Passengers board a BART train bound for the San Francisco Airport at Powell Street station. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

Passengers board a BART train bound for the San Francisco Airport at Powell Street station. (Kevin N. Hume/S.F. Examiner)

BART bumps up service restoration to August 30, offers fare discounts

Rail agency breaks pandemic ridership records, prepares to welcome more passengers

Riders are returning to BART, and the regional rail agency is doing its best to keep up.

Officials rolled out plans to beef up service even earlier than planned on Thursday as well as provide fare discounts to all Clipper Card users for the month of September.

Fiscal year 2021 – 20222 will be undergirded by about $385 million in federal aid, roughly 40 percent of the agency’s total projected expenses for the year.

BART says the one-time funding will move the agency from survival mode into recovery.

“We know BART can scale back costs,” budget director Christ Simi said of the agency’s cut of about $100 million in expenditures last fiscal year. “But in FY22 we need to do the opposite. We intend to follow the spirit of that legislation by flexing back up to support recovery.”

During a three-day stretch last week, BART shattered its pandemic ridership highs.

On Friday May 7 at 65,628 riders boarded trains, the most on a weekday since March 2020.

Pandemic ridership records for Saturday and Sunday were then broken with 40,216 and 28,294 passengers, respectively.

Though still a far cry from pre-pandemic numbers, these numbers suggest that as the Bay Area reopens, there’s an appetite for public transportation as the travel mode of choice.

As the BART board plans its budget for the upcoming fiscal year which begins July 1, officials say it’s finances will reflect the agency’s focus on returning as much service as soon as possible.

Starting June 15, there will be 26 new weekday trips on the Yellow, Green and Red lines, currently the most crowded, as well as 15 new trips on Saturday.

All station entrances previously closed to monitor pandemic traffic flow will be open by the same time, starting with Montgomery and Embarcadero and one center entrance at Powell this weekend in order to facilitate the return of Muni Metro service.

Most notably, the regional rail agency has bumped up the date for its significant service restoration.

The entire system will be open until midnight with 15-minute frequencies until 8 p.m. six days a week starting August 30 as opposed to September 13 thanks to an agreement with its labor union partners.

“We are very supportive of this budget and service plan, said John Arantes, the BART chapter president of labor union SEIU 1021. “We must be the leaders in the Bay Area and show that we are ready to provide safe and reliable, close to pre-pandemic, service that we expect and need.”

BART was due for an inflation-based rate increase in fares in January 2022.

Instead, it will forgo the increase and double down on encouraging riders to use BART by offering a 50 percent discount for all Clipper card fares for all of September 2021, synced up with the service increase.

The promotion is expected to cost BART roughly $4.3 million in foregone fare revenue, and staff believes it could help ridership reach a baseline 52 percent of pre-pandemic levels by June 2022.

Director Bevan Dufty said now is a unique time for the agency to reintroduce itself to riders as the mode of transit best suited to reliably move Bay Area residents through the region.

“I think we will see individuals trying out the system,” he said.

As reported by the Examiner, next fiscal year’s budget will invest heavily in enhanced station and train cleaning, staff positions for the Progressive Policing Bureau and other down payments on the quality of service and rider experience.

This does translate to more spending in some cases, but officials said Thursday that these investments are key to guaranteeing adequate service, providing riders with a good experience and driving down operating costs in the long term.

Director Janice Li emphatically supported this approach, calling the financial risks necessary to avoid an apocalyptic outcome for BART and the entire Bay Area.

“Not taking a risk will guarantee a system that will run at reduced service that will not be able to match demand, that will only continue to increase fares, that will likely lead us to further austerity measures and that will ultimately hurt our riders, hurt our employees and hurt the region,” she said.

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