in the lead–looking to add more capacity in the
Transbay tube or more capacity.

Our most immediate focus is
on how we eke more capacity out of what’s already been built, as we
look to replace our rail car fleet.  Looking at a three-door design to
the cars rather than the two door so that we can get more people on and
off without increasing the dwell times in the stations and therefore
reducing capacity.  In our preliminary assessment [of weight issues] we
think a three-car is doable.  We certainly have answered the question
to our satisfaction that it achieves more capacity. We are moving
forward hopefully to be in a position this fall to begin the
procurement process, to identify a car builder.

  • Labor Negotiations

We’ve also
looked at and proposed a series of cost reduction measures we can take
outside of our contracts with our represented employees that save about
$16 million dollars revenues generated.  That leaves about $23 million
for next year alone deficit that we need to resolve and we are focused
very intently on our contract negotiations… to achieve those savings. 
Lots of options on the table, ranging from increasing the employees
contributions to the benefits, capping the cost of those benefits, as
well as getting some ability to change some of the pretty inefficient
work rules that we work under. 

Our forecast, which includes an assumption that our economy
improves… by FY 2012, we still over the next four years are forecasting
an imbalance between our revenue stream and our cost picture that
produces about $250 million deficit.  This is a long term issue and
contract negotiations are a critical opportunity to make some
improvement on that structural imbalance between revenues.  Contracts
expire June 30th, so we are into our last month of negotiations.

I’m
hopeful that we can get there.  We certainly need to be mindful that
our customers are living in the same environment.  I think we’re seeing
lots of changes being made in benefit and compensation packages across
the employment horizon and I don’t believe BART can expect to be exempt
from that or ask our customers to pay for things that are really out of
line with their own experience in their workplace.

  • "What if BART could get out of the healthcare business altogether?" Question from Greg Dewar, N-Judah Chronicles

As
an employer I believe people ought to have benefits.  So if this
country came to grips with a health program…  I can give you one number
right now, which is of that $250 million deficit that I described over
the next four years, $116 million of that is cost attributed with the
expected increase in the cost of maintaining existing costs of BART
health, retirement and ancillary benefits.  That’s the increase, not
the base cost.

Read Part I of the roundtable here

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