In an era when most transit agencies are addressing their budget problems by hiking up fares, BART — armed with an operating surplus — is examining ways of making its ride cheaper for passengers.
Click on the photo at right to see a breakdown of the possible discounts and their financial impact.
Free trips for customers who use BART more than 40 times a month, cheaper rides during off-peak times and increased discounts for Clipper card users are some of the ideas the transit agency is considering as it reviews its fare policy.
Not all of the fare proposals being reviewed by BART are discounts. One idea being floated — although it doesn’t seem to have much support — is to charge 15 percent extra to travel during peak travel times.
BART fares are scheduled to increase on July 1, but that will be the last planned price hike from a Consumer Price Index-based policy that the transit agency approved eight years ago. From 2006 to 2012, BART fares were scheduled to go up automatically every two years. With that plan set to expire, BART board President Bob Franklin said now is a good time to evaluate new policies.
Franklin mentioned several specific proposals worth implementing — increasing the age of youth qualifying for fare reductions from 12 to 17, allowing customers to ride for free on the system after they logged more than 40 trips in a month, and giving Clipper card holders a 15 percent discount.
The proposals would not come cheap and would cost the agency millions in revenue.
Even though the agency finished last fiscal year with a $21 million operating surplus, BART board member Lynette Sweet said any proposals for fare discounts should be weighed carefully.
She said BART is set to engage in labor negotiations with its unions in 2013. Those same unions agreed to $100 million in givebacks in 2009, and are unlikely to be so generous next time around, Sweet said.
Oakland resident Marianne Leigh, who uses BART to get into The City, said the fare discount proposals are a good idea at a time when many families are struggling economically.
“BART is a great transit system, and anything that makes it easier for the masses to use it will be good for the region,” Leigh said.
As for the idea of charging passengers an extra 15 percent to ride during peak times — even though it would be partly offset by cutting fares by 10 percent during off-peak times — Franklin said that proposal would not be seriously considered by the BART board.
“The staff were just throwing everything out there for possibilities, and this was one of the far-ranging options,” Franklin said. “I think it would be political suicide to take advantage of our captive audience like that, and I really don’t see that gaining any support.”
BART’s board will discuss the proposed fare policies with general manager Grace Crunican during a staff retreat to Walnut Creek on Saturday. Those talks will determine which policies the board and the agency should pursue further.