Commuters typically fill the BART Trains throughout the weekday but due to the shelter-in-place order for the San Francisco Bay Region to curtail the spread of COVID-19, BART ridership has dropped sharply. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

BART board approves $2.4B budget with $200M in cuts

The BART Board of Directors voted 7-2 Thursday to approve the agency’s $2.42 billion budget for fiscal year 2021, which goes into effect next Wednesday.

The budget includes nearly $200 million in cuts from the $1.016 billion preliminary operating budget the board reviewed in mid-May. B

ART General Manager Bob Powers called the operating budget “precariously balanced” last month, adding that it does not include any furloughs or layoffs.

The budget also includes more than $1 billion in capital funding, much of which comes from special revenue streams such as 2016’s Measure RR and must be used for its intended purpose such as infrastructure repairs.

Much of the operating budget’s funding cuts take the form of postponing increases in labor spending and capital allocations, including a one-year hiring freeze that will save BART about $36 million. The agency also added $44 million in COVID-19 coronavirus-related spending to the operating budget.

“I really appreciate staff’s work on this budget. It has not been easy,” Board Director Rebecca Saltzman said. “We’ve been through hard budgets since I’ve been at BART but none like this and hopefully we won’t ever be through something like this again.”

The cuts are due almost entirely to ridership that has plummeted roughly 90 percent below expected levels during the COVID-19 pandemic. BART officials said in March that the ridership loss will amount to a loss of nearly $60 million in fare gate revenue each month.

BART officials expect to receive roughly $250 million, dispersed in two tranches, in federal funding from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act to shore up expected revenue losses during the fiscal year. Powers has said the agency’s financial future is still heavily dependent on future funding allocations.

Funding for BART police became a flashpoint in the final weeks of the board’s haggling over the budget amid the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis last month and ensuing protests around the Bay Area and nation. Criminal justice advocates called for the agency’s law enforcement division to lose at least a portion of its funding, with some calling for the elimination of BART police entirely.

While several BART board members have acknowledged the need for police reform going forward, there was not sufficient board support for defunding.

“Black Lives Matter is, in fact, a social movement in this nation,” Board Director John McPartland said. “It is not an even playing field. That’s a social issue, that’s a legal issue, that’s a fiber-of-our-nation issue that needs to be addressed. It is not necessarily a police issue.”

BART officials expect ridership during the fiscal year to average between 15 and 50 percent of pre-pandemic levels. Expected fare revenue was placed at the midpoint between those two possibilities, according to the agency.

The board plans to hold budget update discussions every three months following the start of the fiscal year next Wednesday. Decisions predicated on changes in revenue compared to expected revenue in the budget passed Thursday will be made during each of those discussions.

”We can evangelize how difficult these times are,” Board President Lateefah Simon said. “But we can also roll up our sleeves and help. We can help and we can be uniform, in many ways, to move forward.”

-Eli Walsh, Bay City News

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