BART has seen low ridership since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

BART has seen low ridership since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Almost 40 percent of BART employees to be offered retirement incentives

Board approves payments to shrink agency costs without layoffs

BART’s Board of Directors approved a retirement incentives package Thursday, the latest effort by the agency to cut costs without resorting to layoffs.

Roughly 40 percent of current BART employees will be offered the option to leave their roles voluntarily in exchange for one week of base bay per full year of service, capped at 20 years, plus an additional four weeks of base pay.

As of August, the agency projected it would face a $33 million deficit this fiscal year, which ends next June, and an anticipated $177 million deficit the following, but those gaps could narrow depending on how many people accept the retirement offer.

“Layoffs are a last resort for the district and we will do everything in our power to avoid or minimize them,” BART Budget Director Chris Simi said, explaining that more retirements would mean fewer cuts would need to be made elsewhere.

There are 1,650 employees eligible for early retirement by March 21, 2021 who will be offered the expanded benefits package. Staff estimates far fewer will actually accept the buyout.

Most employees must be 50-years-old with at least five years of service to the agency or CalPERs, though some workers must be at least 52-years-old depending on how their job is classified.

Normally, the agency averages just 135 retirements per year, with a concentrated number of those coming in December.

The incentive package will cost the agency roughly $5 million this fiscal year, but it is expected to net ongoing annual savings anywhere from roughly $45 million to $199 million, assuming it keeps most of those positions vacant in the coming years, according to the staff report.

BART directors were almost universally in favor, and the program was approved 8-1 with Debora Allen as the only dissenting vote. She raised concerns that the plan didn’t address budget uncertainty but rather exacerbated it by making cost-cutting rely so heavily on individual decisions from workers.

Eligible employees will now receive information and notification about the incentives through multiple channels, direct outreach and information sessions with the Human Resources Department.

They will have from Nov. 23 to Dec. 18 to express interest and submit an application followed by the opportunity to finalize the agreement by mid-February before their final paychecks are processed on March 23.

Staff also presented an updated service plan to the board that will go into effect in March and last until at least September.

Trains will run the same hours with 30 minute frequencies throughout most of the day. But the current offering of 26 round-trip commute trains will be cut, with only 18 going into San Francisco.

Saturday and Sunday routes will be the same, both running with three routes.

These changes are expected to save up to $55 million annually. But they’re also likely to place greater burden on transit-dependent and low-income riders, who make up the bulk of early morning, late night and weekend ridership because of shift work, staff said.

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