BART in Distress

BART’s Board of Directors faces major financial and administrative challenges.

According to the 2018-19 Alameda County Civil Grand Jury Report:  “Violent crime on BART, including robberies and aggravated assaults, increased by 115% over the last five years…. Rider satisfaction with BART fell from a high of 84% in 2012 to a low of 56% in 2018…. Since at least 2012, cleanliness has been a top concern for riders who responded to the survey.

The Grand Jury report continued: “Respondents  cite ‘personal security in BART system’ as the second largest service rating decline…, just after fare evasion. Lack of visible police presence on trains and in stations has long been a concern of riders … News reports of the three homicides in July 2018 and a video in October 2018 of a man swinging two chain saws while riding BART reinforced worries among Bay Area residents about their safety on BART.

Read more here

NBC Bay Area News produced “Derailed,” a series about BART’s problems. As part of its “Building a Better Bay Area” coverage, ABC 7 News designated a “BART Week.”

According to the S.F. Chronicle (July 22, 2020), “BART’s ridership was 88% lower than pre-COVID with a resultant revenue drop of $35 million a month.” According to the Mercury News, “[E]ven with ridership demand plummeting to record-low levels, the majority of board directors is behaving as if all is well, approving a budget that actually increases BART’s operating expenses by 6 percent …”

The BART Board is split between Directors who are financially realistic and trying to make things better for all the riders and those bent on encouraging chaos and sending BART into bankruptcy. Here’s how things shake out:

  1. In its official response to the Grand Jury BART’s Board promised “a more saturated police presence to increase safety on BART” and added that “[t]he BART District is committed to increasing police officer staffing.” Breaking this pledge to the Grand Jury, the BART Board in June 2020 defunded new police officers in order to pay for “ambassadors” whose vaguely-defined duties are to be helpful, to sow good will and to remind people to wear their masks and maintain proper social distancing. But unarmed, untrained ambassadors would inevitably be at a distinct disadvantage when dealing with violent drunks, spaced-out drug addicts and other threatening situations. Whether or not some Directors recognize the fact, a strong, well-trained and well disciplined BART police force will remain a critical need in and around BART stations and on BART trains for the foreseeable future.
  2. According to BART, prior to COVID fare evasion was costing BART $15 to $25 million per year. Yet some Directors refuse to appropriate funding to “harden” the stations or step up enforcement. Police complain that they often arrest people for breaking the law only to see them immediately released with mere warnings not to do it again. And so it goes.
  3. BART’s ability to provide clear and comprehensive financial reports has unaccountably declined in recent months, especially concerning capital project status and cost overruns. This troubling development is apparently acceptable to some Directors.
  4. BART’s 5-year, $50,000,000 Transbay Crossing Study been quietly proceeding as if nothing has changed since the scope of the study was defined in 2018. But things have changed and it’s up to the BART Board to make certain that the Study Team adapts accordingly. The 5-year study has been underway for over 14 months. Yet, there is still no word on what has been accomplished.
  5. Due to the massive drop in ridership, BART is hemorrhaging money while the efficiency and effectiveness of its operation slips downhill amidst major service cuts. Some Directors apparently don’t regard this as much of a problem.

The following table summarizes some of the key BART Board votes/positions taken in recent years:

Record of BART Board Voting/Positions

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