Grand Jury Exposes BART!

There is no doubt that BART provides a highly popular transportation service and is therefore a key element in providing mobility without people having to drive everywhere they go. For this, BART is of inestimable value to the Bay Area.

But at what cost?

Building BART was an extremely costly undertaking. Expanding it continues to be vastly more costly than it should be, as evidenced by the Federal Transportation Administration’s estimated cost of $9.15 billion for the BART Phase II subway through downtown San Jose. Operating BART is similarly over-priced and the Link 21 project is proceeding as if the sky’s the limit. Here are three separate windows through which a reader can see what’s going on at BART:

Read more here:

  • On January 22, 2022 the Independent Institute published an article about BART entitled “Crime, Grime and Greed at BART” by Lawrence J. McQuillan, D., a Senior Fellow at the Institute. Here are some excerpts:

“…The Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system has received the California Golden Fleece® Award for its excessive employee compensation, reckless financial mismanagement, poor on-time performance, unsanitary conditions, and failure to prevent the system from becoming a magnet for criminals….. Based on BART’s own metrics and performance standards, the system fails on every count…In 2022, its 50th year of operations, BART’s deficiencies signal the need for profound changes.” Here are several of the Institute’s recommendations for improving BART service:

  • “Fix BART first, and scrap its multibillion dollar expansion plans, [especially] since ridership is severely diminished and may not return for decades”, if ever.
  • “End all government subsidies to BART, forcing [it] to improve customer service and focus on the top concerns of riders: safety, cleanliness, and reliability” or
  • “Sell BART to a private, for-profit entity…”
  • “Allow vigorous competition among transportation alternatives, both old and new, throughout the Bay Area”

The Institute believes that BART should be subject to a “market discipline”, which has been lacking for too long. McQuillan adds that “vigorous competition, a profit motive, and innovative customer-based revenue would improve service delivery while keeping costs manageable and ending risks to taxpayers”.

  • On June 6, 2022 the Alameda County Grand Jury issued its 2021-2022 Report. The Grand Jury report includes a scathing 8-page summary (see page 125) about how BART’s management and Board of Directors have aggressively interfered with, resisted and undermined the work of the Inspector General’s (IG’s) office. BART’s first IG was appointed by Governor Newsom on June 21, 2019 to oversee the BART operation. The rationale for the assignment of an IG is succinctly characterized by the Grand Jury: “This public agency [BART], with a $2.4 billion annual budget, lacks proper financial structures and oversight”. Despite BART’s shortcoming its Board and staff continue to vigorously resist efforts to subject their operation to the scrutiny of an independent IG office and have gone so far as to side with the BART unions, in so far as limiting IG access to their members is concerned. So much for the independence of IG investigations. On February 2022 California Senate Bill 1488 was introduced to better “spell out the relationship between the IG’s office and the BART staff….”. On April 14, 2022, in response to its General Manager’s recommendation, “the BART Board voted 6 – 3 to oppose the bill unless amended”.

This chart below shows a BART IG office starved for the resources needed to do its job.

  • In 2019 BATWG conducted a survey of what BART riders thought of its on-car and in-station conditions. Based in part on the result of the survey, during the last 4 years BATWG has repeatedly called the Board’s attention to a number of BART deficiencies including fare evasion, unsafe conditions on cars and in stations, a spotty maintenance record, a lack of transparency on the part of three of the BART Board committees (since improved), the undermining of the IG and, most recently, BART’s chaotic oncoming Link 21 report.

On June 13, 2022 BATWG submitted a Public Records Act (PRA) request for:

  • Link21 Project task and subtask detail, including the chart of accounts established for managing expenditures and the budget associated with each account code.
  • Project expenditures through April 30, 2022 for each project cost account code by expenditure category (i.e. direct labor, contractor labor, supplies & services expense, travel, etc.).

Here’s what we got in response:

As indicated the Link21 initial budget…covering just the on-going planning stage…is nearly $153 million.

The Link21 program now has seven prime consultants and multitudinous sub-consultants on board with an aggregate contracted value of $175 million.  As shown in the above Project Expenditures Table, as of April 30th, 2022, these consultants had already spent a total of $44.2 million on “professional and technical services” ($43,865, 632 + $305,848).

Yet nowhere in the above tables above can any of the expenditures be broken out or otherwise identified and traced. For this reason it was not possible to judge whether or not the hemorrhaging Link 21 funds are being spent prudently. The Alameda County Grand Jury is correct in its criticism of BART.  There is much to be done to get the Bay Area Rapid Transit District back on track.

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