BART Sees Huge Revenue Decline As Ridership and Sales Taxes Plummet

BART’s revenue picture didn’t get any better today with the release of fourth-quarter FY2008 ridership and sales tax numbers, down 10 percent and 20 percent from the same period one year ago, respectively.

BART’s ridership has dropped to an average of 335,500 riders per day, a 10 percent decline in the number of riders using the transit system. Fares are the lion’s share of BART’s operating funds, accounting for approximately 60 percent of revenues, which is one of the highest farebox recovery rates of any transit operator in the nation.

Further compounding problems, newly released figures by the State Board of Equalization show a 20 percent drop of sales tax revenue in the BART district, which is made up of the counties where BART operates. BART will receive $38.8 million in sales tax revenue for the fourth quarter of the current fiscal year, down from $48.2 million for the same period last year. This represents the worst decline in the operator’s 37-year history. For the fiscal year, sales tax revenues are down $18 million. Sales taxes are the second single largest segment of BART’s operating budget, or roughly 30 percent.

"We knew it was going to be a bad year for sales tax revenue, but we badly underestimated," said BART Director Tom Radulovich, who explained that these numbers, coupled with all the funding that will be needed to complete extensions would lead to a "perfect storm" of deficits by 2013. 

"If you take all the new extensions, which are all going to operate at
a loss, it’s a train wreck waiting to happen. If you think it looks bad
now, wait until 2013." 

  • Simple answer – cancel the extensions. If we destroy the core for the sake of the extensions, we end up with nothing. Put the mask on your own face first, THEN put the mask on your child.

    Ridership is down substantially as is. Cutting service and increasing fares will not correct that problem.

  • marcos

    Wouldn’t canceling the extensions now mean that BART would have to forgo sales tax from Santa Clara, exacerbating the budget crunch even further?

    The fact that BART funding, like most all transit, is dysfunctional is orthogonal to the notion that we should build more heavy rail by extending the system.

    Apparently, the goal is to overdevelop the urban cores and provide substandard regional transit connectivity between job and housing centers and call it a day.


  • The sales tax from Santa Clara is not going to operations, it would go to an extension – that by definition would lose money.

  • This issue isn’t extensions alone. It’s crappy extensions that don’t get a lot of people riding. A 100,000 rider 5 mile extension under Geary is different than E BART. The cost per rider to operate is much much lower. The problem is BART tries to be a commuter system. It would have been interesting to see what could have been if regular commuter rail were built in the suburban sections of BART and a more urban network was built in SF, Oakland and Berkeley as well as the main part of San Jose

  • marcos

    @TOW, i understand the principle of first-day ridership, but can’t quite reconcile that with the drive for transit oriented development. Many ultimately successful transit systems led rather than followed development, which meant that they failed the first day ridership test.

    We’re being told by proponents of “new urbanism” and “livable cities” and “smart growth” to develop San Francisco’s east side along the BART corridor and Metro line because that will lead to new residents taking transit to work. Since under the previously existing real estate economy these units would require loans that would need to be serviced by jobs more likely at the other end of commutes to Silicon Valley and other far-flung, ill-connected employment centers than in downtown San Francisco, one might conclude that completing the BART ring from Fremont to San Jose for a seamless trip would rate.

    Similarly, CalTrain is a toy rather than a transit system that enjoys high ridership commensurate with the demand along the peninsula corridor. Under the principle of first-day ridership, it would be very difficult to justify upgrading with electrification and complete grade separation which is clearly needed for CalTrain to begin to plug that gap.

    The defects in BART’s financing structure are orthogonal to the validity of investing capital in rapid transit, especially when we are advocating denser development along transit corridors.


  • Stan Man

    I work for BART. At the start of our last contract, ridership was on average 305,000 riders per day. It is now 365,000 riders per day. This is down from a year ago when it was 390,000 per day with a high over over 400,000 on some days. But, gas was $4.50 per gallon. As gas goes back up, so does ridership. The additional 60,000 riders per day from the start of our last contract translates into $50,000,000 – $60,000,000 additional (average ride $3.00)per year for BART. And this is with no additional Station Agents, Line Supervisors, System Service workers, but a few (22) additional train operators. In four years, where did this $200,000,000 go?
    BART also tripled the money received for advertising in and on BART property, they are receiving “Stimulus” money, still receive other Federal, State, local and sales tax money, and if you did not know, all those “Villages” and apartment complexes near BART stations such as Richmond, South San Francisco, Fruitvale, etc, are OWNED BY BART for rentals. So far BART has not “negotiated” but have “dictated”. They want this, they want to take away that, they want us to give up that, and would not even listen to our side. They do not negotiate, they dictate. The waste by management has already been identified, but all I have said above is true.

  • Dave

    @Stan Man

    Interesting analysis. To complete the picture, what have BART wage rates (cost of living increases?) done during the same timeframe? You make it seem like that money is disappearing, what is the split of that that is going to wages?

    I am honestly asking as I just don’t know the details of the BART contracts.

  • Jeffrey W. Baker

    Probably more importantly, what does the trend look like for BART health care expenses and pension pay-outs.

  • Victor W

    @ Dave I work for BART as well and we do not get a cost of living allowance. We lost that in 1979 when BART workers were locked out. The only time we see a raise in our wages is at contract time but this time around the unions are aware of the economy and since April 1st presented BART with a proposal that would freeze our wages and benefits.

  • ZA

    While I certainly have issues with the extensions (like how long can you really expect to put people on a train and not provide toilets?), if they are the key to part of the immediate budget problem, it’d still be a shame to miss their construction during a recession, when materials and labor are theoretically cheapest.

    Perhaps I’m overly optimistic about BART budgets being more liquid than they are, but if federal stimulus can cover these capital improvements, then the rest of the budget can go to these operating gaps, right?

  • @marcos as someone who rides both BART and Caltrain with some frequency, Caltrain kicks BART’s ass. The primary asskicking is not so much from the style of the system itself but that Caltrain’s stations are generally *somewhere*. Other than down Market and Mission Streets, Berkeley and Oakland, BART’s stations are parking lots in the middle of *nowhere*. I would venture to guess that the pedestrian share for Orinda BART is less than one percent – the access to the station is awful.

    Caltrain has a sensible right of way. Upgrade that train and ridership goes up. BART’s ridership is high in large part not because it’s a super slick great system, but because for the vast majority of the ridership, not taking BART means paying a $5 bridge toll, bad traffic over said bridge, and prohibitive parking fees at the destination.

    Any statement that completing the Fremont to San Jose line will induce fantastic transit oriented development can be easily rebutted by a trip to Hayward, Union City, and Fremont BART. Those stations have been there a very long time. Admittedly I don’t have statistics but I can’t figure out who could possibly walk there. My experience with Fremont is that it operates as a transit hub for AC Transit buses and a few VTA buses – which aren’t necessarily running where the BART extension is going (one of the largest components is a bus going from Fremont to the Great Mall).

    Regardless of this discussion of that extension, the obvious short term money sink is the OAK connector anyway.

  • @Stan Man – “I work for BART. At the start of our last contract, ridership was on average 305,000 riders per day. It is now 365,000 riders per day. This is down from a year ago when it was 390,000 per day with a high over over 400,000 on some days”

    Your statement contradicts the article – “BART’s ridership has dropped to an average of 335,500 riders per day, a 10 percent decline in the number of riders using the transit system.”

  • marcos

    @John Murphy, CalTrain is like a candle in the dark, it lights up everything right around the candle and little else.

    Sure, it was 20 years ago before CalTrain allowed bicycles, but when I worked down at Twin Dolphin Drive in Redwood City/Belmont, the bus schedules were 30 min out of phase with the CalTrain schedule, so I had to buy a skateboard to make the mile and a half connection to work.

    Until these mainline (hopefully rapid) commuter systems are connected to proximate communities by transit, the predicates for TOD tens of miles away evaporate.

    Given the demand along the Peninsula corridor, which is probably second only to the Bay Bridge corridor as far as commute goes, and BART’s 375,000:30,000 advantage, people are voting with their feet that CalTrain needs work, lots of it.

    CalTrain really only works for you if you 1) skateboard or bike the last miles, 2) have a job that is right on the line or 3) have access to a shuttle.


  • david vartanoff

    re Caltrain, If Sam Trans ran more feeders/whar you call shuttles, it might gather more riders. OTOH, if BART gets away with the Warm Springs and south fiasco, we will get to watch more empty trains to parking lots. Tom R is correct about the extensions–the “opportunity costs” to carry each new rider in the sprawlburbs is immense. Conversely, IF the Warm Springs and eBART actually performed as promised they would jam trains further out which are already close to capacity when gas is high. The Transbay tube does not have much unused rush hour capacity

  • ab

    Every time I ride BART, I remember why I avoid it. Delays and smelly, crowded trains. Maybe I have bad BART luck, but it seems every time I ride it, I’m on it way longer than I intended and feel like a sardine. Can’t drink my coffee either. I take the AC Transbay bus or the ferry because they are more reliable and comfortable than BART. I don’t care if they cost more, it’s way, way worth it. I’ve been using the same $45 BART ticket for the last 4 months and I hope I don’t need to use it again, ever. Let BART and their corrupt and incompetent board rot.

  • John Manning

    Considering the recent drop in funds BART is completely nuts for even considering the OAK/BART connector. The low passenger demand will create a huge ongoing funding drain. BART should follow San Jose who is looking into lighter high tech systems at the airport that promise much lower cost yet with many more stations.

    Strangely BART knows about these systems but has buried their own study that shows the systems are much cheaper. A good investigative reporter ought to get on that before BART blows a half billion dollars.

  • g

    @marcos , @murphy as a daily rider of caltrain, and sometimes rider of BART, I far prefer Caltrain.

    Bart is far louder, has no express service, and is much more challenging to get through the pay gates with large luggage / bike.

    BART certainly wins on the frequency argument, but their scheduling is still difficult to understand (why is Richmond -> Daly City not maintained more often, so Berkeley students can have dinner on the weekends in SF, with no transfer?).

    Furthermore, the path of caltrain goes through the bulk of the peninsula’s residential area – the catchment area is far better than you state. Besides, some destinations will still not be adjacent to rail transit, anyway – Candlestick park is miles away from either caltrain or BART.

    Couple that with the respective policies about parking (ugly parking structures with per stall construction cost greater than most new vehicles?), and my vote is with a grade separated electrified caltrain that has had significant input from cyclists to ensure the percent capacity is excellent.

    Then expand on economies of scale – why put your money on a unique vehicle + gauge?


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