It doesn’t make a lot of sense to plan an addition to your house if the roof is leaking and the foundation needs work. First, you should make sure your house isn’t going to fall down. The same goes for major regional transit systems like BART – and there, the stakes are even higher.
A few weeks ago, thousands of commuters were stranded when service through the TransBay Tube was halted for several hours. BART riders weren’t the only ones impacted. Many commuters who heard about the shutdown chose to drive instead of taking a train, clogging the Bay Bridge and freeways throughout the region with terrible traffic.
The Bay Area depends on public transportation that is safe, affordable, and reliable. A recent study noted that if BART is not properly maintained over time, reliability will decline, potentially costing the region $22 to $32 billion in lost productivity over the next 30 years! That’s why TransForm has been pushing BART to prioritize maintenance of their existing rail service over costly expansion studies, most recently in their 2014 budget.
BART’s Fiscal Year 2014 budget, approved on June 13, largely followed that advice. Despite attempts to wedge two major expansion studies into the budget, the Board of Directors limited the scope of these studies to a nominal amount – $100,000 total compared to the $600,000 originally proposed. And just as importantly, they specified that these studies should be incorporated into the Metro Vision Plan process already underway. (The Metro Vision Plan is an analysis of the BART system that will focus on the system’s long-term future, which will take into account the maintenance needs of aging BART infrastructure – you can learn more about it here.)
We would have preferred that BART directors resist the impulse to plan more extensions until after the Metro Vision Plan is complete. Too often, a small commitment to study a particular project starts to build momentum, and the initial investments cascade into an expectation that the project must be built. (We saw that happen with the Oakland Airport Connector a few years ago.) The Metro Vision Plan will examine the tradeoffs between supporting the existing system versus promising new extensions, and it would be most responsible to hold off on studying specific investments until that system-wide analysis is complete.
But in a $1,600,000,000 budget, that $100,000 is pretty small. We’re glad to see BART start to change their habits and put the focus on catching up on the backlog of maintenance needs. We’ll continue to watchdog their decisions to ensure that BART keeps the house in order before sinking any more money into new additions.