Endorsement: Reinvest for a Safe and Reliable BART

Image: Wikipedia Commons.
Image: Wikipedia Commons.

Streetsblog San Francisco recommends a yes vote on Measure RR, the $3.5 billion bond measure to keep BART safe and reliable.

Measure RR will replace and repair the core infrastructure of BART by upgrading its 1960s train-control system, renewing existing stations, replacing over 90 miles of worn-down rails, improving electrical power systems, and enhancing BART’s ability to withstand earthquakes.

Not only will these investments deliver essential safety and reliability benefits, they will also allow BART to increase capacity. A modern train control system will enable BART to run trains faster and closer together, accommodating nearly 200,000 additional daily riders. With BART ridership set to grow 75 percent by 2040, we need to act now to meet the demands of the future. Additionally, moving more people by train relieves pressure on our congested roads, so whether you ride BART or not, Measure RR benefits you.

Measure RR also has environmental benefits. Electrical upgrades will allow more on-site solar power at BART stations and yards, and help BART deliver on its goal of being the first subway system in the country to power itself with 100 percent renewable energy. With fewer drivers on the road, Measure RR will help reduce greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution.

Realizing these positive policy efforts hinges on the passage of Measure RR.

After years of expansions, a new generation of BART leadership has committed to reinvesting in the core system.

Reinvestment efforts began years ago when BART secured funding to replace its aging fleet of rail cars, and new trains will start to arrive early next year. Measure RR expands upon these efforts by focusing on the core system through a “fix-it-first” approach. By law, all funding must go to capital improvements–not a penny can go toward operating costs. An independent oversight committee, made up of engineers, accountants, and the public, will be created to ensure transparency and that the money is spent responsibly and wisely.

BART and the Bay Area are at a critical moment. Our growing region is putting pressure on our roads and our ability to keep the Bay Area running. Our main public transportation system needs fundamental repairs to keep it safe and reliable. It’s time to rebuild BART. We cannot spend another decade relying on current aging and inefficient systems. Without meaningful investment, declining reliability and capacity constraints will undermine our sustainability goals, increase roadway congestion, and disrupt access to jobs and services across the income spectrum.

It’s time to bring BART to a standard that is commensurate with its essential role in our region.

Bay Area voters will be faced with a bevy of measures, candidates and propositions this election cycle. But there’s nothing on the ballot that is clearer. BART’s just too important to our region.

Streetsblog urges a YES vote on Measure RR on November 8.

  • Randy Johnson

    As a transportation professional in the Bay Area, I cannot in good conscience support Measure RR. BART has failed time and again to plan its service responsibly, choosing expansion over reinvestment and outrageous labor deals over sound fiscal policy.

    If BART really cared about reinvestment in the core system, it wouldn’t be pursuing extensions to Antioch and Livermore at this very moment. If BART really cared about reinvestment in the core system, the “fleet of the future” would have started arriving years ago. If BART really cared about reinvestment in the core system, it wouldn’t pay ticket agents $27-35 per hour plus overtime to do work that pays minimum wage in the private sector.

    BART has more than enough money coming in right now, and if it used it
    wisely, we wouldn’t be asked to vote on this squandering of taxpayer
    money. It’s time for some tough love.

  • Alexander Craghead

    …tough love that hurts the rider.

  • davistrain

    I don’t have a dog in this fight (we have our own Measure M to occupy our discussions in LA County) but it sounds like BART, like many other transportation operations, loves ribbon cuttings but has no interest in keeping things “shipshape”. I’ve been told that Japanese culture honors the folks who keep systems running in good order which is why their “shinkansen” trains have such an excellent safety and reliability record. In the US, it’s all too common to cut maintenance budgets when money gets tight, but keep all sorts of administrative personnel (who contribute nothing to keeping the trains running) on the payroll.

  • Henry

    Just so we’re clear – the people who are on BART’s front lines choose BART because they have just as much passion as you do in being a transportation professional. But I agree that BART should not be spending money on mindlessly expanding its system.

  • OaktownPRE

    BART can’t even figure out that putting un-alarmed “emergency exits” near every set of gates are an open invitation to fare evaders. Even MUNI has figured out enough to put on alarms! BART is already planning their next extensions to Livermore and Brentwood while the current system falls apart. These bosos don’t need another 3.5 BILLION dollars until they can better figure out how to spend the money they are getting. It won’t be a pleasure to vote against measure RR but there’s no other way to get their attention.

  • OaktownPRE

    BART management has already hurt the rider – for decades. Throwing another 3.5 billion dollars down the BART bottomless pit is not the way to stop rider pain either.

  • Kevin

    Riiiight, so austerity is somehow going to make BART more safe, reliable and modern? The hard work of train operators, station agents and mechanics is what allows the Metro Bay Area to exist economically, socially, culturally in the first place. It’s critical work. Paying people minimum wage for these responsibilities is setting them up to fail.

    I support Measure RR because if the Federal government isn’t going to prioritize funding mass transit then as a region we must do it ourselves.

  • crazyvag

    The Livermore extension can’t even connect with ACE! What a waste of $$$..

  • Dexter Wong

    Allowing BART to slowly fall apart won’t help rider pain either, only make it worse.

  • xplosneer

    The good thing about the unalarmed doors is that I can get out of BART with my bike when there aren’t any handicapped exits. Otherwise I have to lift 50 awkward pounds above my waist.

  • DC has allowed its metro system (built around the same time as BART) to fall apart as years of deferred maintenance has taken its toll on the system. Riders are upset; ridership is down. Metro used to boast one of the best transportation systems in the country. Now it’s struggling to keep riders on board with several years of maintenance projects in the works. During the past two decades Metro continued to expand. First, it completed its original system, then added an infill station, and finally opened up the much-needed Silver Line in NoVA. BART, on the other hand, just keeps reaching for the burbs…one massive commuter rail station surrounded by huge parking structures after another.

    BART needs to focus on its core and not take on the responsibility of connecting far-flung areas. Save that for real commuter rail. Focus on improvements to its current system.

  • In 16 years I’ve never seen a station agent work hard. Hardly work, yes.

  • Just another example of when disjointed transit agencies compete for riders and Federal funding for expansion projects…no communication; no working together.

    MUNI/Caltrain: still no Bayshore connection. If you ride the T line you need to take it to 4th/King to connect to Caltrain.

    BART/Caltrain – Millbrae: no timed transfers

    BART/MUNI – TTC: $2B bus station will lack any direct connections to the Market St. Subway. Some people say it’s no big deal…just walk outside. Many others disagree.

    Caltrain DTX: expect another decade or more before you can ride Caltrain to downtown SF. Funding keeps getting shifted. It’s clearly not a priority.

  • thielges

    This measure would be more palatable if it were coupled with a housecleaning of the decision makers that let the system fall apart and drift into financial duress. Require that every Bart exec who’s presided over this decline to step down. Same for the board members and the union officials who’ve watched the decay while increasing costs.

  • Mark T.

    No on RR. I ride BART every day and am a tax-paying homeowner. In addition to taxes, I pay about $10 per day with parking + fare and get a bumpy, smelly, delay-filled ride with horrible stations occupied by unfriendly, jerk employees at either end. Meanwhile, BART pays its employees so much in wages, overtime and benefits that they own homes in the Bay Area and second homes in the mountains! WTF? Most people can’t even afford one home in this state. No way in hell is BART willingly getting any more of my money until they ban strikes and start some REAL fiscal accountability.

  • Drew Levitt

    I too am a transportation professional in the Bay Area, and while I freely acknowledge BART’s history of poor capital investment decisions, I believe that BART’s commitment to a new direction and focus on state of good repair is real. Furthermore, I feel that BART is on the verge of physical collapse and we cannot wait to repair the system’s core infrastructure. Delays are already endemic, many driven by poor track and signal conditions; further worsening of performance would be completely disastrous for the region, economically and socially. We should not make this important investment lightly, and we should demand accountability, but we can’t afford to let BART break. I’ll be voting yes on RR next month.

  • RichLL

    Using capital bonds to perform maintenance is a bad idea. It’s like selling jewellery to buy food – not sustainable. Generally speaking operational and maintenance expenses should be paid for from revenues, while bonds are used to expand or improve the system.

    Issuing a bond just to keep the lights on breaks every rule of good housekeeping. And it will embolden the unions to ask for a fat pay increase next time around when, in reality, a pay cut is probably more appropriate.

    I think BART is the most important piece of local transport infrastructure after the freeways and the airports. But I cannot support throwing all this money at them. At minimum I’d wanted to see strikes made illegal and a pay freeze indefinitely.

  • Drew Levitt

    I’m not sure I agree, Rich. In an ideal world, yes, farebox revenues would cover O&M, but it is standard practice in the United States to partially subsidize transit systems. (As you know, BART has one of the highest farebox recovery rates in the country – above 70% of operating costs – and as I believe you also know, these subsidies are necessary for continued operation due in large part to many decades of car-centric, transit-unfriendly land use development patterns, and are economically efficient because of the intensity of economic activity they enable in the Central Business District.)

    A State of Good Repair program has clear implications for the level of service BART can provide, and that level of service in turn affects ridership (because a faster, more reliable system is more attractive), so it does not seem unreasonable to me to use bond financing to boost reliability and ridership for years to come.

    Glad we’re in agreement about the importance of BART (I think it is second behind freeways, as airports aren’t really “local” infrastructure); good luck negotiating a strike ban and pay freezes 😉 though yes, BART management can and should negotiate harder with labor.

  • david vartanoff

    Regretfully I will likely vote for RR. Despite BART’s long history of huge waste, surly station agents, etc, the fact is we use it and it is in need of serious repairs. Failing to take out a loan to fix the roof of your house doesn’t stop the leaks; and refusing to fix the stairs doesn’t make them safer. What BART owes to every citizen/taxpayer in the 3 counties is a major change in behavior, starting with a restriction on ANY future wage hikes to the same COLAs SocSecurity gets.
    Equally important, BART needs to immediately offer AC, CCTA and other local bus riders the same deal Muni riders get–honoring the monthly passes for trips in overlapping service areas.
    Next, BART must find a way to provide skeletal overnight service. No excuses! other transit agencies manage on 2 track systems–BART can too.
    For all of its faults BART is a necessity and must be improved.

  • OaktownPRE

    Voting no on RR is much more like withholding your rent check until the landlord fixes your leaking roof. Sending that rent check in just insures that the landlord will never fix your roof.

  • Randy Johnson

    Ones that are actual transportation professionals, yes. Have you ever interacted with BART’s station agents? They are there for their cushy paychecks and do-nothing work load. After all, isn’t it great to get paid twice as much salary for half as much work as a comparable private sector job?

  • xplosneer

    Excuse me as I copy paste this to all social media.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    The analogy of not fixing your roof breaks down. Yes I need to repair my house, and yes I can afford it, but why do I have to hire the same bozos that did it wrong last year? That’s the disturbing part of RR. I’d vote for it without reservation if it was packaged with any kind of improvements to BART’s internal organization.

  • crazyvag

    Drew,
    Do you think the high recovery rate 70% of operating costs is maybe because basic maintenance is not part of operations? What good is 100% recovery rate if we need a $3.5 billion bond every few years.

  • Drew Levitt

    Fair point, Crazyvag (!). You’re probably right that the simplest and best metric of self-sufficiency would be [total annual revenue] / [total annual expenditures, with multiyear items meaningfully annualized]. And of course BART (and every other transit system in the country) would fall far short of 100% self-sufficiency by that metric.

    But, as I suggested above, why insist that transit systems be fully self-sustaining? We commonly accept that many public services need ongoing subsidy – police and fire departments come to mind. For that matter, within the transportation sector, highways get public funds from the gas tax (though only barely enough, these days…) and from local and state taxes of all kinds. In my view, BART, as a transit system that plays a central role in the regional economy, is also worthy of public subsidy.

    Now – if you agree that some support is warranted, then you are either talking about a tax or a bond. Theoretically these are approximately identical, except with a bond you get the money up front (important for infrastructure investments). As for “every few years,” that comes back to whether you believe that BART leadership has a new direction and discipline that will ensure the money is well and wisely spent. I do; others don’t; only time will tell. But I do know that deferred maintenance costs tend to spiral out of control – i.e. there’s a nonlinear relationship between how broken something is and how much it costs to fix it – so I’d like to start turning around the system now.

  • Randy Johnson

    Agreed. I would be happy to spend the money if there was a clear indication of reform. However, there isn’t. The best reform we could ask for is a merging of transit agencies. We waste millions of dollars a year on needless duplication. The fact that BART, AC Transit, and a couple dozen other transit agencies compete for a finite amount of money here in the Bay Area is utterly absurd.

  • david vartanoff

    Indeed, a thorough house cleaning is in order. That said, the roof is still leaking…
    BART was the pioneer of DOD style transit construction/operation–$5 bucks for the bribers, a buck or maybe 2 for the actual project. I sometimes think the only thing BART got right was electric power. because almost every other detail has been an extremely costly mistake. Just like Metro in DC, the system needs major rehab and waiting to fire all of the counterproductive staff will just let the system deteriorate more.

  • DrunkEngineer

    If you agree that some support is warranted, then you are either talking about a tax or a bond. Theoretically these are approximately identical.

    They are not at all identical. Bonds are a really costly way to fund basic maintenance, due to the accumulated interest costs.

    The fundamental problem is that BART has a structural deficit, due to declining gas tax revenues. Since politicians refuse to touch the gas tax issue, transit agencies are having to resort to financial trickery, like bond financing, just to maintain service levels. Cities too (including Oakland and Berkeley) are floating bond measures to pay for basic street repair.

    In effect, car drivers have been given this big tax break, while transit users get regular fare increases every few years. It is really bad policy, financially and environmentally. Shame on streetsblog for endorsing it.

  • RichLL

    In Oakland it is even worse than that. The city has even issued bonds to make payments into its pension plan for employees. And with 75% of its budget going towards public safety and employee pay and benefits, that doesn’t leave a lot for anything else.

    Any which way you look at it, the problem is the pay and benefit structure for municipalities and their agencies.

  • Rogue Cyclist

    Make your voice heard by voting in the Board of Director races, if you can.

  • Jeffrey Baker

    The election in my district is between the incumbent and three idiots.

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