Transit agencies butt heads over millions

Halfway through the budget cycle, BART and Samtrans are still at loggerheads over millions of dollars BART says it is owed for the cost of running the San Francisco International Airport extension line.

The two agencies both adopted balanced budgets back in June, but each included widely disparate earmarks to pay for the BART extension to the airport and Millbrae.

BART adopted a $523 million budget with expectations Samtrans would pay $11.2 million. SamTrans, however, which is contracted to pay the operating costs for BART service on the Peninsula, approved a $127 million budget that included just $5 million for BART.

Since then, the two agencies have continued to meet, but both declined Friday to say when their last meeting was or who was involved.

“All I can share at this time is that the meetings are taking place at the executive level,” said Samtrans spokesman Jonah Weinberg, noting that his agency didn’t want to negotiate the $6.2 million budget differencewith BART through the media.

“I’m not worried about it at all,” said President of the Board of Supervisors and Samtrans board member Jerry Hill, calling the relationship with BART “historically complex.”

The agencies are working to create a model that will avoid the impasse every year, according to BART board member James Fang, who said he has seen a renewed energy put toward solving the dispute in recent months.

Neither Hill nor Fang ruled out the possibility of another stalemate in the coming fiscal year, however, which begins July 1.

Originally projected to make a profit from the day it opened in June 2003, the BART extension has been subsidized by Samtrans to the tune of $32 million so far. Ridership predictions of 40,000 a day have fallen far short, with the highest day so far recorded being 33,000, Weinberg said. The dot-com bust and a huge drop in air travel are responsible, BART says.

“I think its ridiculous to be talking about projections made before 9/11 and the downturn in the economy,” BART spokesman Linton Johnson said, noting that Peninsula ridership has grown every single year it has been open.

But facing a $22 million structural deficit, Samtrans has argued it can’t afford to continue to subsidize BART service on the Peninsula and said earlier this year it won’t pay anything in 2007-08.

Included in the ongoing negotiations, but of lesser value, is who will pay the long-term $2.2 million a year rent to operate out of the airport, Johnson said.

ecarpenter@examiner.com

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