Voters in Sonoma and Marin counties approved a sales tax obligation in 2008 to plan, build and operate the Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit 70-mile commuter rail system from Cloverdale to about 3/8 mile from the Larkspur Ferry Terminal. The 70 mile plan did not pan out, with SMART beginning 42-mile rail service from Santa Rosa to San Rafael in mid-1917, and extending to Larkspur in late 2019.
As of Dec 2021, the cumulative cost to build, operate, and finance SMART totaled $1 Billion while the cumulative total ridership was approximately 2 million one-way passenger trips. That works out to about $500 for every one-way passenger trip, so far!
Every transit operator reports data monthly and annually to the National Transit Database (NTD) maintained by the Federal Transit Administration. The NTD data is the source for uniformly reported statistics on operating expenses, passenger trips and passenger miles, fare revenues and the number of vehicle miles and hours of service provided. Below is the history for SMART.
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Sonoma Marin Area Rail Transit District Operating Statistics: FY 2017–2018 thru Dec 31, 2021
Source: NTD through FY 2020. Estimates from SMART “Closed Budget FY 2021” and SMART Monthly Finance Report Dec 2021. BATWG Estimates for FY21-22 thru Dec 31 for Operating Expense.
Pass Mi = passenger miles of travel; VRM = vehicle revenue miles of service; VRH = vehicle revenue hours of service; UPT = unlinked passenger trip
Over four and one-third years of rail service, SMART’s operating cost per unlinked passenger trip (i.e. boarding passenger) has ranged from $37 to over $180 (it is currently estimated to be over $77 per passenger). A comparison between SMART’s operating costs, BART’s operating costs and Caltrain’s operating costs can be seen in the NTD’s FY 2018-2019 database. In FY 2028-2019, SMART’s operating costs were $50 per passenger, compared to BART’s $6 and Caltrain’s $8.
SMART’s sales tax funding authorization expires in 2029 and will require another voter ballot approval to extend it. So far SMART has lost two of three ballot proposals. Its operating performance suggests its odds are heading south.
End of February 2022 BATWG Newsletter