BART Scrambles on Oakland Airport Connector Equity Review Failure

BART_OAC_interior_small.jpgImage: BART

BART hoped it could put debate over the Oakland Airport Connector (OAC) in the past as it lined up funding, got approval from local governments, and received lower than expected construction bids, but now a scathing letter from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has sent BART scrambling to meet a March 5th deadline or lose federal stimulus funds.

In the letter, sent to BART General Manager Dorothy Dugger and Metropolitan
Transportation Commission (MTC) Director Steve Heminger on January 15th
[PDF], FTA Administrator Peter Rogoff explained that BART failed to address equity concerns raised by TransForm and other advocates about the OAC. Rogoff said BART didn’t meet FTA standards for conducting a Title VI equity compliance review for the Airport connector project and its impact to low-income riders and people of color.

"In light of this development, MTC and BART are now in danger of losing federal funding for the project, including American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds," said Rogoff.

The letter continued by saying that during the mid-December equity review, "BART’s staff acknowledged it failed to integrate Title VI into BART’s service planning and monitoring activities for the Project. BART also admitted that it did not conduct an equity evaluation of its service changes other than the one conducted on the 2009 reduction in service headways."

"BART has a long history of pandering to rich people," said BART Board
Director Tom Radulovich. "I’ve asked for years for BART to create an
equity or environmental justice policy and staff has stonewalled.
They’ve refused to do it. Now this is coming back to haunt them."

"How can you say [OAC] is equitable or socially just if you haven’t
defined what that is at BART?"

TransForm’s John Knox White, who has vocally raised these questions
to BART directors, MTC, and the media for over a year, was hopeful the
development would lead MTC to re-allocate the $70 million in ARRA funds
to transit operators,
who are reeling from budget crises.

"We’re very happy that
the FTA agreed with us that these problems
existed," said White. "The question now becomes will MTC put the money
where it will protect jobs and service at other operators."

When asked for further comment on the matter, FTA spokesperson Paul Griffo delivered a curt response: "The letter speaks for itself."

To respond to the equity review findings, BART sent a document to FTA on January 14th entitled, "Title VI, Environmental Justice, and Limited English Proficiency Analysis of Proposed Service and Fare Changes," but the FTA found it insufficient to meet its requirements.

"The equity analysis fails to analyze whether the Project’s improvements and the service reductions would have a discriminatory impact," Rogoff said in the January 15th letter.

BART still has a chance to get the ARRA funds, assuming it provides an "acceptable action plan" that shows how it will mitigate equity impacts. BART must meet the FTA deadline of March 5th, though the FTA warns that the money could still be in jeopardy. "Even should BART submit a timely action plan acceptable to FTA, BART’s implementation action will certainly extend beyond the March 5, 2010 deadline. If BART were to fail in any respect to make progress or to meet its deadlines as established in the action plan, FTA would have to de-obligate the ARRA funds for the Project and would be prohibited by law from re-obligating those funds to alternative projects in the San Francisco Bay area [emphasis original]."

If BART chooses to walk away from the ARRA funds for the OAC, it will still be required to remediate Title VI non-compliance issues.

Radulovich said the Obama administration is taking Title VI complaints more seriously than the previous administration and that BART should have learned its lesson when this same matter came up with the San Francisco Airport extension.

"I hope this is a wake-up call and I hope
this leads to BART taking equity and social justice seriously," he said.

  • What was the issue with the SFO connection? And what happens if BART says it’ll only charge $2/ride then jacks it up to $6 or $8 like going to SFO now because “it’s still the cheapest option.”

  • Good for the FTA for sticking it to BART like this.

    @Mike: SamTrans (the San Mateo County transit agency) was supposed to pay the costs and reap the reward of BART to SFO. BART claimed BART to SFO would generate a profit. What they got instead was $48 million in operating costs that nearly bankrupted San Mateo County.

  • I’m cool with AirBART, personally.

  • @Richard, oh ok. I knew that. I thought maybe it was something along the lines of fares, etc.

    But yeah, SamTrans is hurting. Good thing BART’s ridership predictions are never wrong – I’d hate to see VTA sink.

  • Alex

    @Jamie I second that! I still haven’t been convinced that an expensive prestige project is even necessary, much less the best option.

  • Chris

    If BART really wanted to make getting to the Oakland Airport easier… how about just making it so that you could use your EZ Rider Card (or Translink). Having to buy a second three dollar ticket/carrying cash really is my only complaint with the existing system.

  • BART’s current ad with Southwest Airlines says it best. BART advertises its existing service as:

    “Taking BART to or from OAK is fast, convenient and saves you money.”

    Their proposed “people mover” solution can’t be described as fast, it’s certainly less convenient than being dropped off at the terminal and there’s no question on the money front — it will cost more.

  • David hills

    Interesting to read about the watchdoging of funding to ensure access to low income populations. In NH we have no viable public transportation system so the BART seems like a delight! This is an important isuue to get covered. Thanks for writing about it!

  • Robo

    Lots of flying pork on this project. Keep you head low.

  • This project is a clear, naked boondoggle. Robo is exactly correct. What does this solve, other than to hand out money to people to have them dig holes in the ground? I can already get to Oakland quickly and easily from the Coloseum BART.

    I’d much rather have a Millbrae->SFO shuttle bus, delivering me to my terminal, than the financial disaster which has been BART->SFO. Think of what the funds flushed down that toilet could have done for Caltrain, . Now we’re repeating the mistake.

  • “BART hoped it could put debate over the Oakland Airport Connector (OAC) in the past as it lined up funding, got approval from local governments, and received lower than expected construction bids…”

    Lower than expected bids? What are you talking about?

    Two of the bids were way over-budget. At $492 million, the third bid (the winning bid) came in just a hair under budget. But that third bid did not meet the technical requirements due to its low speed. BART staff “solved” that problem by changing the technical requirements.

  • Oakland gets 14 million passengers per year, so $492M @ 10%/year is $3.50/passenger (that’s ALL of the passengers, not just those taking BART).

  • davidagalvan

    I hope you know how lucky you (San Franciscans) have it. Down here in L.A. we can’t even get rail to LAX. The Green line stop is about a mile from the terminals, and people have been saying that there will eventually be an air-tran type connection to the green line, but they’ve been saying that for years. And even if there was, the Green line only goes due East toward Norwalk. . . it would require another transfer to the Blue line to get to downtown L.A..

    I visited S.F. a few weeks ago and took the BART from SFO to downtown. Well worth the $8. What a breeze!


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