Push for better BART service at upcoming hearings

Joël Ramos Headshot
As BART embarks on its fifth decade of operations, its draft FY2014 budget is an important step toward a more responsible focus on maintaining and improving the existing system, rather than heedlessly promising extensions at the edges of the region. BART declares passenger needs as the top priority of this year’s budget. The BART Board will discuss the draft budget at hearings this month, with adoption scheduled for early June.  
 
FY2014 Budget Highlights:
  • Safer and More Reliable Service: BART’s highest priority capital programs (the “Big 3”) are core investments for BART to meet its safety, reliability, capacity, and sustainability goals.
    • New Rail Car Program – Includes the final car design and manufacturing of pilot vehicles
    • Train Control Modernization – BART upgrades its train control system technology
    • Hayward Maintenance Complex – Expansion and improvement of the existing rail yard will maintain and store BART’s expanding fleet and maximize car availability
  • Better Stations: The draft budget spends more than prior years on improving the appearance and cleanliness of stations, based on feedback from riders. BART also dedicates resources toward improving station areas through placemaking, transit-oriented development, and station master plans. These investments are still in their infancy.
This commitment to State of Good Repair (SoGR) also shows up in BART's report on the ongoing Metro Vision Plan. It looks like BART is recognizing that its future depends on maintaining the backbone of its aging system. Staff’s report on the Metro Vision study proposed the following key capital priorities:
 
1. Big 3: New Rail Cars, Train Control Modernization, and Hayward Maintenance Complex
2. Reinvestment/SoGR
3. Capacity
4. Stations
5. Infill
6. Expansion
 
BART staff presented these priorities at the April 25th Board meeting and got generally positive feedback from directors, including positive feedback for the order of the priorities. TransForm supports this prioritization – maintenance first, expansion later – and urges BART to use it to guide systemwide deliberations such as this year’s budget.
 
In finalizing this year’s budget, BART should respect the Metro Vision process and apply the capital priorities identified above. The Metro Vision process has yielded LOTS of ideas, some new, some old. Some are great ideas, some are not. The Board will need to prioritize some of those ideas over others – there’s no way BART can afford all of them. The draft budget respects the process, shown in the highlights described above.
 
Despite this process and the priorities identified by staff and the public, some directors are proposing new studies of new extensions in their districts. But this is not the time to embark on expensive new extensions. BART has to learn from past mistakes. For example, Oakland Airport Connector continues to cost BART well more than was promised. BART should have a “not now” approach to starting new extensions. Committing funds to studying new extensions in this year’s budget would contradict the capital priorities identified in the Metro Vision process and shortcut the process.
 
If the BART Board were to fund new studies of new extensions, which maintenance needs would they de-fund? The Board should keep in mind a graph staff showed at the last Board budget hearing on May 9th, detailing how badly BART needs to invest in SoGR. The graph showed that at current spending levels, 64% of BART’s assets would be at risk in 10 years. BART would have to spend twice as much as it currently does just to maintain current levels of SoGR, and even then 34% of BART assets will be at risk (see graph below). 
 
 
This year’s budget should keep its focus on customer experience toward needs shown in the draft budget, instead of backtracking on important lessons learned.
 
For information on how to help ensure BART keeps on target with the priorities identified in the current draft budget, see TransForm’s Save BART page.
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TransForum is the blog of TransForm, California's leading transportation advocate. For more about our work, including ways you can take action and contribute, visit TransFormCA.org.