In an all-too-rare example of a Bay Area government agency having both the will and the resources to reward clients for support and cooperation, BART is scheduled to vote today on a proposed $2.3 million temporary fare reduction. This could support a 3 percent cut in fares for four months or a 5 percent cut for three months.
The $2.3 million is the remainder of an unexpected $26 million allocation that came from the state in March. This was money sought to be diverted again by Sacramento from set aside annual transportation funds. But, the courts ruled against seizing it and California was compelled to release the cash.
As usual, the Bay Area’s Metropolitan Transportation Commission was responsible for distributing our regional share of the windfall, and it granted BART $26 million. BART seems to have made good use of the bulk of its surplus for this fiscal year. The cash influx is credited with stopping any service cuts and fare increases through fiscal year 2011. It also prevented layoffs and refilled the reserve fund.
What remained at that point was a $4.5 million operating budget surplus. About $2.2 million was divided among useful projects, such as cleaning cars, deferring paratransit fare increases and improving customer service. The $2.3 million price adjustment was set aside while a passenger survey obtained feedback on fare rollbacks proposed by BART board of directors President James Fang.
Interestingly, only about one-fourth of the 332 surveyed passengers favored temporarily lower fares. The 75 percent majority overwhelmingly preferred longer service hours, cleaner cars, more advanced vehicles and even additional investment in rainy-day reserves. While this is an impressively sophisticated rider response, the problem is that the $2.3 million can only be responsibly used as a one-time expenditure. It is insufficient for keeping up any ongoing system-wide improvements — no matter how desired those improvements might be.
That’s why BART’s thank-you temporary fare cut seems to us like a solid idea.
The public seldom receives a surprise bonus. The Examiner favors this feel-good gesture designed to be of the greatest benefit to BART’s consistent weekday commuters, provided there are no more pressing needs that could be fixed by one-time funding from a $2.3 million windfall.