BART’s clean agenda is welcome

Anyone who thinks Bay Area Rapid Transit is of marginal importance to our regional economy and quality of life should consider that without BART, the number of morning commute vehicles on the Bay Bridge would double from 30,000 to 60,000, dragging out commute time from 25 minutes to about three hours.

The entire Bay Area road network would be near paralysis at peak hours without BART’s 360,000 average weekday passenger trips of approximately 13 miles apiece. And by 2025, the Bay Area population is expected to add 1.6 million new residents who will increase traffic congestion by 150 percent.

Like every U.S. public transit agency, BART cannot subsist on fares alone — riders would balk at the prohibitive charges. As of now, a relatively high 65 percent of BART’s $651 million annual operating budget is paid by passenger fares, parking, advertising and other revenues. However, that still leaves a $420 million annual capital construction budget to be funded by a combination of federal allocations, local taxes and bonds, and increases of fares and fees.

Perhaps more than other systems, BART must perform a complex financial juggling act: balancing the immediate needs of providing reliable and comfortable transportation along with the long-term imperatives of maintaining and replacing equipment that has been in continuous service for as long as 35 years, plus expanding and upgrading the total system to meet a consistent growth in ridership.

BART has embarked on a decadelong, $1.3 billion earthquake safety program that will first reinforce the Transbay Tube and then strengthen the nearly 2,000 aerial supports and other critical structures.

There is also constant jockeying for a meaningful share of Homeland Security funds. And this year BART is taking early steps on a 25-year, $8 billion reinvestment program to renovate or replace nearly every element of its 35-year-old infrastructure.

With all these conflicting demands on BART resources, The Examiner is pleased that the agency recognizes the need to maintain rider comfort by sensible replacement of worn-out seats and flooring. BART directors on Thursday approved replacement of all seats and flooring in half of its 669-car fleet within two years.

BART tested stain-resistant plastic composite flooring on 80 trains for two years, much to the pleasure of riders. In order to replace the mucky carpeting, the seats had to be ripped out. So now the threadbare and sometimes-smelly wool seat-covers and foam cushions will be replaced, too, at a cost of $2.7 million.

When BART ticket sales slumped from 2001 to 2005, agency officials in 2004 surveyed riders about whether to cut back on train service or on cleaning. The preference was for service, so less was spent on train cosmetics. But as revenues rise again, BART is improving the ride experience along with transportation reliability and convenience.

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