BART urges lawmakers to save transit bill

With state legislators in the midst of a seven-week stalemate over California’s $17 billion budget deficit, BART officials have sent a letter to Bay Area politicians urging them to support a program that could bring up to $50 million for the regional transportation system.

The program in question, the State Transit Assistance Fund, would allocate $559 million for mass public-transit projects in urban areas, and road and infrastructure rehabilitation in rural areas in California, according to the state’s Web site.

To make up for the state’s massive budget deficit, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed cutting the STA program. The move has raised the ire of public transportation officials, who said the need for mass transit is greater than ever now that high gas prices are forcing many commuters away from their cars.

Last month, the legislative California Budget Conference Committee recommended funding the state’s STA program, but as a new state budget has not yet been passed, and local transportation officials expressed concern that the funding remained “in jeopardy,” particularly since they saw $1.3 billion in transit funding cut last year.

In her letter sent out to Bay Area state legislators, BART’s board president Gail Murray wrote that, “slashing public transit funding again this year would do a disservice to Californians,” particularly the elderly, disabled and low-income residents who use public transit as a primary mode of transportation.

She also stressed that the STA funding would be of particular good use to BART, which has reached record-high numbers in ridership. The transportation district now serves 367,000 passengers a day, which is up 8 percent from this time last year, district officials said.

Judson True, a spokesman for the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency, said Muni also receives a sizeable portion of STA funding.

“We need this state funding to implement initiatives like the Transit Effectiveness Project that will allow us to serve more riders, and to invest in our aging infrastructure,” True said.

wreisman@sfexaminer.com

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